Laos was just one surprise after the other. Vang Vieng was the culmination of this. It may be the oddest place I will ever go.
We Left Luang Prabang early in the morning for the 6 hour bus ride to Vang Vieng. The road snaked through the mountains, and the bus crept annoyingly slow. We broke down about half way into the trip, which come to find out, most buses do on this route. Our bus didn’t have air conditioning, so the windows where open, and dust blew in covering everything in a surprisingly think layer.
We Finally arrived in in the late afternoon, and after a bit of a scramble, we headed to a hostel that was recommended to Scotty by a couple of Mexican guys he had met a few weeks earlier. The Spicy Laos hostel was one of the coolest I have ever stayed in. It was a 3 story, open air bungalow style structure, with beds perched on platforms in various locations throughout the structure. There where mosquito nets, but other than the roof over head, it was pretty much like sleeping out in the open.
That night, we took it easy, ate a dinner at one of the various restaurants in town. Each place has either Friends, Family Guy, or the Simpsons playing, and each place goes by the tag, “family guy place”.
Along the small river in town, a series of bars/clubs are nestled along the banks, and from the high bank you get a surreal overview of the madness.
The Spicy Hostel had a great set up. The communal lounge made it easy to get to know everyone staying and it was easy and quick to make friends. There was also a fridge with beer and water ready at demand, and each person kept a tally on a board for what they drank, all on the honor system.
Each day, some interesting activity was set up for anyone staying. On this day, we went fishing in a drying up water hole. The fish where hiding in the mud. Fishing was done by hand, like a muddy noodling session with small six inch fish.
Scotty got the winning fish, the largest one caught. He has been on a fishing roll. I guess no one else really had a chance against the Kiwi, man those guys love the outdoor sports.
After the catch we all prepared a feast. The women working at Spicy scaled and grilled the fish. The ladies here are chopping beef for the local dish, lap, which is amazing!
We finally got a clear day and saw the amazing back drop behind the hostel. This is looking out towards the main river.
The reason that most travelers stop in Vang Vieng is the legendary river tubing. Apparently is started out with a few travelers snagging some old tractor tire inter tubes, and launched 3k (1.7 miles) up river. They slowly meandered their way down river over 1-3 hours depending on river flow.
One entrepreneurial villager decided to make a little shack along the river, and sold snacks and beer. He didn’t tell anyone else in town what he was doing, and only showed up in town to stock up on supplies. He kept all his stock and money in one of the caves near the river. At some point someone made him and saw how much money he was making. After that, over the past 5 years, and really in the last 2, craziness has surrounded the river, and become a “must do” stop for young travelers on there way through South East Asia.
Most people rent tubes in town, and take the $1 tuk tuk ride to the launch area. You have to be careful though, there is a big deposit for the tube, and in the madness on the river, mix ups, and people taking tubes is common. Its a game of musical chairs and at the end of the day, you don’t want to be the one left standing without a tube.
I was excited about tubing, and had some mild expectations of the bars and rope swings around the river. I have been on a few river rafting trips, and the bars and swings along them are fun. They are usually flung over a tree, and the bars have porches and you can grab a snack and a drink. I figured it was about the same. I was wrong, dead wrong. I walked into an Apocalypse Now madness of drunken acrobatic insanity. The structures where massive, the swings sophisticated, the bars rocked with hundreds of drunk young travelers. There are no safety measures here, so that just added to the craziness of it all.
This bar had a rad zip line.
In the background here you can see a massive water slide made of concrete and lined with tile. The start is at the top of the building….are you kidding me!
It took us almost three and a half hours to get back to town on the tubes. It was the dry season, and the river was very low, and had a slow flow.
The next day was New Year’s Day in Laos. This is the biggest and water fighteness day of the year in SE Asia. Everyone staying at Spicy went to the main road, and became a wall of water destruction, dousing tuk tuks, cars, guys and girls on motorbikes, and the trucks that drove around with people in the back doing the same thing we where. What an epic celebration and tradition, the water fight!
We where painted with red dye and white powder and had buckets and water pistols. The entire day was spent wet, and drinking.
The day came to a head as the procession of Buddhist and town people made there way down the main street to the temple on the edge of town. New Year is a celebration and a holy day.
Of course, after the parade, we all headed for the river. This time we didn’t get tubes, we just went to the bars and swam from one to the next.
Scotty ended up going to the Mud Bar, its exactly what you think it would be.
After about 4 days of parting, eating and drinking mushroom shakes I was ready for a long rest, and a mellow out period. Our plan next was to head to the center of the country, a place where not many travelers go. We where told of “the loop”, a 400K (200 mile) loop of roads that went through the heart of the country, where we could rent motorbikes and go explore caves, carsk mountian ranges, and swimming holes, along with remote towns and villages. Giddy up! To the next spot!