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Laos – Part 2 (Vang Vieng) September 3, 2010

Posted by jorkat in Vang Vieng.
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Click here for Part 1 of our trip to Laos.

After our 5 hour “VIP” bus ride from Luang Prabang turned unto 7.5 hours thanks to multiple stops to service the engine and broken air conditioning, we finally arrived in Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng is small, very raw and full of tourists who weren’t alive for the fall of the Berlin wall. It’s like Spring Break in Daytona beach with European accents. It’s also experiencing unprecedented development. What used to be a super secret backpacking destination is quickly catching on amongst a wider demographic of travelers, but still mainly young and budget conscious. There were more new small hotels and guest houses being built in the area than we could count.

The main attraction is the tubing experience and after a few days there, it’s easy to understand why. If I had come here 10 years ago, I may not have ever left. I would love to know about how this phenomenon started, as it’s caught on quickly and is going to grow unbelievably fast. Basically, you rent a tube from one of the 2 or 3 places in the main village. Then they pile you on the tuk tuk (see above picture of driver asleep in tuk tuk), and I mean literally “pile” and transport everyone to the starting point about 10 minutes away. There’s a tube launching point but you can get in or out whenever or wherever you want.  We quickly realized that many people don’t even have tubes. There are bars lined on both sides of the river with trapezes and zip-lines and use these gimmicks along with the promise of free shots and drinks if you stop at their bar. They wheel in potential clients in tubes by lobbing partially filled water-bottles attached to a long rope, and try to land it next to your tube for you to grab on and get pulled in. If you aren’t paying attention and attempt to relax as you let the gentle current float you down the river, you’re guaranteed to be startled by one of these bottles landing right next to you. I made a comment to a few people that the guys throwing these things must have some great stories about hitting drunk, unsuspecting tubers square in the face.

“How was work today honey?”

“Not bad. I reeled in at least 45 drunk tubers to the bar and hit 2 in the face, one of them had a bloody nose! It was awesome.”

Once you get past the initial 5-7 bars, it becomes much more serene and peaceful with only the occasional bar along the way. After an hour or so, you arrive at what is called the “Last Bar.” We stopped in and met an Aussie and a Brit who were buddies and ended up spending time with them on and off for the rest of our time in Vang Vieng. One of them named Tom was from Perth and had flown there for a 3-day long weekend. Seems crazy until you start to do the math and realize that it’s only a 5-hour flight and the cost of partying in VV pales in comparison to the cost of living/partying in Australia. I fully endorsed Tom’s decision.

The one aspect of this whole experience that I couldn’t get over was the incredible contrast between our overly-litigious society and this care-free, no liability paradise. It was like a McDonald’s playland…on steroids…with drugs and booze…and no rules whatsoever. I can’t recall a single incident where someone in a position of authority told someone else that they weren’t allowed to do something. Wanna do 17 shots of jagermeister and then dangle by your legs from a trapeze over shallow water? – GO FOR IT. If suing for spilling hot coffee on yourself in North America is the standard, then the Vang Vieng equivalent would be throwing hot coffee on each other for fun. That’s not a bad idea actually.

Wanna see what happens when you’re feeling old and insecure and want to justify your presence amongst a flock of adolescents?

It was either that or getting a tattoo. I stand by my decision and I’m pleased to announce that I used Advil for the first time for pain that was non-alcohol (hungover) related. Plus, my street cred went through the roof after that landing. (I don’t know what that means, but it’s how everyone here was talking).

Here’s a bruise on my lower back which Katie discovered over 3 days after my near-death plunge.

Another obvious lure for young open-minded travelers is  restaurants that offer “happy shakes”, “brownies”, and “weed joints” on their menus. I don’t pretend to know what any of those things are as I spent most of the meal working on my Sudoku puzzle and complaining about my back pain.

I came across this video that someone put together about the Vang Vieng tubing experience and had to include it here for everyone to get a better idea of what this place is like. It really captures the essence and atmosphere of this truly special place.

In some of these restaurants they have TV’s set-up and play one of two TV shows on an endless loop. Friends or Family Guy. Either Laos people love it or they assume we do too. Europeans like it because many of them learned English from watching it back home. Or whoever started this bizarre trend just happened to have a Friends DVD on hand and played it in their restaurant one day, only to have flocks of stoned young tourists become fixated on the screen, and started ordering copious amounts of food. Every surrounding restaurant immediately followed suit until some brave soul managed to procure a copy of a “Family Guy” DVD. I’m sure there are stoners who still recount the story from that first fateful Family Guy viewing. As weird as it might seem, you can’t argue with the results. We plowed through at least 5 episodes of Friends at our first dinner together shortly after our arrival. I still can’t believe Rachel accepted Joey’s unintentional marriage proposal. She just had Ross’s baby!?!

After saying goodbye to Kirsten, Nils, Darren, Waan & Kevin in Thailand, our schedules worked out and we managed to cross paths again in Vang Vieng for one last night together in Asia. We went back to the tubing area again, only this time without tubes and did some bar hopping and serious people watching.

We then enjoyed our last meal together and celebrated Obama’s historic healthcare legislation getting through the house. Darren and Kevin were ecstatic. After the celebrations subsided, we proceeded to a bar along the river called Jaidee’s where I proceeded to be anti-social and play pool with strangers for most of the evening while Darren, Kirsten and Katie reminisced together about our last year together. I heard the conversation was great and managed to stop by for this last picture. I met an Asian couple from Winnipeg though so I think I made the right choice.

Darren and Kirsten have been like family to us this past year and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves from each other’s company. Having Waan and his brother Kevin with us at the end made our time together even better. I will miss them all dearly and I’m looking forward to making the trip down to Virginia to see my first Division 1 college football game, and taking Darren to his first hockey game in DC to see Ovechkin and the Capitals at the Verizon Centre. That is if he ever comes back to the US.

Our time in Vang Vieng came to an end on March 23rd as we boarded another “VIP” for a 4 hour bus ride to the capital of Laos – Vientiane. Remember Tom the Aussie from Perth? Well, he was on our bus which departed at 10am and had a flight back to Perth at 4:10pm. We ended up arriving in Vientiane at 3:10pm (over an hour late) and Tom didn’t think he was going to make his flight. I guess we’ll never know. As you can see, not having a watch or keeping track of what day it is here, doesn’t really matter.  What’s the point if no one else is?  Schedules are used as loose guidelines and you should always assume that any trip you’re taking is going to encounter unexpected delays. That’s just the way it is here and I couldn’t care less.

Katie and I were pretty worn out from our time in Vang Vieng and didn’t’ explore Vientiane much as we wanted to be well rested for our arrival at our next destination – Vietnam.

If you’re interested in seeing what an orgasm looks like in print, I highly encourage you to read Sean Mullin’s account of his time in Vang Vieng, here and here.

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