There really isn’t all that much to say about Vang Vieng. On a cultural level, it’s a vacuum. However, there’s a reason why I spent a full week in town, in two separate stretches. It’s second only to the limestone mountains of southern China in terms of the most beautifull places that I have ever seen in warm climates (hard to beat the Rocky Mountains and old growth forests in B.C.). I’ve rarely had such a great time exploring the countryside on a motorcycle (for a pittance no less if you can work a semi-automatic, i.e. gears but no clutch for $8 CDN a day). That being said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a motorbike for the inexperienced rider, it’s not dangerous per se because there are no trucks or cars on the road and the paths are so crappy and rocky that you’ll be lucky to hit 10 kmph. But you definitely don’t want to be double-ridding on these roads, and you have to have a killer sense of balance due to the rocks. You won’t get seriously injured if you mess up at those speeds, but in my experience any fall on a heavy chunk of metal will result in some bleeding and/or muffler burns.
The stunning countryside:
One of the main tourist attractions in the area is the Blue Lagoon. Quite frankly the lagoon is small, muddy, and given the closed water system (i.e. no river feeding into it), I was pretty grossed out about the number of people swimming in the thing. However, the best thing about the place is the adjacent cave, included in the entry price. I won’t lie the climb is pretty brutal (not hard or dangerous, it just feels very very long in the brutal heat).
The Blue Lagoon:
A picture of the climb up to the cave:
The entrance to the cave:
The cave is gorgeous, but unfortunately the light contrast makes it almost impossible to properly photograph. Do you like the idea of spelunking but generally dislike the claustrophobia of crawling through narrow tunnels as is the norm? If so, this cave is for you. It’s HUGE, at no point will you have to crawl, and the top of the cave will always be at least 10 metres above your head walking upright. Adam told me that the cave alone was worth travelling to Vang Vieng, and he was not fond of the minivan ride (a 3 hour ride is child’s play for me now, but apparently that’s not the case for others).
A shot from the cave:
The highlight of Vang Vieng is to just hop on a motorbike and go as far and isolated as you can. When I was alone, I spent the better part of 12 hours on a motorbike exploring the gorgeous scenery:
This shot marked the 6 month point in my travels:
More shots of the amazing countryside:
And my ride:
The following day, I went off to explore the rural roads once again. However, I stopped off at a brilliant place next to some farm fields for lunch. No exageration, most delicious noodles I had in my full month in Lao:
The lucious rural roads:
This was pretty neat. I happened to be on the road as the village kids were travelling home from school (ahem, nearly at 5 pm, not 3 pm as we do). It was a never-ending flood of bikes:
There’s a second cave system that is much further away and has an internal lake in the wet season. Because I was there in the dry season, the place was entirely devoid of tourists. I felt terrible about that because, having explored the caves, they were lovely and your entrance fee covered everything–namely a guide and your flashlight.
The entrance to the cave:
The totally abandoned restaurant area around the cave:
I left Vang Vieng reluctantly after 4 nights, but when I met up with Adam, I had an excuse to return. Adam’s more generous vacation budget allowed him to stay at this killer place next to the main river:
Vang Vieng has a bunch of relaxed restaurants overlooking the river. Adam was struggling to get proper sleep during his first day in the region so I spent a few hours on my own reading in a cool restaurant with a huge terrace overlooking the river and limestone mountains:
I met up with Adam near sunset at a lovely, yet inexplicably empty place (not complaining at all) next to the river:
Night shot from the same spot:
We had dinner at one of the hippy terraces overlooking the river. This was Adam’s favourite restaurant in Lao:
The night scene in the city is decent, much quieter since the government cracked down on the crazy excesses of years before. This scene looks good and it genuinely was, but like all night scenes in the city, it abruptly ended no later than 11:30 pm.
The following day, Adam and I went on the famed tubbing ride at Vang Vieng. The thing to know about this is that up until 5 years ago, it was a ridiculous scene of debauchery and ridiculousness. The idea of the ride is that you get on a rented inner tube and after a brief ride in a tuk tuk, you ride down for 3 hours in the dry season, 1.5 hours in the wet season, and the proprietors of a load of bars along the way thrown waterbottles at you linked to a rope and pull you in for a drink. Unfortunately there were dozens of bars along the river and also some sketchy zipline outfits in the past. Alcohol plus water, plus sketchy ziplines = a ton of dead Australians. The press got bad, and the government got involved, shutting down 90% of the riverside bars and all but one of the zipline outfits. The scene now is very reasonable.
That being said, your first stop when dropped off by the truck is a riverside bar. But to be clear, drowning in the dry season would require some killer effort, the river is so shallow at that time that you’d be lucky to have the water up to your knees at any given point
The riverside bar that is the first stop:
On the river:
The roping in process at a river adjacent bar:
Frankly, not a bad place for a drink:
I’ll leave you with pictures of the awesome tubbing:
As a side note for those of you not in the know, the blue bag is a dry bag, cost me $10 CDN and that’s why I was able to bring a camera along: