Threading into Laos – Vientiene & Vang Vieng
The first stop in the unknown Laos was Vientiene. I had no idea what to expect from this “little” town. It wasn’t until I left Vientiene on the bus that I found out that Vientiene is actually the capital of Laos…. There wasn’t much to see in the city itself besides the cool sculpture park. For me one of the only things that were worth visiting. They had tons of weird, buddhistic, godly sculptures spread out over the area. It was a nice 1 hour stroll, in the scorching sun though….It was also the first time to experience the buses and roads in Laos and boy were they …. aweful to say the least. The public bus was almost in pieces, the seats were loose, the frame itself looked like it was collected from the metal junkyard. The roads were in amazingly bad shape. Instead of using speedbumps like other countries, they simply stopped paving the road leaving a big gap of unpaved, uneven rocky road for the cars to drive on. And it’s everywhere! Even during the long 8+ hours rides! Anyway, like I said, Vientiene wasn’t much worth mentioning, but I did meet a group of fellow travelers who turned out to be the most fun group to travel with during my trip. We started out with a few random people and ended up with a group of 6 people heading to Vang Vieng, the party place to be in Laos.
Ask any backpacker in South-East Asia about Vang Vieng and you’ll get very different reactions. The people that liked the place get this smirk on their face, thinking back on the wild tubing and after parties with free buckets, while others show a reaction of detest. Truth to be told. You either love Vang Vieng or totally hate it. Me? I liked it, but hate it at the same time. I enjoyed my time there, but I was also glad to be leaving and leaving in 1 piece.Vang Vieng is famous for its tubing experience along the river filled with bars, swings and giant waterslides. When we were visiting it was low season and the water level was relatively low, which made the tubing experience pretty painful. You could just swim or walk to the different bars accross the shallow river. Actually we didn’t even make it to the end of the river, we stopped at most of the bars for a quick drink and swing on the… swings. So we had to rush back to bring back the tubes before 6. We barely went 1/3rd of the way. Each bar has their own “theme” if you can call it like that. They offer you 1 free shot of cheap whiskey when you pay them a visit and afterwards you get a colorful woven bracelet to prove that you’ve visited their bar. Many people make it their life goal to collect as many of these bracelets as they can. I’ve seen people with them up to their elbows and even have them on their ankles. They are totally “into the tubing” just like their official tubing shirts show. Personally I’ve never been a fan of the typical tourist things (I know I’m a rebel), neither are some of my traveling partners as we were making fun of the people who were totally into the tubing scene. Even to this day, these flashy tubing t-shirts and shorts are haunting me in the rest of South East Asia. Anyway, we only spent 1 day actually tubing, the next day we booked a day tour that included caving with tubes and kayaking. It was my first time caving and with a tube, made it just so much more cool! We went along a guide line with our tube and flashlight into the cave filled with water. Quite creepy as it was pitch black in there and with enough fantasy, you could imagine some cave monsters lurking in the water, waiting to take a bite of your limbs while in the water…. Afterwards we had a nice relaxing kayak ride down the same river where the tubing took place, but this time we started much higher up the stream and ended up at the bottom of the river. We, of course, stopped at some of the bars for the swings again while going down. Best thing about the “tubing” experience in my opinion. The swings! Oh yeah, before I forget, after the tubing it’s time for the afterparties. There are several bars around town that offer free buckets during happy hour. But funny thing is, at one bar its between 7-8, at another one its 8-9 and yet another 9-10. So you probably get the idea that it’s relatively cheap to get drunk in Vang Vieng. One would seriously wonder how they actually make money here. Another thing that Vang Vieng is famous for is the so called “Happy Pizza” with opium/weed and mushroom. No not regular mushrooms, but hallucinate mushrooms. Actually in reality, I haven’t seen any official happy pizza around. I did see a “Devil’s cup” where the ingredients were: whisky, weed, opium and a dash of mushrooms. And no I didn’t try it out. Anyhow, we made it out alive (some of us) and had to part ways with some members of our “party crew”. With the remaining survivors we made our way to Luang Prabang, former capital of Laos and UNESCO world heritage site!