Vang Vieng, former party haven in Laos, was to be my next stop. Infamous for tubing, until the deaths of a number of foreigners forced the government to close almost all of the bars in 2012, I’d heard that Vang Vieng was still fun to visit. Was it all it was cracked up to be? Let’s see…
As I mentioned in my last post, getting to Vang Vieng was an adventure in itself. I travelled by minivan with a group from the guesthouse I’d been staying in, in Luang Prabang. The minivan driver had a real need for speed and used the windy roads as his own personal racetrack. This is not unusual in South East Asia but it tends to be scarier when the roads are on the edge of mountains. The minivan reached a section of unsurfaced road, which coincided with being in the clouds. I looked out of the window and it was almost like looking into the abyss. Somehow, we made it through without falling off the edge of a mountain.
The driver decided to stop just before sunset, a move welcomed by everyone in the van. The bar we stopped at had the worst karaoke I’ve ever heard which was bad news for all of those in the minivan nursing a hangover. The journey soon resumed and I continued listening to an ‘All Time Party Classics’ playlist on Spotify. Darkness fell and suddenly the driver stopped the minivan.
“You each pay me 5,000 kip and I’ll drop you in the centre of town. If you don’t pay, I’ll drop you off at the bus station where you’ll have to pay 5,000 kip to a tuk-tuk driver.”
Fortunately, the majority of us were on the same wavelength and we told the driver to drop us off at the bus station. There was no way we’d be giving him any extra money after we’d already paid for our ticket to Vang Vieng. The driver, in fact, did drop us off in the centre for no extra cost. Ideal, because our hostel was in the centre of Vang Vieng.
Where’s the party?
The bizarre thing about Vang Vieng was that during the day the place was a ghost town then at night the place would start to gain some life. The busiest bar was Sakura, a bar anyone travelling South East Asia will likely have heard of from the free tank tops they hand out with the purchase of 2 drinks. I went to Sakura once, had a couple of drinks then left. In that short amount of time, I witnessed a fight between 2 guys which is slightly unusual for the backpacker scene. Gary’s Irish Bar offered a more chilled out scene and a pool competition. Apparently, they also screen Game of Thrones on Monday nights. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with Vang Vieng’s party scene. Fortunately, I wasn’t really looking for a party scene.
Adventures in Vang Vieng
Every other shop in Vang Vieng is a travel agency so booking a tour is simple. I chose one that included tubing, kayaking and a trip to the Blue Lagoon. The first part of the tour involved tubing through a cave. I really enjoyed this, pulling myself through a cave, wearing a headlamp the whole thing was fun. There was a point where we passed another group tubing through the cave and someone thought it would be funny to start splashing water. Suddenly, almost everyone was splashing water. I was busy shielding my eyes and by the time we’d passed the other group, I realised my GoPro had fallen off my wrist. One of the guides was kind enough to come back and help me look for it. Luckily, the water in the cave was shallow so the guide found it in no time.
The second part of the day was kayaking 8km down the river. This was easygoing kayaking and halfway through we stopped at Mr LaoLao, the only bar that appeared to be open on the tubing route.The bar was very quiet and was blasting out dance music. Perhaps in the past, this bar would’ve been busy but it certainly wasn’t the day we were there. I only saw about 5 people tubing on the river that day. There were some cute kittens in the bar which was a bonus!
After kayaking, we got a tuk-tuk to the Blue Lagoon. It’s basically an outdoor pool with places to jump in. The water is freezing but it’s a nice place to relax with plenty of places to soak up the sun.
Ok, so the kayaking and tubing were really fun but they certainly weren’t the party they’d been hyped up to be. I think Vang Vieng is in a transition stage between its recent party days and it’s future as an adventure holiday destination. Perhaps in a few years it will be very different to the Vang Vieng I found a few weeks ago.