Hi Mum, I’m in Vang Vieng

There are reams that have been written about Luang Prabang – extolling its French colonial charm, its languidness or any other of its many appealing attributes. When it comes to travel literature, Vang Vieng doesn’t fare quite as well – some of its more choice reviews include “shithole”, “dive” and “blight”.

The thoroughly underwhelming reputation of the place didn’t deter us from visiting, as there were only a couple of reasons for us being there. Firstly, to break up the trip between Luang Prabang and Vientiane (we were still scarred by our previous experience of Lao infrastructure). And more importantly, we were there to sample Vang Vieng’s biggest tourist drawcard – tubing.

Amanda and I arrived in town after a seven hour bus trip during which I think we travelled a grand total of about 14km and the most exciting event was having to rescue someone who’d gotten themselves trapped in the hobbit-sized toilet.

Our first impressions weren’t all that favourable. The place is dusty, under constant construction, full of wasted English backpackers and most of the bars play episodes of Friends on constant rotation. There are some limestone cliffs surrounding town, but we couldn’t see them due to the smoke and dust haze.

The next day we headed into town to start our day’s tubing. In Vang Vieng, tubing involves being dropped a few kilometres out of town, sitting in an inner tube on the slow moving river (marvelling at the limestone cliffs that were invisible the day before) and stopping every 100m or so to sit at bars and drink cocktails out of buckets while watching people launching themselves into the river off swings and slides of questionable construction.

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A tough day out, eh?

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After our fair share of beers and buckets, we decided to paddle our way back into town. This was in spite of (or maybe to spite) the legion of tuk tuk drivers offering to drive us back to town. Exercising our best alcohol-powered better judgement we were convinced were trying to scam us.

Maybe the river was flowing a bit too slowly or maybe we were feeling a little too relaxed, but we only just made it back to town in time to return our tubes (having taken six hours to navigate four kilometres of river). Maybe those tuk tuk drivers weren’t trying to scam us after all…

That night we managed to find a bar that showed Family Guy instead of Friends and settled in for a few rounds of Beer Lao. On reflection, maybe Vang Vieng isn’t quite the hole that many have made it out to be. It’s a town that’s built on hedonism and, no matter what your opinion of Vang Vieng, it would be a shame to see it denigrated by puritanical ideas of what tourist destinations should be.

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4 thoughts on “Hi Mum, I’m in Vang Vieng

  1. Glad to see that the virus has disappeared from your memory card. I am loving your blog, keep on posting!

    re tubing, we just did the same on the Murray River. Shame that there are no bars at the side of the river that you can stop at…

  2. Glad you enjoyed the serenity that is Luang Prabang…how many times I have considered buying a place there, until I consider the grief that comes with the government.

  3. Love the last sentence! It shows that after a few beers you are less prone to making harsh judgments.

    Great beer!

  4. Hey guys! Great to see you are traveling well!! The following suggestion re. xian is from kristin (legend)…

    Xi’an hostel

    Hantang Inn
    tel: 029-87231126

    I definitely recommend this place. Clean (it’s a new building), great value, lots of amenities – i stayed in a dorm there (6 beds per room) for 35 RMB per night (about $5 US) – that included a free coffee or tea, a free beer, towel use, internet (including wifi if you have a device with you), random other things like hairdryer if you need – they also speak english well and can help with planning trips

    address: strangely, the address is not listed in english on the brochure that i have – to get there from the bell tower (which is main landmark right in center of town):
    – walk north on north street (main street at intersection of bell tower)
    – take first right on xiyi lu
    – take first left in sangpu lu
    – take first right into alley (don’t know street name) – walk down equivalent of 1-2 blocks (pass lots of street food stands and small restaurants), and the hostel is on the right

    ** NOTE: It is listed in the lonely planet, but the location changed, so make sure to go to this address, not the one in the book!

    feel free to email us with any questions about the hostel or anything else in xi’an!

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