After you do everything there is to do in Luang Prabang, the next stop is Vang Vieng. No matter what time you leave, you’ll catch people you just saw in Luang Prabang, either just arriving, or a few days from departure. All of Laos is a continual meet-up. There’s only one or two “buses” leaving per day, and they’ll charge you a royal 100-120,000 kip for the 4 hour ride. We booked through our hostel (6 of us) and expected a minivan to ourselves. Not so fast! There ended up being a full set of 12 people in the car, with all our junk strapped on top.
We then set out through the twisty mountain paths. The roads are good, but the bends are consistently hairpin. Luckily, our driver safely chose not to exceed a 30km/hr speed limit, so although it took much longer than 4 hours, we didn’t have A moment of fear. Our driver thought the Most Unexceptional course of action was to coast downhill in first gear, not faster than 10km/hr at some points. But we made it!
We rolled into Vang Vieng in the dark, and all piled out to find the guesthouse I thought I had reserved the night before. However, when we showed up, they hadn’t seen our email and had no rooms. It’s not really a big deal, actually, very typically Laos, so we just kept trekking. One girl of us had been to Vang Vieng already, and knew a good guesthouse, so we trudged there. Easygo Backpackers looks completely horrible, and it certainly isn’t the nicest hostel I’ve been in, but they did offer free tea and coffee, and had passable WIFI at some times, so we checked in.
My friend Tal and I decided to split a private room, the same price as a dorm room at 50,000 a night between 2. I asked the young gentleman for a room with a view; we got the 3rd floor and an over-roof scene of the mountains–not bad. There was one light, which glowed a gentle gold–very picturesque, but just awful for lighting purposes–and an ensuite bathroom. Then we set out for dinner.
To our dismay we found that the only affordable meals in Vang Vieng are baguettes. The selfsame baguettes that pimple the streets of Luang Prabang. Although here, they’re more of a full-blown acne outbreak. They are delicious, and you get your $1.50’s worth, but it’s horrible to imagine eating a fried baguette for more than one meal per day. And of course the options are so tantalizing: Chicken Cheese Bacon, Omelette Ham Bacon, Bacon Bacon Bacon…I’m begging for bacon!
There are many and many a local road stand, but all are the same price, so it’s really just a matter of preference. If you choose to go into one of the restaurants hanging over the river, be prepared to spend at least 15,000 kip. The food tends to be about the same price throughout the entire town, but as you move away from the tourist center–southward, I believe, the portions start to get larger. Tal, of Israel, was in the habit of taking daily traipses about the town, and scoped out a great place for eating, only about a twenty minute walk away.
Of course, we had to stare down the entire road before we could find it again, but it was worth it when we did. There are no distinguishing characteristics of this little shoppe, else I would tell you where to go, but it offers a huge, delicious, noodle soup, som tam, and other Lao traditionals.
And, naturally, the town is full of bars. Bars offering “happy” things such as pizzas and shakes, and “space” things, which I assume to have either opium, shrooms, or weed inside, or possibly all three. You can buy weed, opium, and shrooms at several different locations, in varying forms. Shroom Shakes seem to be a standard 100,000 kip, whilst shroom or opium tea runs a bit cheaper. Jaidee’s and the Molino (Possibly Torino)’s Pizza are the go-to places, although weed is probably also available on the streets, and I heard that Johnny’s Guesthouse was selling Ecstasy over the counter.
Some bars have special offerings–Sakura and Fat Monkey give tanks and tees out to those who order enough drinks (Sakura is 2 vodkas at 25,000 each, I don’t know about Fat Monkey, but I’m sure it’s similar). Many places advertise free drinks between such-and-such a time, but I can’t verify. Sakura’s also sells nitrous oxide “balloons” between 10-15,000 kip. All in all, it’s a place where one can get really, really messed up.
And not a night went by in which we (Tal and I) see a girl sobbing in front of the tube rental establishment. You’re meant to rent a tube for 55,000 kip (steep, right?) and then pay a 60,000 kip deposit. If you get back before 6PM, you get your deposit back. If you get plastered at the 2 (TWO) bars on the river, and don’t make it in time, you lose 20 right off the top. If you don’t make it back before 8PM, you lose your entire deposit. Every night, walking through the town around 8:30 or 9, we would see a barefooted girl in bedraggled swimgear, sobbing her heart out. Attempts to console the dazed and inebriated girl seemed ineffectual. The moral of the story is, don’t get that drunk/set an alarm/budget your 60,000 kip as gone if you’re going to get shwasted.
That being said, tubing is a ton of fun. It’s not imperative to get drunk. The tuk-tuk takes you up to the river (well, to a bar on the river) and you just float down at your leisure. The drinks are very expensive, and Tal and I just wanted to work on our tans, so we lugged our tubes to the shallows of the river and made rock paint for an hour instead. Then we set out, with a scarf held between us to keep together.
We got out at the next bar, and were interested in the free shots. It turns out the shots are only free if you buy something. Tal bought a water. I took the shot. It tasted like dirt. I’ve never had such a hideous shot. You also get a little bracelet. No, you cannot have a free bracelet. We played some basketball on a hoop that shot water at you, and some people played volleyball, and we did some dancing. The sun was already beclouded, so we were straight chilling. Some creepy dude tried to join up and talk about the sex appeal of clitoral piercing. We decided to leave.
The float from that bar to the end was maybe an hour and a half, max. After about half an hour, we went under a bridge, which had men seated on it, trying to coerce us out to take a tuk-tuk. “It’s 5 more km,” they say, “It will take 3 hours”. Don’t listen to these shysters. Just float on.
I met a lot of Israelis in Laos. They were all very friendly and welcoming, and were quite cordial about my newly acquired horrible Hebrew skills. Tal was ever encouraging. I think my Hebrew is probably awful. Do you want to learn some Hebrew? Well, I can’t teach you via text. It’s all in the throat. I can teach you Lao, if you want. It’s just like Thai.
There was a jungle party the Friday night we showed up. This consisted of paying 30,000 kip to be forcibly snuggled by a lot of sweaty, drunk dudes. The music was generally poor, but danceable in some parts. It was a great place to meet up with friends and scream at each other. It seemed like every night in Vang Vieng we were all up until it got light out. I’m not sure how this happened, but the nights just seemed to slip away. And not heavy drinking means you don’t have to nurse a hangover the whole next day!
There is a market on the north side of town, about 2km out. There’s the usual offerings of clothes, household goods, and food. Unusually, Laos is the best country to buy makeup. It’s very cheap, with an assortment of offerings. If you’re low on maquillage, buy it in Laos.
Vang Vieng is a fun place, and it would be easy to spend a lot of time here. There’s always people coming and going, the river is RIGHT THERE, and you can spend your days just chilling out–like much of the rest of Laos. It’s a great stop if you’re looking to party, even during low season (read: monsoon season).