Vang Vieng, Laos

March 6
We woke up, checked out, and got into a minivan that took us four hours to Vang Vieng. The bus was pretty comfortable so that was a nice change. We arrived and started walking down the road trying to find the main area. Some guy pointed us in the right direction and recommended a hostel called Central Backpackers. We found the place and checked in. We got a private room with air conditioning, wifi, a bathroom with hot water and a big balcony for $5 each a night. We went across the street to eat some lunch and then we walked around the town. The whole town was only one Main Street and then two side streets that lead down to the river with bars and restaurants on each side. Then, once you get to the river, there are about 15 chill restaurants right near the water on stilts. All of the restaurants here are pretty chill and reminded me of Koh Rong, Cambodia a little bit. You sit on the ground on a mat and either lay down or slouch back as you hang out, drink, or eat. In most of the restaurants in town, episodes of Friends were playing on repeat, and if that wasn’t playing, How I Met Your Mother was playing. It was awesome because we both love those shows. It was too late to go tubing today so we decided to just relax all day. We drank a couple of beers in some of the restaurants. So far the beer in Laos, called BeerLao is actually both of our favorite beer of the trip. It’s also one of the most expensive from $1-$2 a bottle depending on the size of the bottle. We walked down the street near the river and saw a rickety wooden bridge, so we crossed that and ended up at a perfect chill out spot. There was one bar and then a bunch of hammocks in huts next to the river. We hung there until it got dark and just drank beers for a couple of hours in the hammocks as the sun went down. We went back to the main area and had dinner as we continued to drink. We went to bed around midnight or so because we were exhausted from constantly waking up early each day.

March 7
We woke up and grabbed some huge breakfast sandwiches from these little ladies with carts in the streets. We then went to a tubing place and paid for two tubes. Basically, how it works is, you rent a tube, a tuk tuk takes you about ten minutes up the river and you go from bar to bar by floating down the river. It’s a really fun idea that is great but it used to be really dangerous a couple of years ago. Until 2012, this wasn’t really regulated so anyone could open bars along the river and they could also build anything they wanted to get people to stop at their bar. There were about 15 bars in its prime but maybe 6 really good ones that were the most popular. These bars had zip lines, rope swings, slides and ledge jumps into the water. The problem was, this isn’t the western world and just because a zip line or rope is there, it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Kids were dying once a week or month and many more got very injured with broken limbs from falling into the water and landing on rocks. You can’t see under the surface of the water and there are a ton of rocks, some of which you bump into as you float by on the tube. Kids were falling 15 or 20 feet at fast speeds and landing on rocks daily. Every single day, there were multiple accidents. The rope swings were called death swings and the slides were called death slides. A ton of drugs were available at any of the bars, so that didn’t help people with decision making as they jumped into a shallow river. Also, you go over the crowded river on the zip lines and people landed on tubers all of the time. After too many people died, the government stepped in as people were suing and they shut the madness down. It was down for 6 months and then the town began to die so they brought it back. It’s not supposed to be back though, but the sheriff owns all four bars on the river that are currently open and he also owns the two tubing companies that are allowed to operate. It’s a money making machine for this corrupt man, but whatever, it’s fun for us. There are no more zip lines, rope swings or slides allowed but everything else is the same as it was. There are a lot of people getting wasted and floating down a river with a beer in hand to the next bar. Drugs are still there if you want them but it’s a lot safer now that there aren’t the activities to jump into the river. We got in a tuk tuk and met the girls on it with us. We ended up hanging out with 5 of them for the next four days. There was a girl from Canada and a girl from New Zealand who were studying in Hong Kong. There was a girl from Holland and two girls from Norway traveling like us. The first bar we went to was called Bar Zero and was right where you get off of the tuk tuk to enter the river. We got a free shot on entry and a free bracelet for taking the free shot. That’s what all of the bars do here for some reason, it was a really neat idea because all travelers love bracelets. And now when you see people anywhere in Southeast Asia with ten bracelets that all look similar, you know they went to Vang Vieng. We shotgunned beers and got mixed drinks. After we finished, we decided to start out the tubing. We got in our tubes and floated to the first bar which wasn’t far at all. Some local kids throw out ropes to pull you into each bar. We got to this bar and got a free shot and bracelet on entry again. We got beers and Matt and I talked with the Norwegian girls and this American guy that we met. We then got back in our tubes, and floated for a while down the river to the bar called Second Bar. There were a couple of bars that were shut down that we passed that looked a little smaller. It seems like the main four were the only four reopened. Second Bar was known to be the best. There were a ton of people, beach volleyball and basketball with water shooting out of the backboard. We got free shots and bracelets and then beers again. I ordered some Pad Thai and we all hung out and got drunk. We realized it was already 4:00 pm so we decided to go to the final bar, called Last Bar. It technically isn’t the final bar. There were about 6 more after it but it didn’t seem like anyone ever went to them. Maybe noone knows they are there because signs make you think there are only four but we saw them all the next day when we went kayaking. We got a free shot and bracelet at Last Bar and drank for a while. Around 5:30 pm everyone starts to head back to town because you have to be back by 6:00 pm to get your deposit back. We should have seen this coming but the tuk tuk drivers have deals with the tube company where they make sure that they intentionally bring people back right after 6:00 pm so they are late and then they split the deposit money. It was annoying and frustrating as everyone yells at the guy to drive but that is very standard behavior everywhere in Southwast Asia. After we got back to town, we all split up and agreed to meet at an Irish Pub for dinner. We showered and rested for an hour and then met everyone. We ate and then went to another bar called Fat Monkeys. It was the place that everyone goes to after a day of tubing. We hung out there all night until we gradually each left to go to bed.

March 8
We booked a kayaking tour with the girls we met from yesterday so we met them at the tour office and took a tuk tuk about 40 minutes to a cave. We walked through a small village to get to the cave and then we got on tubes in the freezing cold water. We pulled ourselves through the cave by rope and each had head lamps to see where we were going. It was really neat. It took about 30 minutes to go deep into the cave and then come back out. It was huge. We then ate lunch at a hut by the cave before walking to a religious shrine in another cave. We got back on the tuk tuk and rode to the river, where we kayaked for 6 kilometers. We stopped 1 kilometer in to go to this random bar right on the water. It was a festival of locals celebrating International Women’s Day. We sat down and got some drinks. We were pretty out of place but no one seemed to mind. We just didn’t really know what was going on because we thought we were going kayaking, but our guide made us stop at this festival for an hour with no explanation. We just went with it because nothing is what you sign up for here. A live band kept calling us to the dance floor, which was rocks on dirt with flowing water between them. They taught us how to dance like locals which was very simple. You literally take both hands and move them up and down subtly in opposite directions. And that’s how they dance to every song, all the time, I guess? We gave it a little bit of western swag by getting our pelvic muscles and hips into it. The locals liked that. We eventually got back on the kayaks and continued down the river. We passed the river tubing section that we were on yesterday. Once we got passed Last Bar, we realized that there were a few more bars on the river for the people who tubed all the way back to town about 3 kilometers away. These bars were pretty much empty but were open for business so facts are wrong about how few bars are open. Even if we knew that yesterday though, we wouldn’t have gone any further because we barely made it to Last Bar by the end of the day. We kayaked all the way back to town. It was pretty tiring but nice to enjoy the scenery. The river was shallow at parts and the kayak would hit rocks now and then but we never tipped. We got back to town and then our tour was over. We walked to our hostels and split up to rest and shower before dinner. Matt, the Canadian girl and I weren’t that tired so we went to the chill out bar that Matt and I went to yesterday with the hammocks by the river. We chilled there for a drink or two and played some bocce ball. We went back to shower and then all met up for dinner. We ate at a restaurant with a good variety because no one could agree on what to eat. There were about 12 people in our group at this point. A girl from holland, two Korean girls and some others joined us. We all walked to this area where we heard there was a local wedding party. We were going to buy a bottle of wine and crash it if they allowed us to, but when we walked by, there wasn’t anything happening. We think it was because it was a holiday, Women’s Day, so there were no weddings today. Usually, every Saturday, there is a wedding party but not this week. Most people went to their hostel to watch a movie but four of us went to a chill bar with a fire performer and karaoke. After a few drinks, we called it a night. It was a long but fun last day in Vang Vieng.

mikepsilve'sVang Vieng  album on Photobucket