Published: June 19th 2006June 10th 2006
Vientiane was like a city on sedatives. Spending one afternoon drinking too much BeerLao while watching a monsoon rear its ugly head was relaxing enough but when I learned that the most exciting aspect of the city was the gun range in the center of town (that I most definitely visited), it was decidedly time to head to the hills.
My new traveling partner Sean, good guy, its just a shame he went to Notre Dame, and I heard through the bamboo telegraph that the two hot spots in Northern Laos to see are Luang Prabang and Vien Viang (VV). We decided to go long to start and make our way back south on our way to Bangkok. This meant a 12 hour bus ride along some of the world’s (yes the entire world!) worst roads.
Laos is a country of unusable resources and its plain to see that aside from logging, a large majority of their economy is based on tourism which is a scary thought because the largest crowd that is attracted to this country are backpackers who are notoriously cheap. The country spent a lot of money on public projects save for a concrete monument that
No Pissing Around Here!
It was less than 100m to the river...hmmmm....
was erected in Vientiane using materials donated by the US government for the construction of a new airport….
So Luang Prabang was pretty much a bust because both Sean and I had gone into financial lockdown mode and were unwilling to hire any tour guides and felt that if the only thing to see in the entire town was a waterfall 30km away, it couldn’t be that cool. So for 1$ a day we rented bicycles and tried to make our way to the waterfall ourselves. These were beachcruisers that we rented and attempted to ride 60km in one day through rolling hills. I was almost happy when my bike broke and we hitched a ride the rest of the way. We made it halfway out to the falls but would never have made it back to town before nightfall…The waterfall was cool but not nearly as cool as the tubing in Vien Viang.
Disgruntled with the amount of time we spent/wasted in Luang Prabang, we cut our losses and headed south to the Mecca for the Adventurously Lazy. Throughout my travels in Asia, I’ve never met a single person who had anything negative to say about Laos,
so with that in mind, the reputation of Laos had a lot riding on my perception of VV. Needless to say, I had an absolute blast in VV and there will never be a negative word spew from my mouth regarding the L-A-O-S!
There were only about 4 roads in the whole town of VV which is situated in a valley somewhere in North Central Laos. Without the river that dissects the valley, this town could not exist. It is completely a tourist town catering to all things western with the wonderful attitude of the Southeast Asian hospitality. All the restaurants have lounge type chairs facing giant television screens so its all TV dinners, but the really strange part is that EVERY SINGLE TELEVISION SHOWS FRIENDS?!?!? Every restaurant, as if instructed on what westerners would like, have every single season of Friends on DVD and continuously play reruns over and over and over again. Don’t like season 7? Prefer the earlier stuff? Its most likely on two doors down! Its absolutely ridiculous!
One restaurant however did play The Simpsons, but the food made me sick each time I ate there…it’s a terrible trade off, you sanity or your
More River Bars
If you somehow make it out of the vortex that is town, and have the fortitude to get overly intoxicated and float down the river, tubing is the answer. You rent a tube and hitch a ride out to the river for 3-4$ and plop yourself into the current. No more than 100 yards downstream from where you start, the river bars appear. It’s a tricky situation with these river bars because they all have a gimmick, a swing, a zip line, a trapeze…but you are not allowed to use the facilities unless you buy a beer. SO…the more adventurous you are, the more you are forced to drink, thus elevating the danger level but at a certain point, many tubers/swingers feel invincible which is where the true comedy begins…
The bar owners fish for people as they throw 20 yard bamboo sticks at you and reel you into their place. If you don’t want to go to a particular bar, or if the swing doesn’t look like fun or is too hard, simply wave them off and they’ll flick you off. There are even places that don’t have the platforms for jumping into the river but
will try to haul you in and sell you beer, which few people refuse…
Some people are so drunk they can’t even hold on to the zip line and fall off the platform, but that’s a rare occurrence, the more common sights are drunk guys, myself included that attempt to try double backflips only to land on their head. Now there are no lifeguards on duty at any of these bars, it is Laos, but there is a sort of self safety system where your friends look after you. I ended up pulling a Hasselhoff and saved a girl who did a bellyflop from 40 feet and couldn’t breathe.
I know I’m making this sound a lot more dangerous that it really was, there are over a hundred people at the bars and even more locals are floating around making sure no one is running amock, but there is an element of danger that always makes the adventure more interesting. Its no wonder why half the people in town are lounging out watching episode after episode of friends reruns after a long day of drinking on the river, for one, there’s not much else to do in VV
and secondly, there’s not much a body can take after a full day of rope swinging and BeerLao.
While I was in Laos, I missed not only one but two flights from Hong Kong to the Philippines. I was initially supposed to travel from Vietnam through Mainland China to Hong Kong on my way to Manila but got a little sidetracked. The Chinese Visa cost more than a flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong and as I said before, I’ve never heard anyone say a negative word about Laos… A little begging and pleading with the lady at the Cathay Pacific counter and I was bound for Manilaa week and a half after my originally changed ticket was supposed to take me. The trip to Laos was definitely worth the hastle of having to re-arrange my travel plans, but then again, that’s what traveling in this style is all about, hearing about the good spots and making time.
There are more photos below