Travelogue: Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is quite a unique place.  It is famous, and infamous.  It is a backpacker mecca, and a backpacker hell.  There’s everything to see, and there’s nothing to see.  Faced with a place like this, of course I had to go take a look!
Vang Vieng - river view sunset 3 Vang Vieng - river view bridge Vang Vieng - panorama tubing 3

So Vang Vieng is this nice little town built right next to a river – the town itself is actually decently sized, but all the tourists congregate on a the part of town right by the river, with some pretty damn good views:
Vang Vieng - panorama river view

Did I mention the views, especially at sunset?
Vang Vieng - river view sunset 1 Vang Vieng - river view sunset 2

For some reason, there was also a hot air balloon during my visit.  This one dipped surprisingly close to a power line, and I was seriously worried there might be an fiery explosion.
Vang Vieng - river view hot air balloon 1 Vang Vieng - river view hot air balloon 2

Tubing on the River:
The main thing to do here in Vang Vieng is tubing on the river.  First, you rent an inner tube.  One of these things.
Vang Vieng - tubing stack of tubes

You get a tuk-tuk to bring you up the river to a small beach, where you’re free to push off into the water, letting the gentle currents sweep you downstream for a couple of miles, back to Vang Vieng.  Unfortunately, I visited during the dry season, so the current was very weak, but it was still a fun ride.
Vang Vieng - tubing entry 1 Vang Vieng - tubing entry 2

Floating down the river, there are some pretty nice views.  Fortunately, the stores in Vang Vieng sell mini dry pouches, so I could bring my camera along to take photos:
Vang Vieng - panorama tubing 2

And of course, there are bars along the track.  A couple years before me, there was a bar every 5 meters or so, as well as lots of swings set up over the river.  However, such a huge supply of alcohol combined with swings over rocks hidden in the water led to a huge number of injuries and deaths – at its heyday, several people per day were getting killed!  As such, eventually Western countries pressured the Laos government into closing most of the bars, so only four remain – those owned by the chief of police, etc.

Bar zero, where you get a free shot of Laos liquor before starting your tubing journey:
Vang Vieng - tubing first bar 0 Vang Vieng - tubing first bar 1

Bar one, still pretty chill:
Vang Vieng - tubing second bar 1 Vang Vieng - tubing second bar 2

Bar two, this is where the party was at!

Bar three, I don’t think most of the drinking crowd got this far.
Vang Vieng - tubing fourth bar 1 Vang Vieng - tubing fourth bar 2

In the dry season, it takes a couple of hours to float down the river.  It’s quite relaxing, but it can also get somewhat boring.

TV Bars:
And here’s something in Vang Vieng I have seen nowhere else on my travels: TV bars.  Basically, it’s a chill restaurant / bar, where you lounge on a pillowchair, sip a smoothie, and watch endless reruns of TV shows like Friends.   Presumably, this allows each new wave of backpackers to “discover” Friends.
Vang Vieng - sofa bar

And while it sounds retarded, it’s actually not bad – decadence on the cheap!  Sitting down for an afternoon, having all three meals without moving, watching TV, playing with the free but slow wifi, and just chilling.  I tried it for an afternoon, and was pleasantly surprised.  So it’s not surprising that some backpackers come to Vang Vieng, and then just never leave.

My favorite part of Vang Vieng was one of the more peaceful lounge restaurants – no TVs, fairly few customers, just me lounging while overlooking the river, reading a book on my kindle, all peaceful in the world:
Vang Vieng - river view restaurant

I sat here and just read for an entire day, having all three meals here – western style breakfast, Lao style fish stew, and Lao style beef stew.  Very nice.

At night, there’s also a huge drinking scene going on, but I wasn’t terribly a fan of that.

Pha Poak peak:
A bit of a hike away from Vang Vieng is Pha Poak, a mountainish hill (a huge pile or rocks on an otherwise flat plain).  It’s a bit of a climb:
Vang Vieng - Pha Poak mountain climbing 1 Vang Vieng - Pha Poak mountain climbing 2

But once you get to the top, the view is top notch:
Vang Vieng - panorama Pha Poak peak 1

Vang Vieng - panorama Pha Poak peak 2

Overall, Vang Vieng seems to be a good place to use as a base, to explore the countryside.  From this city, I rented a bike, and went out to explore the surrounding countryside:

Blue Lagoon:
It’s not a lagoon.  If anything, it’s more of a river, or a creek, but it’s called the Blue Lagoon, probably because it sounds better than Blue River or Blue Creek.  But it’s a cool place – a couple miles away from Vang Vieng, accessible by tuk-tuk, motorbike, or bicycle (over the bumpiest road ever).  But it’s a pretty good place to spend an afternoon:
Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon 1

The main thing to do here is to go swimming!  The water is nice and cool, especially awesome on a hot day.  But for the more adventurous, there’s a swing!  And unlike the old swings over the tubing river, there are no dangerous rocks lurking underwater – or at least, the water is clear enough for you to see any hazards.  I tried doing some flips on the swing, but could’t get the physics of it to work.
Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon swing

For those extra adventurous souls, it’s also possible to climb the tree and jump down:
Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon jump 1 Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon jump 2

Oh, and for those who can’t swim, or tired of having prune fingers, there’s also sunbathing, as well as volleyball.  Such a decadent place, Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon suntanning Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon volleyball

Lots of fish in the water too:
Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon fish 1 Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon fish 2

There’s also this small cave right near the Blue Lagoon, which takes about half an hour to explore.  Of course, there’s a buddha statue inside:

From some vantage points, it’s almost a Lost World scenery:
Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon cave lost world Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon cave opening 1

Vang Vieng - Blue Lagoon cave handprints

In the end, I only spent a couple of days in Vang Vieng.  I can certainly see how this place might be a backpacker hell, with endless parties, drinking, and drugs, but I enjoyed the quiet, tranquil aspect of the city.

One thought on “Travelogue: Vang Vieng”

  1. <3 <3 <3 <3

    風景有點像中國桂林,坐竹筏流下河,沒有 bars, 有漁夫帶著 cormorants 抓魚,也有農夫牽著老牛在河邊㵙水。

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *