Vang Vieng, anyone who has traveled in South East Asia will have heard about tubing, an activity that dominates the town and its visitors. Originally opened up by hedonistic backpackers, the atmosphere of the town itself is one of lethargy by day and debauchery by night: tourists sprawl out in the pillow-filled restaurants, termed "TV Bars", watching re-runs of US sitcoms, Friends, South park and Family Guy episodes until the sun goes down, and then party heavily until the early hours. A couple of km’s upstream, the pulsating music, drinking games and drug-fuelled debauchery of the increasingly lively riverside "tubing" bars starts at lunch-time. OMG - what are we doing here?
Our journey to Vang Vieng on May 11th - took us by mini-bus, 6hrs through winding mountain roads. We were lucky to get the two seats directly behind the driver so movement and bumps were not as jarring as for those who were sitting behind us. Still I ended up feeling a bit queezy and Jason felt like he had a mild case of “baby shaking syndrom”. Along the way we stopped at two view points, which were amazing, fresh mountain air, un-obscured views, very peaceful and majestic. We arrived shortly after 2:30pm in the heat of the day, which was unbearably hot! We retired to our a/c room, relaxed for the afternoon and went out for supper once the sun started to set. (For 4 solid days to come, we would be in a heat wave)
Over then next two days we did nothing but venture out to explore a bit of the riverside restaurants, sitting under shaded lounge booths watching Southpark and Family guy, drinking fresh fruit and coffee shakes. The restaurant next to our “local” stomping grounds ran re-runs of Friends constantly. (just as legend states) At certain times the place was packed with zombified night goers, eyes like saucers with clearly no one home, not even a hamster! We were hoping to find Martina around here.....not sure how long she will stay in town so sadly we may not get another chance to meet up with her. We think she would have gotten a good laugh at the scene described above.
First night we stayed in a hotel on the main side of the river where the streets are packed with tourists, second night we moved to the “otherside” of the river into a small mosquito net bungalow, surrounded by gardens which was awesome. ($7.50 US/night) at Maylyn guest house) Very quiet and secluded, just what the “doctor” ordered. One side you have the river and the other, karsts limestone mountains. From our bungalow window you can see the mountains from where you lye on the bed - spectacular! First thing I did was setup the mosquito net, tucked it around and under the mattress, making sure nothing could get in or out. LOL We met Joe (the owner of Maylyn) and Tom (owner of “Uncle Tom’s” motorcycle rental shop, just being built) who are quite the characters. Joe (68 yrs old, married to a Laotian) is blunt, to the point and easily “smacks down” a platter of opinion, honesty and criticism - whether you asked for it or not. Tom (50 yrs old, from Manchester) is laid back, sheepish and has a superb sense of humor, although I think some could either take it or leave it.
We were sitting down chatting with both Joe and Tom one morning. Tom proceeded to tell us a story about how he was hypnotized when he was younger and they discovered that in his previous life he was a dog....not just any dog, but a cage fighting dog. His ear had been torn off and he had bled to death. He proceeded to tell us he had a scare behind his ear that proved his “tail” to be true, he bent forward and asked me to look closely and feel the scare. Of course, I fell for it and as I bent forward, Tom turned around and barked loudly at me. Scaring me, I jumped and all three (Joe, Tom and Jason) had a grand ole’ laugh at my expense. The entire time I was thinking that a dog doesn’t bleed to death by losing an ear and how “full” of crap Tom was for telling us this story, but I still let myself be reeled in. LOL
Another discussion came up about Tom saying his doctor told him he was over weight. Joe quickly replied and said, “I wouldn’t say you’re over weight, you do have some fat on you though, but I wouldn‘t say you‘re obese!” During this conversation, Joe’s wife brought him his lunch, Tom sneezed from directly across the table and Joe said to him, “You didn’t sneeze all over my food did you?, I don’t want to catch some kind of fucking disease.” From that point forward the banter continued back and forth between the two, supplying us with some great laughs.
Third day we rented (another) poorly maintained motorbike, although cheaper at $5 and headed out for a drive to the Organic Farm for breakfast where we were hoping to run into Martina - no signs of her. We ventured out of town to do a loop around the mountainous country side. The roads here are horrendous. You drive for 1/4 of a mile on pavement, which turns into gravel roads that have huge pot holes and large boulders situated precariously throughout and back to pavement, it’s a bloody nightmare to travel. You don’t get anywhere in a hurry that’s for sure and these bikes are horrible - your butt is crying for “peace” by the time you are done your journey. Actually, our bums hadn’t recovered fully yet from our previous adventures and they begged us for mercy......actually mine did but Jason had “other” problems going on in the front due to the seat being such a piece of crap.
We were the only locals on the loop, went past rice fields and small villages. Saw some local farmers repairing fences and driving their hand operated tractor carts through the back roads. The scenery was amazing, blue skies, not a cloud in site. Mountains surrounding us, fresh air, birds, cows, ducks, roosters and butterflies by the hundreds. If we stopped, it didn’t take long to feel the heat of the sun start burning your exposed skin. The entire loop took us just over an hour to complete, once back at our guesthouse, we ate some lunch and jumped back on the bike to head down the road to the ‘Blue Lagoon’ cave and swimming hole.
The blue lagoon turned out to be awesome. We paid our $20,000 kep (collectively) entrance fee, parked the bike, put our bags down and made our way into the wonderful blue mountain water. A bit chilly as you first enter but soon enough you’re enjoying the coolness. The river was packed with fish, all sizes and kinds at one point I’m pretty sure one was nibbling on my heel. We swam around for bit, watched groups of tourists jump off a nearby tree rope into the waters below, some more graceful than others. Took a break, jumped back in, got out and made our way up the mountain into the cave.
The cave was dark, we were lucky enough to meet a couple coming out of the cave that offered their torch to us. Upon entering we discovered that this was truly an “untouched” cave. No man has yet put a constructed stairway in place that takes you down into the belly depths or installed any electrical lights. Slippery rocks greet you on your descend down, a lying Buddha statue marks the point of “no return”, well for Jason it did but for me it did not. I only had my flip flops on so I opted out, Jason with his hiking shoes descended further into the cave system to see how big and how far he could go.
As I waited for him to return, I met a few more traveler’s, most wore flip flops. Many of them returning had their shoes off, large cuts on the tops of their feet, those just going in were complaining about the conditions and wishing they had worn better shoes. I regretted not going further in with Jason, taking my time to navigate through and over the rocks. When he did return he said it was spectacular. The largest inside cave he has ever experienced, the roof was massive and it got very dark and narrow in places. At one point he went as far in as he could go, turned off his torch. He thought, “what if my light doesn’t turn back on?”, freaking himself out he quickly turned it back on and made his way back out to me. It was a very awe inspiring cave, we hope they won’t commercialize this one as well and ruin it by “modernizing” it with staircases and lights.
Thoughts on Vang Vieng: It has its beauty, the surrounding karsts and tropical jungle areas outside of the town were great to explore. Although we didn’t do the famous river tubing, we’re sure it can be lots of fun. We had a blast just relaxing in our bungalow, taking in the scenery and enjoying the local atmosphere that surrounded us. Most tourists, they are fresh out of school, young crowd, looking to party, drink and smoke/eat drugs. We observed a lot of them coming into the restaurants, high as a kite, munching down on whatever they could get their hands on. The main street restaurants advertise; “Happy STRONG Pizza” or “Very STRONG Bronies” or “mushroom shakes”. (yes, that is how they spell brownies here, LOL) We’ve witnessed foreigners of all ages indulging in smoking their newly purchased weed and seen a few local Laos bring out huge bottles of liquor infused with mushrooms to share with the masses. The young crowds don’t start to get big until later in the day, when they drag their sorry asses out of bed, suffering from their previous nights partying - only to get ready to do it all over again. We wanted to experience Vang Vieng - and experience it we did!
Tomorrow we head for Vientiane by bus.