Love/hate Vang Vieng
If a restaurant is not playing Friends then I’m not sitting in it. Yes I know, sounds ridiculous, but about half of the restaurants in this city play the American sitcom loudly on giant, flat screens, with all the tables facing them. It feels like the epitome of globalization: a small secluded town where tourists outnumber locals 15 to 1 and everything around is meant to numb you.
I took an eight-hour VIP bus from Luang Prabang, (the only thing VIP about it was the amount of people, ten or so, for such a big bus). We rode down a the mega-curvy highway, where our giant vehicle fell in a ditch. Everyone was fine, and we were lucky that we fell on the mountain side vs the abyss.
The town is known for being backpackers’ “heaven”, meaning cheap accommodation and cheap partying. The first thing you read in the Lonely Planet guide is a warning about people dying from being drunk while tubing. Yes, going down the river on a flotation device is a must do, but as soon as it begins, bamboo huts filled with dancing, white drunk girls begin to appear, each one with music as loud as to drown the next. Laotian children throw plastic bottles filled with water attached to strings to pull you into the bars, before you manage to float to the next one. I went once to see it, but that was enough. The rest of the days I have dedicated to the reason why the town became full of tourists in the first place: the amazing outdoors.
I’ve been here for four days, and not because the town is particularly beautiful, (it is actually quite awful) just because I needed a break. I am bruised, sore and sun burnt, but worth it. My activities included rock climbing the crazy limestones karsts that have been awing me for a month. When I asked around where was the best place to climb, they said Vang Vieng was it. I hadn’t done it in a while and these rocks felt like they were made to be climbed.
I also kayaked, did cave exploring, went tubing, mountain biked to a couple of water filled-caves… All in the span of four days. The company Green Discovery took me both rock climbing and kayaking/cave exploring.
It is very feasible to rent a bicycle or a moped to go to the nearby caves. My favorite was Poukham, or Golden Cave (photo below). Is is filled with stalactites that shimmer in the light and the reclining Buddha chills comfortably inside. The best part about this cave is the “blue lagoon” below with clear blue waters and fish to swim with. Sleeping cave is fun to explore and climb too, but bring a head torch unless you feel like groping spiders the size of your hand.
1. Rock climbing: $26 USD if you gather up a group of four or more. This includes transportation, gear rental, class, lunch and buleying.
2. Renting a tube will cost $50 kip, and you have to leave a deposit of $50 kip too, which will be entirely re-inbursed if you get back before 6pm. But you won’t.
3. Stay: Maylay guest house. It’s $60.000 kip a night for a fan room with a double bed and a hot shower.
4. Renting a motorbike for the day is $40.000 kip, and renting a bike ranges from 15.000 to 30.000. They will all give you a map to the nearby caves.