It is safe to say that Vang Vieng was not the place for us. It started off badly as we had taken a minivan booked through our hostel in Luang Prabang (120 000kip) in which the driver was a maniac, we were shoved in the front and I was not even really on a formal seat, most of the roads were dirt tracks and there were continuous potholes. We stopped three times on a four hour journey which was unnecessary and just made it longer to get there than it needed to be.
We arrived in Vang Vieng and found our hostel- Real Backpackers 2. We had been recommended it with people describing it similarly to really nice Vongprachen in Luang Prabang and it was relatively cheap with breakfast included (53 000 kip pp per night). From the offset we did not like the feel of the place. The dorm was dark and dingy with no real natural light, it was cramped with 8 people in a relatively small room and the lockers were so old and dysfunctional that you could put your hand in and get to someone’s valueables without undoing the locks. We met up quickly with Jamie for a mediocre lunch who we had last seen in Thailand as he was leaving the following day and Chris from the gibbon experience. Vang Vieng has minimal food choices- it mostly tries to cater for westerner food and that puts the prices up, there are options for cheap food but these were- baguettes, noodles or fried rice all of which were just ok. We walked around and scouted out some guesthouses. By accident we looked at a room in Khamphone Hotel rather than the guesthouse and ended up booking a few nights there instead of the hostel despite it being more money (120 000kip per night- split between us) We went back and relaxed watching the sunset from the rooftop area of our hostel as it had some outstanding views of the mountains and jungle. I had not felt well since we arrived in Vang Vieng but hoped it was due to the journey, however after finding some food I had to return to the dorm room. Luckily the hostel had a number of bathrooms seperate to the dorm as I was going back and forth all evening. We were supposed to meet Jamie for farewell drinks at the Irish pub so Dave went out for a few drinks with him while I stayed put having the safety of a bathroom a short walk away.
After an awful nights sleep due to being very ill and horrendously drunk, loud people keeping us up and being sick in the early hours of the morning I managed to struggle to breakfast but not eat. I was very glad that we had booked a private room away from the dorms as I think all in Vang Vieng would be similiar as the town is known for being very focussed on the “party”. We took the very short walk to the hostel and I struggled with this. I spent the whole of that day in bed or in the bathroom. Dave went out to explore the town a bit as we would normally however he returned quickly as the town is a reptition of minimarts, tour operators, bars and average restaurants. There are several bars in town- Sakura and Viva that do free whiskey and beer hours where you can pretty much drink all you can if you want to for the hour. There is also the “space bar” which literally advertises the drugs you can get there (assuming they pay off the police) and the prices. Apparently if you buy drugs from them they will keep them for you as if you get caught by the police by them there are hefty fines and in Laos it could even result in the worst cicumstances in jail or the death peanlty. Hense this was not really our sort of place. Had I have felt better I may have gone for one or two free drinks but I couldn’t face what people would be like in those bars even when I was feeling better.
The following day feeling a bit better we managed to walk around the town a bit, book a kayaking tour for the following day and we crossed the bamboo bridge. The other side of the bridge is much nicer. It has a chilled atmosphere and we sat in one of the bars on the river to have a drink. After we walked through the fields to appreciate the scenary and the sunset. There is a small cave and a large hill you can climb with makeshift bamboo ladders to a viewpoint but we got there too late in the day to do that. Instead we messed around making instgram videos with Jurassic Park music as the scenary was so epic. We ate in Gary’s Irish Bar that evening and the following evening as we fancied some home comfort food and it is rated number one for food in Vang Vieng on trip advisor. It did not disappoint and we had tasty cottages pies and burgers (35-40 000 kip). It was a really nice place with a chilled atmosphere, indie tunes, a pool table, friendly staff and they have live music every few days too.
The following day we departed at 8.30am on our kayaking trip. This was the real reason we had come to Vang Vieng as we were told you could do kayaking in some decent surroundings very cheaply. There were hundreds of offices offering trips. We had checked a few and went with TKC amazing tours company in the end. For 100, 000 kip ($12, £9.70) each we had a tour that included tubing in the water cave, visiting the elephant cave, lunch and kayaking for about 3-4 hours back to town. We waited at the office then eventually bundled into the back of a truck with other people doing at least the first part of the tour. We arrived near to the water cave area and walked over a bridge to get to it. When we arrived at the water cave there were quite a few tour groups there already and we had to wait for a few minutes for there to be enough spare head torches. Whilst we waited our guide made plastic straps to hold our glasses on and a strap for our dry bag. We followed him to the cave and grabbed an inner tube which we sat on and got very wet in the cold water very quickly! We joined the queue of people going through the cave pulling themselves through the water to the otherside via the guide rope. The cave itself was actually quite pretty and it was quite fun to tube through it even if it was busy and noisy. At the end you got off and walked through a small portion of the cave before returning via tube to the entrance through the water. Luckily it was hot when we got out of the water so we didn’t stay cold. We visited the elephant cave afterwards which was not great. It is a small cave where people have calved the shape of an elephant into the rock thats about it. I am glad we hadn’t made the trip ourselves just to visit it. After this we were driven to a spot of the river where we had a pretty decent lunch at the start of the kayaking point.
In the afternoon we kayaked the 8km back to Vang Vieng which was really fun but hot in the heat of the day. It was refreshing to be splashed every now an again by rival kayakers. The river was very shallow in places due to it being dry season so we had to navigate around stoney patches. The route for kayaking was beautiful being surrounded either side with forests, tall cliffs and villages every now and again. It follows the same route as the tubing. It was interesting to see the empty shacks of bars that used to line the river when the tubing was highly popular and there were lots of bars people would drink at and do drugs at before going into the river on a tube! Due to many people dying each year tubing was actually shut down at one point. Now you can still tube but there are only four bars that still exist on the river and only two are allowed to be open each day making it thankfully a more serene activity. From what I gather it is still a popular activity in Vang Vieng but the day we were kayaking we only passed a handful of people of their tubes floating along. We spent the day talking to an Australian girl (Maddie) and we bumped into her in the afternoon as we had stopped at an extravagant bakery where they did delicious chocolate bomb cakes for 15 000. She then joined us for dinner in the evening.
Before we left Vang Vieng we went back to the bakery to get a selection of pastries in the morning as they looked delicious. We ordered three and they were huge. We were very disappointed though as they were very heavy and not what we expected, definitely left us feeling very full and a bit sick which didn’t help with the journey that was to come to Vientianne.
If you are up for a big party then Vang Vieng is the place for you and we definitely know people that have loved it, staying for a week or so. If you aren’t up for it then I would maybe think twice about coming here or definitely stay away from the hostels if you want to sleep. We had read that they are trying to get away from it being known for tubing and drugs wanting to make it into an outdoor activity mecca. It definitiely has the countryside for these activities and there is an absurd amount of construction of more upscale hotels. However our feeling was that unless the town itself is completely reworked, the booze and drugs cut down this is not likely to ever be that successful.