● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Vang Vieng

5th - 9th December

Vang Vieng is touted as lying in a valley alongside the Nam Song River with the
spectacular backdrop of jagged limestone karsts. Had we not already been up close and personal with this type of scenery in northern Laos, we would have been blown away. For us though it was a bit of an anticlimax. This wasn’t a problem however, as you don’t go to Vang Vieng to admire the scenery…

We knew what to expect, but to the uninitiated it could be a different story. Arriving in the mid afternoon, the town was quiet, and only the number of bars containing lounging sofas an TV’s showing friends hinted that this place could be a bit different to the Laos we had seen so far. As the time passed, staggering bikini clad girls and topless guys emerged onto the streets. Throughout Laos, there are posters everywhere telling you the do’s and don’ts in Laos. Keeping covered up is one of the basics, but this doesn’t seem to apply in Vang Vieng. Before long, we heard a familiar voice, it was Tony who we had first met in Muang Ngoi Neua. He was slightly drunk, or more accurately, battered. He raved about the adventure he had just had on the river, and swore he’d be back for more tomorrow!

That evening we met up with Ally who’d left a sick Jonny in bed. Having arrived a day earlier, she gave us the low-down on where to eat and drink and before we knew it we were in a pizza restaurant ordering a regular Hawaiian pizza, accompanied by not-so-regular garlic bread! Let’s just say that in a fairly short space of time we were very “happy”! We did say that VV was a law unto itself!

As the weather was much warmer than we had become used to, we spent the next day relaxing in the sunshine by the river. We met up with Jonny and Ally – and agreed that we head off tubing the following day.

Tubing in the Vang Vieng (well, the Nam Song actually!)

As we said earlier, you don’t come to VV for the scenery. Tubing is the age old art of floating down a river on a tractor inner tube. Tubing in the Vang Vieng adds a certain dimension to the art, involving riverside bars that wouldn’t look our of place in Ibiza. Add some trapeze style swings, zip wires, buckets of Lao Whisky and Coke and you kind of get the idea. Ady was brave enough to take his mobile phone camera with him in a waterproof case so there are some great picture of the action here!

We started quite early, and were at the first bar by 11am. The Mojito Bar at the Organic Farm marked the start of the tubing, and we were encouraged to have a ‘drink for the children’ here. 4 Mojitos later (not each!) we set off on our tubing journey. Not 50 meters downstream, we were hauled out of the river by the next bar. Buckets were order of the day, Whisky, Coke and Red Bull being our favourite! The bar soon got busy and as the drinks kept flowing, so did the bravery of the boys. The swings were too tempting, and after a couple of pencil dives, a bomb by Ady had the crowd groaning in sympathy as he flopped on his belly.

Several more bars, drinks, free shots, swings and limbos later, it was getting late and almost time to head back to the town to get our tube deposits back. We’d left an hour for the float back down the river. It wasn’t long enough and after a lot of frantic paddling, we decided that we’d never make it in time. As it got darker, we worried that we had even missed the town, as there were no lights to be seen! After another 30 minutes, just as drunken panic was setting in, we finally saw the lights of the bars in town and de-tubed. Ally bailed out to bed, but the rest of us needed food and Jonny and Ady carried on at the party island until late. Lets just say that a day sleeping it off was needed… we spent the next day comatose on some sunbathing decks by the river!

Kayaking to Vientiane

As if our last experience kayaking together wasn’t enough, we agreed to join a tour whereby you part kayak, part ride to Vientiane. I think perhaps it was the lesser of two evils; neither of us was keen to get back on the bus and it seemed like a good alternative to make a day of it. Loaded onto the back of a truck with 7 other budding kayakists, we set off on the journey. Halfway into truck ride, we ground to a halt. The clutch on the truck failed, and the driver couldn’t get into gear. After 10 minutes, the driver was stumped and it looked like we were going nowhere. Ady stepped in and tried to explain how they would be able to get going again using a little trick he learned once in the Polo!

Top Traveller Tip #6 - If your clutch cable snaps, switch the engine off, put the vehicle into first gear, and start the engine. You ma
y need a push from some friends to help, but the vehicle should move forwards. Once the engine is running, in first gear, get everyone back in the truck, as it is moving. Build up speed, and change gear without the clutch – it is possible if you ‘feel’ your way into gear! If you have to stop, do so facing downhill so you can set off using the starter motor more easily. This obviously works better on deserted roads than in the city, but it can help to get you home if you get stuck!

The trip downriver was great, and the BBQ at lunchtime was delicious.
We picked up some survival tips such as how to BBQ food without a real BBQ! Our only concern now was whether or not our luggage (still on the truck) would make it to the end point of the kayaking for our onward journey to Vientiane. An hour late, the luggage did arrive, but it was now getting dark. We still had an 90 minute ride on the back of a dusty truck and once the sun goes down, the temperature drops…

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