Vang Vieng

Authored By Brian

Laos is relatively green, mountainous and forested compared to its neighbors. There is apparently a big business in Vietnamese illegally logging in Laos (where its restricted) and then selling it back to Laotian middlemen who then sell it to Thailand (where logging is forbidden).

Vang Vieng is a mini adventure sport haven about halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang in the limestone hills. It’s also this weird backpacker Disneyland of countless restaurants playing reruns of friends or pirated DVDs of recent movies. One night Jennifer and I had some really great pizza and watched M. Night Shamlan’s “The Village” which is normally too scary for either of us but was really engrossing.

The restaurants are filled with lazy backpackers nursing beers and killing time slowly. It’s the counterpoint to the other really weird thing about Vang Vieng: the inner tubing.

Inner tubing itself is not too crazy but within 10 minutes of leaving our $3 tube rental and tuk tuk ride and hopping in the water, we came across the first mega bar on the route.

This is straight out of Daytona Beach during spring break: drinking, swimming, volleyball courts, food vendors and a lot of lounging about and coed interaction. Oh, and really ginormous rope swings and zipper lines.

We stopped for food and listened to the same blaring techno song about five times while idiot after idiot was flying through the air on this 30+ft high line. Most people managed graceful-ish landings but there was a lot of cheering for those who didn’t!

We finished lunch and I took my turn on the swing. I could barely reach the handle before I jumped and went zooming across the water. From 10m or higher, you really build up some serious speed before you reach the other end and let go.

Another couple of hours or so on the river of slow floating, having a beer and watching people jump off of various swings, bridges and platforms and we called it a day by hopping out and back in a tuk tuk. If you want to float back to town it will take all day once you factor in stops and horsing around. We saw a lot of really-too-drunk-to-be-on-the-water kids that were making me nervous. I never forget my high school math teacher Mr. Robathan, who worked summers as a deputy sheriff, describing the nasty ways people got hurt on the lake after a couple of beers.

While Jennifer was still recovering, I spent an afternoon riding a scooter thru rural villages and exploring a few of the many caves located around Vang Vieng. Pak Ou was a giant cavern with a reclining Buddha inside that I explored for awhile with the help of a rented headlamp (literally a half-size car battery with two wires going to a lamp and a shoulder strap). I was afraid to go too deep by myself because I didn’t have a backup light. What the guidebook didn’t mention is that these caves are from a time when water levels were higher meaning you have to scramble up some steep and treacherous mountainside to get to the entrances (free of things like stairs and handrails)

We stayed for three nights in a riverside bungalow. The place was nice but the people were a little… off. Not really rude but just not as friendly as other Laotians have been; kind of indifferent as to whether or not we were there. And it’s a good thing their restaurant has a killer view of life on the river because the service was pretty sad. It was great to see daily life every morning and every evening as the locals crossed the river to school or work or bathed or washed their clothes.

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