Vang Vieng is a tiny riverside town in Central Laos. It has no more than three streets, no airport and a bus station. Tourists normally will break their journey between Ventiane and Luang Prabang in Vang Vieng. They are attracted by the wooden bridges over the river, the karst mountains, laid back countryside and cave-filled rock formations. Few years ago, it had the reputation of a backpacker’s haven for its famous wild parties at the many bars which could be easily found in town and along the Nam Song River. Tubing along the Nam Song River was the most popular activity in Vang Vieng. As many as 20 bars were set up by opportunist backpackers along the river to cater to tubers. Loud music, hard liquors, beers and drugs were part of the party scene. Unfortunately, in 2011, 27 tourists died while partying on the river. Some of them were too drunk or too high and thus ended up drowning in the river. Some bars set up riverside swings and “death slides” and that resulted in a number of bad accidents. The local authorities had clamped down on illegal activities such as drug and had shut down many of the tubing bars. They placed restrictions on the volume of music from the barand all the dangerous riverside swings and death slides had been dismantled. When I was there in April 2015, only a handful of bars operate along the riverside. We decided not to do the tubing because the water level was low and the idea of sitting on a big tube and slowly .. very slowly carried down the river by the very very slow current for 3 hours under the hot scorching sun was not appealing at all.
DAY 1 IN VANG VIENG
We were sent to the doorstep of our home for two nights, Vang Vieng Boutique Hotel and Nguyen, a pretty young receptionist welcomed us with a drink of papaya watermelon concoctions. She took out a map of Vang Vieng and gave us an introduction of where we can visit and how to do a walking tour. Her English was perfect and she was always wearing a smile. I was very surprised that she didn’t ask for any deposit for our rooms. Our two double rooms were located on the 3rd floor. Unfortunately my room was located at the end of the building whereby wifi is practically non-existent. Nguyen promised that she will change my room once there is one available.
It was already 2 pm and our stomachs were growling as we didn’t have lunch yet. We wanted authentic Lao food and were recommended a noodle shop 500 metres away from our hostel.
We ordered 2 large bowls of beef pho at 25,000 kips per bowl. I really liked the way the noodles are always accompanied by a basket of fresh green vegetables consisting of long beans, basil, lettuce and mint. The condiments like fish sauce, chilli powder, chilli sauce, tiny but extra spicy chilli and limes add dimensions to the taste of the soup. This noodle shop was also very popular with the locals. It has a simple set-up unlike those with fancy lights and cushions. It was really a simple yet scrumptious meal. The light drizzle made the hot soup more welcoming.
As it was already too late to do any activities such as rock climbing, tubing and kayaking, we decided to familiarise ourselves with the town. One can never get lost in Vang Vieng town because no matter where you walk or turn, all roads will lead back to the main street again. The shops sell the same stuff such as Lao clothing’s, waterproof bags, T-shirts and groceries. Every street has a few tour agencies offering the same tours at about the same price. Since we had run out of snacks, we bought a roll of Oreo cookies which costs us 12,000 kips. I can buy the same thing for 1/3 the price in Malaysia. Vang Vieng is geared to get money out of tourists. The price for the activities were not cheap as well.
Lao pancakes and rotees are versatile street food whereby there is a large selection of jams, fruits, meat to choose from to cook with the batter. Price starts from 10,000 kips onwards.
Only in a small town can cyclists cycle in twos or threes and in a group as well. It is also an indication on how quiet the streets of Vang Vieng are.
After walking around for an hour, we decided to go back to the hostel to take a nap as the 3 hours van journey had tired us out. Nguyen was waiting with good news for us when we stepped into the hostel. She said that there is a room available for us to exchange and the wifi reception is excellent in that room. As we walked toward our room, four staffs came with us and helped us to move our stuff and everything was transferred to the new room in a matter of a few minutes. Fantastic service. Did I mention that this hotel is squeaky clean and all the staff wore genuine smiles on their faces effortlessly?!!
I can safely say that most of the restaurants in Vang Vieng town cater to the tourists. You will be able to find travellers downing Beerlao and chowing down pizza, fries and other Western fare while watching episode after episode of Friends, Family Guy or Simpsons. Menus are normally placed on a stand outside the restaurant and we took a look at several before deciding on the one that offer free drinks together with the meal. As we were not too hungry, four of us shared a bowl to tom yam soup (50,000 kips) and a plate of mixed vegetables (20,000 kips). By now, we don’t expect the prices of food to be reasonable and due to the mediocrity of the food, we could not finish our dinner.
After dinner, we spent some time browsing at a small night market cum carnival. Stalls were selling clothings, shoes, tidbits and local food. One can win a teddy bear or two if you are able to burst the balloons with darts. A group of people were gathered around a man selling local medicine.
Thus end my uneventful day 1 in Vang Vieng. Read about my day 2 in my next post.