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Tag Archives: Vang Vieng

Vientiane – Ha Noi

Vientiane, Laos

Gotta love Laos…

Unfortunately I did not see much of Vientiane. Vientiane airport is conveniently located on the highway from Vang Vieng and it was where the van dropped me off.

Vientiane airport, Laos

Vientiane airport, Laos

The airport was new and a note said that it was built with help from (if I am not mistaken) Japan. A small note here: in the seventies and eighties Lao’s main economic partners were the USSR and Vietnam. Relations with China at the time were cool. Vietnam still has a significant (political) weight in Lao, but – unsurprisingly – a lot of new construction in the country is being done by China. Being a member of ASEAN, Laos has opened up for new partnerships to perhaps lessen the weight of its immediate neighbors – and hence one possible explanation about the Japanese help in that airport construction. If that story was too short for you, there is plenty of information on Lao economic achievements online. Read more of this post

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Laos | The Growing Divide

My Lao breakfast

I’ll begin this post with a short story that I witnessed, and then add some comments.

One thing is undisputed – the influx of tourists (and money) has transformed the lifestyle of Vang Vieng residents radically. Prior to the town becoming a tourist attraction (10 years ago?) the town residents and the villagers in the countryside had a similar lifestyle. Nowadays every job in town revolves around tourists – tubing, bars, restaurants, guest houses, cafes, internet rooms, tourist agencies, hostels, massage parlors, peddlers, pancake makers, bike and scooter rentals, shake stalls. One side effect of the many is that the “goodies” originally enjoyed by the tourists have made their way into the lifestyle of this newly created Lao “middle-class” – mobile phones, A/C, motorized scooters, plasma TVs, etc. When I biked around the Vang Vieng vicinity I could confirm that the villagers had a lot of catch-up to play – people lived simple and off the land. (Luckily, they have power lines and electricity – courtesy of the Lao socialist government, I guess).

Vang Vieng biking

Now, the story. I was having my breakfast in an open café near the guesthouse – I was the only customer inside the café. The price for a fresh French bread, a cup of tasty Lao coffee and two hard-boiled eggs was 15,000 kip ($2).

An elderly woman showed up – she wore simple blue cotton clothing. She carried a covered basket on her back and – I could guess from her actions – offered her produce to the young woman from the café – who, I presume, was the wife or daughter of the owner. The elderly woman took out some of what was inside the basket. It was corn. The young lady exchanged some phrases with the old woman. The tone of her voice and the look on her face seemed to me somewhat arrogant and pejorative. She eventually made up her mind, picked up some corn ears – and paid the old lady.

Village woman - town woman

Courtesy: Author

   I did not see well how much she paid, but it was certainly not a big denomination banknote. Very likely it was one under 1000. The old lady politely thanked, smiled – as is customary in Laos, put her corn basket back on her back and went further.

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Laos | La Countryside

    OK, not la Countryside, but Lao countryside. Remember the gorgeous scenery that I saw while tubing down the Nam Song river? Back in Siem Reap in Cambodia one of the most enjoyable things was my bicycle ride around the vicinity. There were bicycle rental shops at Vang Vieng too. I went to the Spicy hostel, got a map of biking routs around town, went to the town center and rented a bike.

A View from Vang Vieng

 That heavily urbanized environment of Vang Vieng just forces you to get out, right?

     There were several routes on that map, and I opted for the longest that promised to take me to a beautiful cave and something called the “Blue Lagoon” – seven or eight kilometers outside town. First, I crossed a bridge over Nam Song that was free for locals, but paid for the foreigners. What I really liked about it was that you only paid in one direction – the way back was ‘free’ :P.

     Then the road turned to dirt and started going through rice fields and simple Lao villages where Lao people still lived off the land (although the first signs of the inevitable transition – guest houses and some shops had already begun to pop up). Along the road there was the occasional cow munching grass and it was really hot – perhaps this was one reason there were very few people around.

Vang Vieng Vicinity

Look, Ma, no people!

Around Vang Vieng Vicinity, Laos

  By the way, now that I am looking back at my photos, I realize that I did not take any of the Lao village houses – which are very simple, yet in  harmony with the environment that surrounds them. Judging by what I shot at, I’d fallen – again – for the more peculiar sights that popped up before my eyes. Oh, well there is always Google Images for the inquisitive mind. Read more of this post

Riding the tube, Vang Vieng style

    Tubing is the attraction of Vang Vieng. Remember the old saying “When in Rome do what the Romans do”?  So, when in Vang Vieng you simply have to try the tubing! (Note: how come that no local Lao person ever goes tubing then? Shouldn’t this ring some bells in one’s head? “Interesting River Tube”, huh? Lessee…)

Tubing, Vang Vieng Laos

Tubing, Vang Vieng Laos

Courtesy: http://www.loupiote.com

      The tubing experience is, hm…. perhaps a bit inflated. I don’t mean to say it is just hot air, but simply that it is somewhat overblown. OK, enough stupid puns. “Tubing” is basically going down the Nam Song river in an inflated tractor inner tire (and buying a T-shirt telling the world what you did afterwards… if you survived it, that is). Just type “vang vieng tubing” in Google and enjoy…

Google Search - Tubing Deaths

I do not think I will get tired any time soon of praising the beauty of Lao scenery. And Vang Vieng is a rare beauty – even by the Lao standards (did I say yet that Laos is the most beautiful country in South Eash Asia and possibly the whole world? I guess I did.)

In the tubing, Vang Vieng

In the tubing, Vang Vieng

Courtesy: author

     So, enjoying this unsurpassed beauty from the unique perspective of a tractor tube  going downstream is the main reason why tubing has become such a tourist magnet in Vang Vieng. Right? Right?? Riight… the fact that the tubing crowd is made of Brits, Australians and Dutch people in their late teens or early twenties should make you think twice about that. What you do not see on the picture are the multitude of open air bars on both banks of the river where the tuber (tubist? tubitian? teletubby? tuborg? ) can stop to have a drink, dance, and do all kinds of “fun” things (mud pits with the buddies, anyone?). Then jump back on the tube (if some other evil tuborg did not steal it while one was not watching) and proceed further downstream. Read more of this post

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)

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