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Laos 2

Oh to be 21 in Vang Vieng


The journey from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng is a stunning mountain road passing paddy fields and limestone karsts it has to be seen to be believed. The road is windy, it is bumpy and the bus has very poor suspension. The vomiting started at the back of the bus and worked its way forward... apparently... I was wearing my headphones and was oblivious to it all. Niamh, on the other hand, spent the entire journey concentrating every effort to avoid joining in - a task at which she was successful.

Vang Vieng comes across as quite an ugly little town having been spoilt by the backpacker insurgence that has occurred here. Our hotel had a balcony which overlooked the limestone karsts towering above the river which was stunning at sunset. It also overlooked the "bucket bar" which pumped out the sort of music the kids like to listen to until about 2am.

Most of our time here I spent cursing my lost youth. The number one pastime in this town is tubing. Floating down the river in a truck tire tube you catch ropes thrown to you by each bar you pass (of which there are many) to pop in for a quick beer or free shot or whatever you fancy. We saw the end result of all this from our hostel balcony, the youngsters staggering back with their tubes in desperate hope of hitting the 6pm deadline so they didn't lose their deposits.

Not going tubing in VV would be like going to Paris and not climbing up the Eiffel Tower. As I pointed out to Niamh I have been to Paris and not been up the tower so we could probably skip the tubing aswell.

We went kayaking instead. Along the kayak route we stopped off at some caves - as we waded waste deep into the water at the entrance to the cave our guide enquired whether we had remembered our torches. No one had ever mentioned a torch so we indicated that we had not. Not to worry though, he had some candles and we were promptly issued with two each. Once he found his lighter, and got it to work, we were off.


The water got deeper, and the candles went out on numerous occasions plunging us into darkness. At one point the three of us that were foolish enough to continue (the other 5 had made various excuses and waited outside) all slid on our backsides down a 6 foot slope in the mud landing in a slimy heap whilst our guide nimbly hopped down and laughed sympathetically in the remaining light of his two candles.

Finally we could see daylight ahead but through a very small gap - our fellow visitor regaled us with stories of his last caving trip - not being a slight fellow he had got stuck in a tiny gap, not unlike the one we were about to traverse, and had to be greased up by his fellow cavers in order to squeeze through. As he started his squeeze Niamh and I looked at each other and the inch left on our candles and fell into silent prayer. All was well though and a minute later we were all out in the fresh air - no greasing required.

Having kayaked a few times in Cayman we felt quite confident in our kayaking skills and this proved to be the case until we reached the start of the boating festival. In Laos, all along the Mekong, the towns gather at the river’s edge to celebrate the end of the wet season with boating competitions. They had gathered, in this case, at exactly the point where Niamh and I lost control of our kayak and started spinning in the water unable to steer ourselves the 10 yards to the bank where we were to reach dry land. This was met with great amusement by our guide, our tour mates and about 500 Laos people present to witness our humiliation. We cheered ourselves up in one of the bars showing constant re-runs of Friends, the other pastime in VV (although Family Guy reruns are making a strong play with at least half the bars having made the switch.)

The next day we went climbing, Niamh's first time and she tells me she enjoyed it although I am not convinced. Our climbing was hindered by the weight of the guilt of rejecting the tubing so when the rest of our tour group decided they would tube that afternoon we agreed that we would go along too.

Only one or two people die or are paralysed each year tubing and they are normally drunk and stoned so statistically we would probably be ok if we stuck to beer, only stopped in one bar and at all costs avoided the ziplines.


Within the first 200 meters of the tubing route there are four bars - we visited each of them, drinking our beer along with bee rice whiskey (the local homemade hooch with actual bees in it – “for the sweetness mate”.)


Not surprisingly it wasn't long before Niamh was on the zip lines meanwhile I was taking in the whole experience of twenty somethings, drunk and stoned out of their collective tree, writing all over each other with sunblock pens so that their desire for ladyboys would be indelibly marked on their un-tanned flesh for some days to come.


We got back at 17.59 and proudly collected our deposit.

The day after our tubing adventure we were off to Vientiane on a substandard minibus which was most certainly not the luxury bus the sales lady had in her picture. We arrived without event to find the boating festival in full swing. Half the town was closed off to traffic so we set off on foot with our backpacks. Eventually admitting defeat with our navigation we flagged down a Tuk-Tuk. His navigation was no better than ours and he dropped us off further away from our hostel than he picked us up, charging us a dollar for the privilege. With the help of some sketchy directions from a local resident and some rather better ones from a couple of English lads we tracked down our hostel.

Vientiane isn’t our top recommendation on the SE Asia circuit, at least not when we were there - it was noisy, busy and dirty, the streets full of rotting food. We accept that this was purely because of the festival and if you came here at another time you would probably be fine - although one day would be enough. We did the obligatory cafes, visited the unexploded ordinance museum which is run by COPE ( www.copelaos.org ) an organisation which help not only provide artificial limbs but also trains the local people to make them. We also visited the Laos Arc de Triomphe which was built out of concrete given to the Laos government by the USA to build a runway. I think the tourist information sign speaks for itself:


The following day we took to the airport to head to Hanoi.....

Posted by steve1000 00:30 Archived in Laos Tagged vientiane caving tubing vang vieng

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I'm lost for words - what a good job I didn't know about it all 'til after it was all over! I doubt I could I have coped with it even had I been 21. Anyway it'll be something to tell your grandchildren and in fact no worse, and certainly more fun, than my tales of being a child in WW2.
Keep taking care. God bless you both. xx

by valvic

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