Spring Break in Laos

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August 28th 2007
Published: April 12th 2008
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First Glimpse of Vang Vieng!!First Glimpse of Vang Vieng!!First Glimpse of Vang Vieng!!

It is a stunning place to show up too
I heard so many stories about Vang Vieng (VV) before I got there that I felt like I almost didn’t need to go. What used to be a very quiet, peaceful, and empty village nestled next to the Tam So River with amazing Karst Cliffs abounding in the distance as a stopover between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, has turned into a backpacker haven that Laos people despise. You get travelers who step off the bus, take a look around and get on the next one headed anywhere out of there, or those travelers that get stuck here and never want to leave. I fell into the latter of the two.

Yes, its not cultural, yes it is a lot of foreigners, yes there are Friends cafes everywhere, but hey…the tubing, outdoor activities, company, happy pizza, and scenery isn’t so bad after all. I succumbed to being THAT traveler in Vang Vieng. All I have to say is that it was a damn good time.

Andres and I arrived in VV and as usual, were bombarded by touts wanting to take us to their hostel because it is so much better than the other ones. As invasive and overwhelming as the touts can be when you first arrive in a new city, they are also helpful if you have no plans ahead of you. After perusing about 5 flyers, I picked my favorite and got a FREE ride into the center of the town (what most would call a village). There is no obligation to stay at their place if you don’t like it, but it’s a great way to get a free lift into the center. Thavisouk Guesthouse had nice owners, free water, and the right price. We decided to call it home.

We took off to explore VV, my hopes very high for this controversial enclave along the river. We walked around the place in 10 minutes. Clearly, there wasn’t too much here. The town did have tons of guesthouses, bars, and cafes showing Friends constantly. Other travelers and my LP weren’t lying!

After a delicious street-side crepe we hunkered down in a Friends café (when in Rome, do as the Romans) with some friends I met in Hanoi, Sammy and Logan. These English uni students talked Andres and me into going rock climbing the following day. I was beyond excited since I had never
Busy Streets?Busy Streets?Busy Streets?

I don't think so!
been outside, and was finally going to get to put my indoor bouldering skills to work. Tubing was going to have to wait.

Rock Climbing

Early the next day we piled into a jumbo and were taken even further out into the countryside. Man, this place was spectacular. The scenery can’t be beat that’s for sure. We then hiked for 20 minutes so we were right up close next to one of the limestone cliffs. It was quite a treacherous hike climbing over trees and slippery rocks. Since we were going to slip on climbing shoes before our ascents, we all just wore flip flops. This made it even more challenging!

Our guide scurried up the route and put up the ropes. I remember doing something like this when I was at a ropes course in elementary school. That was a very long time ago and I was starting out fresh today. Fearless and very experienced Sammy was the first to ascend. Her flowing blond hair matched her long legs and arms that easily found hand and foot holes. Watch out Spiderman, looks like you have some competition. Logan went next and he was good,
Famous Flying FoxesFamous Flying FoxesFamous Flying Foxes

I am so graceful :-)
but not at good as his girlfriend.

Then it was my turn. As we all know, grace and beauty are not my fortes in life. I had the spirit to be a cheerleader in HS but no rhythm to boot. I was going for the “just make it to the top without falling” method. Being a head shorter than the others and less experienced, it was definitely more difficult for me. Still, I managed to maneuver my way almost to the top. I got within 2 feet (which sounds close but really it’s a good distance in the climbing world) and couldn’t hold myself anymore or find a good hold, so I had to let go. Still, it was such an unbelievable feeling.

I am very athletic (just to toot my own horn) and what skills I lack I make up in hustle. With climbing, you can’t really ‘hustle’ your way through it. It truly is all about skill and strength. It was one of the best rushes I have ever gotten. You are up there 40 feet in the air and can fall at any moment. Of course you are locked into the harness but it’s easy
Friends CafesFriends CafesFriends Cafes

They do exist!
to forget that you do have a safety net. I had fear and exhilaration running through my veins, I was sweating bullets, and I was definitely pushing myself further than I had in a long time. I came up empty handed. I had the post-lunch route to make it to the top.

The climbing company we went with was one of the first to really promote eco-tourism in Laos. They want to leave nature the way they found it. Because of this mission statement our entire lunch was biodegradable. Our guide whips out some charcoal and starts grilling up our chicken and vegetable kebabs. While the kebabs sent of amazing scents we were handed fried rice bundled up in a banana left. This was one of the best “lunch included” gigs I had ever seen in SE Asia! I gobbled it up and was tempted to lick the banana leaf because the food was so delicious.

After lunch I started out by learning to belay the other climbers. Sammy’s life was in my hands and thankfully she did not die. Again she scurried up the other route with ease. Then Logan, and then it was my turn again.
Street Food in Vang ViengStreet Food in Vang ViengStreet Food in Vang Vieng

Enjoying yummy crepes!
I was determined to get up on this one, proving my strength and overcoming my fears. Watching Sammy made me think “yeah, I can totally do that!” It’s kinda like when you are watching someone bungee jump. It looks pretty easy from below. Then when you are standing at the ledge it’s a whole new ball field (read my experience in my second Bali blog…). I enjoy climbing because it really is a puzzle and you have to really think about your next move. One false move and you are left hanging in the air, saved only by your belayer below.

I started my ascent with ease, but as I got towards the middle I started think I wasn’t going to be able to do it. Then Sammy was encouraging me from below and I knew I could do it, I had to! With my heart pumping, mind racing as quickly as possible to decide the next best hand hold, and sweat dripping everywhere from fear and intense humidity, I somehow made it to the top. A great big sigh of achievement. It was a feeling of achievement that I had never had before because I had never done anything like this. At the top I took a second to look around. At that moment I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world and was invigorated with excitement. I could have died then and there, and it would have been a successful life.


So why do most people come to VV? To tube of course! It's become a rite of passage for backpackers going through SE Asia! I must brag a bit: I am quite the experienced tuber. On Labor Day my hometown draws 20,000 college students to float down the Sacramento River. Needless to say, it is a complete drunken mess and such a great time. VV had a lot to live up to. A crew of 10 of us went for beer and eggs for brunch- no better way to start out a day of drinking. From there we went to the tube rental area and were whisked off in a jumbo to the head of the river.

Being the rainy season the river was much higher than normal. Still, we ventured out although most Laos people probably thought we were crazy. Because of this backpacker ritual,
Rock ClimbingRock ClimbingRock Climbing

Our rock climbing location from a distance
riverside bars with flying foxes have popped up everywhere. Drinking, strong currents, and swings…this was a lawsuit just waiting to happen.

We got to the main bar that was fully equipped plenty of beerlaos and restaurant, TALL swing, volleyball net, a Laos kicking volleyball net, and bocce ball. To some this is a personal hell. For me, I loved it. It was the low travel season in Laos, but still we managed to have an awesome crew of people there. After you go zooming off the flying fox a Laotian man with some of the largest biceps I have ever seen throws an inner tube at you that you hold onto and he pulls you in. With the drunkenness and fun people everywhere, it felt like spring break.

We stopped at 2 more bars along the way (for a total of 4) and then I made everyone hightail it to the end, fearing being out on the river in the dark. We did manage to order a death bucket at the last bar. It seemed like a great idea at the time.

As you approach the end cute little kids come sit on your raft with you.
Vang ViengVang ViengVang Vieng

View from the limestone outcrop
Then when you reach a point where you can stand up they ask you for money, claiming that they helped you pull your tube in when really they did nothing. Ridiculous! We then returned our tubes and after showers met up for a falafel dinner. Thanks to Israeli tourists everywhere, you can always manage to find hummus or falafel in most SE Asian towns. And, if you were up for it, you could always order a happy pizza or shake to top off the day of debauchery. Andres and I called it a night, pooped from the sun and beer.


The next day I said goodbye to my friend Andres, who turned out to be as creepy as the rest of the French men I have ever met. German Georg and I hopped on a kayaking tour for the day. Little did we know that it was going to be us and 8 other Israelis. Sweet deal. Plenty of people to practice my mazel tovs and shaloms with. Our first stop was at this cave (I can't remember it's name). Although our tour was pretty touristy from the get-go, this tunnel gig was actually really
Climber SammyClimber SammyClimber Sammy

She was amazing!

With the river so high, we had to squeeze through this tiny opening on an inner tube and then were inside this incredible cavern. We held onto the rope and kept going deeper inside the limestone formation. We got so deep inside, that I actually got claustrophobic for the first time in my life. I was okay tubing and walking bent over through gook and mud in the cave by headlamp, but when it came time to crawl on our bellies through a little crevice, I called it quits. I’m not as young and carefree as I used to be. Then on the way out we got to tube out, letting the current carry us to the opening where we had to again force ourselves through.

The rest of the afternoon we cruised down the river. It was a pretty easy kayaking tour and it would have been more fun if there were actually rapids. Still, the scenery was amazing. Once again, Georg and I found ourselves at the tubing bar and again were drawn in by laolao whiskey and beerlao. You just can’t refuse it if it’s right there. I chose to hang out with some
Climber CaseyClimber CaseyClimber Casey

not bad for my first time outdoors!
locals who were there enjoying their Saturday. They let me munch on their traditional food and I thought my mouth was going to start smoking because it was so hot. Again, I found myself guzzling beer just to make it go away (excuses, excuses!). There is just no avoiding the flying foxes and beer. It’s addictive!

Change of Plans

My original plan was to volunteer at the organic farm in Vang Vieng. Sadly, I never made it to the farm. Mainly because other tourists that I met said that they went and the farm really didn’t need the help. Additionally, I was enjoying my time relaxing and vacationing in the backpacker enclave. It was just about 1 ½ months since I started traveling and I was in need of some R&R.

Georg and I met up the next morning and were debating how we were going to make good use of the day. We contemplated the farm, reading by the river, trying out the Family Guy café for a break from Friends, or sleeping. But, somehow, the allure of tubing overtook us. With beer in hand we made way for the tubing rental place again,
Climbing GuideClimbing GuideClimbing Guide

Goofing around
and before we knew it we were on the river, again….Yes folks, I may have a problem. Whatever, it was a blast.

That night Georg and I met this amazing Australian girl who worked with the UN and had lived in SE Asia for over 5 years. She inspired us to leave 'spring break' and venture out to see the real Laos. After a delicious organic meal at the café owned by the organic farm (hey, I may not have worked there but I was still supporting the cause!) Georg and I said goodbye, each of us heading in different directions.

Tubing in VV was fabulous. I will admit it really could not compare with Chico Float Days, but not many other tubing events in the world can. The flying foxes were pretty sweet. Tubing is VV’s claim to fame, but honestly I found more relaxation and fun when I went rock climbing and kayaking. You can do those activities elsewhere in Laos yet I am not sure the scenery could be as stunning as it is in VV. My time in VV was definitely well spent.

Vang Vieng....a place you love or love to hate. Go yourself and see what you think.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


Ride HomeRide Home
Ride Home

on the roof of our jumbo
Fierce KayakersFierce Kayakers
Fierce Kayakers

Georg and I, the only non-Israelis on our kayaking trip
Cave EntranceCave Entrance
Cave Entrance

Yeah, where is it you ask? It was THAT small
Local LunchLocal Lunch
Local Lunch

They let me eat their lunch, "laap," too

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