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Asia » Laos » West » Vang Vieng
March 11th 2016
Published: March 20th 2016
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Tina Writes

Vang Vieng is renowned as the party town of Laos. This is where the backpackers go to get ridiculously drunk and high. I had my reservations but many people on the internets said if you look past this, it’s a lovely place. Also, the things this place is most famous for have all but gone seemingly. It used to be that you could ‘tube’ down the river bar hopping. The local bars would throw a rope out and haul you in. You would get drunk and high and ‘tube’ to the next bar. This caused a lot of accidents and even deaths. There is a hospital in town which is apparently only there because so many tourists got hurt. However, the government has cracked down on this big time. We still wanted to tube the river, missing out the drinking but nowhere seemed to really do that anymore. We stayed here two nights. One thing it had going was the views. Such a beautiful setting, it’s a shame the town is so horrible.

The first night we sat on our balcony looking over the river and at the mountain view, and whilst watching the sun go down a hot air balloon passed right in front of us. It was so cool. Then another followed. So that’s what we set out to organise for the next day. We asked at a few tour agencies but they told us it was full until the day we left. Very annoying as we didn’t really see else anything to do. On our one full day here we just took a walk around the town. Had some lunch and walked a bit more. You could kayak down the river, which we had watched many people do from our balcony but by the time we decided we should do it, it was too late in the day. We had to organise our bus for the next day to Vientaine and whilst doing so I asked the tour guy if there were any places on the hot air balloon for the sunset. I fully expected him to say no as we had asked a few places that day and they all said no, but there was room! So we booked it there and then for 20 minutes time. For $79 each we were picked up in a songthaew along with another 2 people and off we went. I had read that the songthaew driver would just look in the sky and chase the balloon until it landed. Rob thought I must have read wrong but sure enough, we pulled up at the side of the road, the driver got out told us he was looking for the balloon and would follow it when we seen it. We spotted the balloon and as it got closer, the driver hopped back in and off we went, chasing it. Basically, the winds control where the balloon goes, so the pilot skims the rooftops and trees looking for somewhere to land, anywhere!

There was a van full of guys ahead of us, they had radio contact with the pilot and when they thought it was able to land they would run under it trying to catch the anchor ropes. A few failed attempts and eventually our songthaew came to a stop and we watched as the balloon landed. The basket, full of people, swayed and almost toppled. You could hear their excited squeals. The men gestured to us to come quickly. I had been standing back, waiting for the passengers to all get out but that’s not how it works. They can’t get out until you get in, one by one or the balance of the balloon will be out. So we all climbed into the basket and off we went. It was soo cool looking up at the balloon from inside. Then the pilot let the first burst of flame out. OMG was it noisy and terrifying. Huge flames right next to your head and, man, could you feel the heat. The pilot did this a lot at first and it was just as scary each time, as when he stopped it was so quiet. We soared into the sky and it was amazing. To realise the only thing keeping you up there is hot air is weird. We went higher and higher. Rob went quiet, very quiet. He does this when adrenaline kicks in but this wasn’t an adrenaline type thing. I could see pure fear in his eyes. It was hilarious. As we got higher, I too got a bit scared and found myself clinging to the basket. I was too scared to take photos as I had this feeling that the camera would fall out of my hand but that didn’t matter as the camera battery ran out after I took 2 photos! Luckily Rob had his phone so we used that. At one point Rob thought the mountain was way too close to us. I told him he was a mental and just to enjoy it. We watched the sun set behind the mountain and after about 40 minutes the pilot descended and started the hunt for a landing spot. We could see the van of men chasing us and eventually we skimmed the ground of a field and just before we crashed into the bushes/trees we landed. We were the last group of the day, so the balloon was deflated. We all got out in the middle of someone’s field (how they get away with this I don’t know) and watched the balloon go down and the van guys pack it up.

With another major bucket list tick, we headed back to our hotel. We got dropped off in town and noticed one of the renowned ‘Friends’ bars. These places show episode after episode of Friends and you lie on these bamboo bed like seats watching, drinking and eating. We watched the one were Phoebe and Gary move in together , while eating dinner and headed back to the hotel.

Now, luckily or maybe not so, Rob decided to check the Tripadvisor reviews for the balloon rides. Oh my. Had he read this before we went there is no way would have done it. There was story after story of crash landings, some INTO THE MOUNTAIN! Were it took an hour for a rescue team to get them to safety. Some, where after crashing into trees, the forest around them caught fire from the fire thingy and the balloon got torn from the branches all while the pilot screamed! Personally, I think if you are gonna die, your family being able to say ‘they died in Laos when their hot air balloon crashed into a mountain’ is quite interesting.

Anyhoo, we are alive and well with a great experience in place. We left the next day and headed to Vientaine in a VIP bus. There is nothing VIP about these buses, it was just a jumbo minibus. It took us about 4 hours on a very bumpy ride down a mountain road with sheer drops to your right. We spent 2 nights in Vientaine doing absolutely nothing as there is nothing to do and is not a very nice place. I hadn’t really warmed to Laos, so we decided not to go south and just head to Cambodia.

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