Virtual meanderings

Laos | Vang Vieng

          Back in Thailand I often saw foreigners wearing T-shirts “I did the tubing in Vang Vieng” or, the braver kind – “I survived tubing in Vang Vieng”. Which makes one wonder… no, not at all what on Earth tubing was, who gives a damn about that… but you cannot help asking yourself, where on Earth is Vang Vieng. Well, in Laos.

          In my earlier post I could not help mentioning that hammer and sickle flags were everywhere in Luang Prabang. Not just in front of public buildings – private houses, private guesthouses, internet cafés, shops (as well as inside Utopia).

Some Government Building Some Government Building

            One evening I even saw two young guys at a newly-opened internet café (which was probably theirs), trying to fit the two flags (the national and the hammer&sickle) above the café entrance. One was standing on a ladder and would put the flags, say, a bit to the left – then the other watching from the street would examine the result and say something in Lao. Then the guy on the ladder would move them a bit to the right – and process would repeat. They were clearly enjoying the task

           Yet, at Vang Vieng, to my surprise, I did not see a single hammer & sickle flag. Let us call this observation “observation one”. Now, observation two: in Luang Prabang the majority of visitors were middle aged French and German couples on their summer holiday. Observation three (I am rushing a bit with this information, but here it is): in Vang Vieng the visitor crowd was 95% young British, American, Australian and Dutch boys and girls.

            Was there a connection between those observations? Hmmm, I’ll leave the answer to you.  What Vang Vieng had, however, was the most gorgeous scenery around I’d seen so far on my trip – even better than current favorite Luang Prabang.

Vang Vieng View

Vang Vieng View

            And now, let me go back a bit and start from the beginning – how we got from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. We left Luang Prabang at about 9am in a van. It was nine of us inside the vehicle and the ticket cost 105,000 kip per person ($13). The van, however, could fit eleven people. By Lao understanding leaving those empty and not monetizing them would be a mortal sin, and every time the driver had a chance, he would pick up Lao people from the side of the road and collect the money into his pocket.

Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng (Google Maps)

The long and winding road.... Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng (Google Maps)

          Back in Thailand I had heard all kinds of conflicting information about Laos roads – but the general consensus in Thai tourist bureaus and people who’d never set foot in Laos was that the roads were in extremely poor condition. Now we were about to find out how true this was. Our journey to Vang Vieng was supposed to take seven hours – through the hills and mountains – a couple of hours less than going by bus.

          Going up and down the hills and mountains (which is what the whole road was about), we passed through quite a few villages. The local people had set up stalls along the road and offered all kinds of produce and goods. As a consequence, our driver stopped no less than six times to buy various stuff – in quantities suggesting it was for personal use. The mystery of it – since offerings in each village seemed about the same to every other village, I am at a loss why he did not buy everything at once. He spoke no English, so that is one mystery unsolved. At lunch time we made a longer break at some place with some small shops and fast-food restaurants (Lao style, not McDonalds).

            We arrived at Vang Vieng at four as scheduled. Fact: the road connecting Luang Prabang to the capital Vientiane (which passes through Vang Vieng ) is excellent. The only relatively minor issue with it was that it had one lane in each direction and we occasionally had to follow trucks along the mountainous curves for quite some time before we could overtake them. Fortunately there was not much incoming traffic.

          The van dropped us at an unspecified hostel on the main street and rushed off towards Vientiane.

          At first glance Vang Vieng looked like a long stretch of houses along the two sides – similar to many country towns in the US – with a main street and little else. As far as I had found out, just several years ago Vang Vieng had been yet another sleepy Lao town – but then tubing had picked up big time and had literally transformed the place. (By the way, you can find more on the town of Vang Vieng here).


Spicy Backpackers Vang Vieng

       Being all loyal to the “Spicy” brand, we brushed off other offerings and set to find Spicy Vang Vieng. “We” being (yet again) the three people that I described in my earlier post  + myself. With a bit of walking around and asking for directions people who spoke no English whatsoever, we did find Spicy. But – surprise, suprise – it turned out that the place was full. Just two vacant beds remaining.

         I choose to stay. Ashley, the Australian and Diego decided to look for a guesthouse. Phillip, the Taiwanese, was coming to Vang Vieng on a separate bus and was not present at that moment.

       Of all three Spicy hostels (Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang and in Chiang Mai), Spicy Vang Vieng was by far the most basic. And when I say basic, I mean basic. It much resembled a traditional Lao style compound – barracks made of wooden beams and bamboo, surrounding a common inner yard. I suspect that the “Lao style” decision was made, above all, for practical reasons (much faster and cheaper to build this way), than for any other contributing factor. having already stayed at Spicy Chiang Mai (a house in an upscale residential area, formerly rented by the US Consulate), then in Spicy Luang Prabang – formerly the residence of a Lao prince, Spicy Vang Vieng was, well… a new experience. So much more interesting than the others in fact!

        Check this, the toilets and showers had bamboo walls too.

The shower

The shower, almost in the nature

        There was also a wooden pavilion with no walls which served as a gathering place – this is where the free computers with Internet access were, as well as the beer/soft drinks fridge.

      Chickens were hanging around (and some cats too). Best of all, the hostel compound was on the edge of the river bank and since there were no actual walls, one could enjoy a beautiful view of no buildings, green vegetation and the sound of the river running.

Who needs walls if you have mosquito nets?

Who needs walls if you have mosquito nets?

      If one ever wanted to find out what it felt to live like a Lao, this was the closest one could get (with the added benefit of cold beer in a fridge and Internet). Needless to say, as in a traditional Lao place, you were expected to take your shoes off before stepping on any wooden platform (a.k.a “room”). So, the way to move around the area was – put on your shoes, leave the wooden platform, cross the yard, get to your destination (common area, bathroom, another room), take your shoes off, do whatever.

The view from my bed

The view from my bed - romantic, huh?

       Being greeted by such a view first thing in the morning when you opened your eyes…. romantic! Romantic it could have been ideed, had the hostel not been 100% full with guests from one particular European nation (I will not name it but you all know who you are). Drinking and talking loud(!) until at least 3 am, and some – until 5 am.

        Despite my utter and unconditional commitment to the Spicy brand – born by the good time I had had in the previous two Spicy hostels – I was not able to stand that kind of noise one more night, and in the morning I moved out (and moved in the same guest house where the others were staying. How original.) The TUBING was waiting!


One response to “Laos | Vang Vieng

  1. Pingback: Getting to China | A must-read « mastercopycat

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