Published: October 29th 2008October 19th 2008
And so, we eventually left Luang Prabang for the backpacker Mecca of Vang Vieng. We got a tuk-tuk to the public bus station, but there wasn't one going for 3 hours so instead we chartered a minibus with some others stuck in the same position. The scenery got more and more stunning and the roads more and more windy as we weaved around the limestone karsts sticking vertically out of the ground, covered in dense vegetation. There was a bit of a hold-up where a truck ahead had overturned and some guys with a crane were righting it. Cool.
It was dark when we arrived in Vang Vieng and we ended staying in a crappy hut with rock solid bed, so we moved the next morning to a place on the river front (The Nam Song) overlooking a particularly massive limestone karst. As we found out, it is also overlooking a rather loud bar set on an island in the middle of the river. Fortunately said bar closed at midnight so us oldies could get some sleep.
The highlight of Vang Vieng and the reason for the congregation of backpackers is the activity known as 'Tubing'. We partook on
Rural Laos village
Taken from the bus!
our second day in Vang Vieng, after taking one day to get the lay of the land. What happens is at around midday you proceed in swimmers to a shop that rents out inflated inner tubes from some kind of vehicle...basically a rubber ring (for 55,000 kip! They must be raking it in). Then they tie your tube to the roof of a tuk-tuk and cram you in with the other sweaty falang (Westerners) and take you north of town (slalom tuk-tuking to avoid the giant pot holes. Nearly tipped over several times. Great fun) and drop you at the river. So you float down the river in your tube for the rest of the afternoon. Along the river are about 7 ish bars set up specifically for the tubers. Most are little more than bamboo shacks with an esky full of drinks. The staff throw you a line and toe you to shore, where they give you free shots of Lao-Lao (home made rice whiskey. Vile) and sometimes bananas oddly. What a good idea hey, drinking and swimming down a river!? Also most of the bas have loud music pumping from speakers wedged into the muddy bank and the
Bamboo bridge over the river
They were throwing these things up - 2 more were built from start to finish in the time we were there. No sigh of a structural engineer.
main attraction - swings! They all had (very home made) zip-slides or circus style trapezes! I don’t think it's possible for a person to have more fun. It's like Disneyland for twenty-somethings. Parents you would hate it. We had a grand old afternoon swinging and jumping into the river from great height. Mike pulled off some excellent somersaults. I just tried to land feet first but couldn’t even manage that - instead going for the backslap or ever popular face-plant.
The zip sides are brilliant to watch - if you hold on to the end where it stops, the force of the abrupt halt jerks you off the handles (and jerks your arms out of their sockets in the process) and makes people land in very funny ways. I think it should be an olympic sport.
There was one bar that had seriously gotten into the whole tubing-bar thing. They had a rather permanent set-up with a very very high trapeze (if you swing out and let go at the top, which foolishly we did, it's about 30ft above the river). If you landed wrong which I inevitably did, it hurt. Brilliant fun though. Watching other people do
it was maybe even better - the sound effects are great: 'whoo!' as they swing out. They look down as they let go and you hear 'oh sh.. then sploosh as they hit the water before finishing their sentence. The crowd goes 'oooh' as in 'ooh, that looks painful' when someone goes down in an awkward position. That big swing was so scary, you climb up these very steep very rickety stairs to the top. You then have to stand right on the edge of the platform, high above the river. When you take hold of the swing, it's pulling so hard it practically drags you off! The river has a fair old current too, it's a good job there are men with life rings on rope at the bottom to fish everyone back in.
Anyways, this really big bar also had a slide which was one of a kind - you went down it in your tube! It was made of concrete and lined with bathroom tiles. A man at the top kept it lubricated with a hosepipe. Very high-tech. I overheard one American utter, as he gazed up at the creation 'one small step for falang...one giant
leap for falang kind' I see his point. No-where but Laos could you get such a fantastic activity. Health & Safety officers would have a heart attack. It went off the tube side a couple times. It goes very fast indeed, flicks up at the end then you have about a 15ft drop in your tube before hitting the water. I winded myself a little and a Canadian ski instructor we were with advised me to try and go in straighter on my next attempt. I took his advice, but I think I was a bit too straight and it felt like I slapped my lungs on the water. When I came up I was very dazed and very winded. Good job the men with the life rings on rope have such a good aim. I was a bit scared after that and only just managed to go on the last two swings, which were alot smaller.
After all the bars are over there is a long and very scenic (really incredibly beautiful) drift down the river back to town, which is very scary if you leave it too late (post 5pm) as it is pitch dark, as it
was the time we swam the route!
We returned twice to the tubing, kindof. We reckoned 55,000 for renting a rubber ring was a massive rip off so we swam it. Unfortunatley the river is very shallow and it hurt. The second time we just got a tuk-tuk to the place with the big swings, so Mike could have a play. I was too scared after the aforementioned incident and didn't go on swings again!
Other activities of interest in around Vang Vieng include the day we rented a moped and rode to a cave that had a branch of the river running through it. The way there was potholed, dusty and very bumpy. We went along tiny footpaths following the paddy field irrigation canals. The village children in Laos are so amazing, they are so excited to see falang riding past on mopeds, they wave vigorously and shout 'sabideee!' (hello). We saw one girl, who couldn’t' have been more than 7, leading 3 very large water buffalo by a rope down the track.
At the cave itself we hired tubes (again) and were led into the cave by a guide, pulling ourselves in on a
rope. It was very dark but we had head torches on. A little way in the water came to an end, so the guide stacked up our tubes and instructed us to leave the bag with them (mistake! We thing his colleagues knicked some money while we were further in the cave, but it seemed reasonable to leave the bag at the time because it would have been difficult carrying it through the cave). We then followed the (non-English speaking) guide through the cave system, crawling through the mud under low ceilings, wading through underground rivers. It was wicked! We never could have done it without him so we were glad we had a guide, but not so glad when re realised he had knicked our money. Especially as he requested 50,000 kip for his services! Nevermind, a good day was had by all.
Other than that, we ate alot of pancakes from street vendors and watched more than enough 'Family Guy' in the TV bars in town.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and booked a kayaking(!) trip to the capital, Vientiene.
There are more photos below