Sunday, December 5, 2010

Vang Vieng

The next spot our in our trip in Laos was Vang Vieng. The town itself is kind of a touristy, backpacker party town with the entire downtown catering to western tourists, making it not the ideal place to go to see the "real Laos". All over the town there are rows of restaurants with beds at the tables that you can lounge at with TVs blaring with American TV shows, primarily Friends and Family Guy. Most places in Laos are required to close down at 11:30 pm or earlier, but in Vang Vieng there is a party island that can stay open all night. When we were there, it was during the rainy season and fewer tourists were around, making it less of a wild place to be. Despite all that, there is some pretty amazing scenery outside the small town center making it worth a visit.

As in most places of our trip, most of the backpackers were British, Australian, Dutch, and other assorted Europeans. We definitely met a lot fewer Americans on our trip than expected, especially considering the US has a population of 300+ million, whereas Holland has only around 16.5 million. Maybe Americans just don't venture out as much, or when we do most people head to Europe. Or maybe Americans just don't get as much vacation as Europeans. Either way, we were definitely underrepresented.

Most Stable Bridge in Laos 

The Passage to Party Island

 Party Island

The main draw of Vang Vieng is tubing on the Nam Song River. On the main stretch of the river there is a huge party scene the likes of which might not exist anywhere else in the world. As you float down the river, there are rows of bars that will be pumping music and having people lasso you on your tube and reel you in. Each bar has some kind of a swing, zip line, or huge slide going into the river. The whole thing is pretty crazy and definitely unsafe. To make things worse, before we arrived in town we had heard about an epidemic of pink eye spreading around the town from all the people swimming in the river, but fortunately by the time we got into Vang Vieng the infected crowd seemed to have moved on.

We spent a day on the river hitting all the big swings. One of the funniest things that happened during tubing was at the first place we stopped, which had a big zip line. The guy didn't really give us any instructions before we took the zip line down, so when Phil went first, he held on until the end of the line, which ended up being a really hard stop instead of a cushioned landing, leading to him involuntarily doing a back flip while flailing around before landing in the water. Fortunately he didn't get hurt and my only regret about it was that I didn't get it on camera.

I Disapprove of This

 Wes on Swing

 Tubing Stretch of River

Slide Bar 

 Phil Going off Swing

 Wes Catapulting off Slide

 Tubing Down River

Phil Tubing 

Beautiful Mountain and River Scenery

With the tubing experience off our checklist, we spent the next day exploring the areas outside of the city. There are lots of beautiful mountains, rivers, caves, and places to go swimming. We rented bikes and ventured out, but due to some heavy rains the night before, several of the country roads were flooded. While it might have slowed us down some, we took note of the locals who didn't let a flooded river ruin their journey and continued on our way. It was surprisingly beautiful in the countryside and we enjoyed riding around, stopping at local shops to get a fruit shake, and wading through the flooded roads with the locals.

 Morning View from Hotel

 Nobody Seems to Understand the Nature of the Project

 Flooded River

 Not Much of a Swimmin' Hole

Vang Vieng Countryside

 Cows Up in Our Business

Planting Rice

Muddy River

Sunset Over River

Despite the debauchery that is normally associated with Vang Vieng, our stay was pretty mild because of the slow tourist season, heavy rains, and our ventures into the countryside. Regardless, we did have a lot of fun hitting the swings and slides on the river and the scenery outside the city is pretty amazing. We also made it out of the city without any pink eye, although we did get a stomach bug that stayed with us for quite awhile from a rather suspicious late night bacon, chicken, and cheese crepe. Despite that, I still chalk this visit up as a success.