Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Vang Vieng: Laos' Backpacker Mecca

Laos is a stunning country inhabited by amazing people. With its breathtaking scenery and colonial history a stay in Laos is an essential addition to any South East Asia travel itinerary. The sleepy capital of Vientiane and the World heritage site of Luang Prabang are both well worth a visit but what will leave the most lasting impression is sure to be the backpacker debauchery that takes place in Vang Vieng.

About 6-8 hours from Luang Prabang and around 3-4 hours from Vientiane, Vang Vieng once was a mere midway point for backpackers travelling between the two popular towns. Today Vang Vieng is a legendary backpacker destination on its own. Surrounded by gorgeous limestone karst mountains Vang Vieng gained its fame as the town to go to for tubing on the Nam Song River. Vang Vieng today is mainly a backpacker town. The main street is littered with guest houses, bars, restaurants, internet cafes and tourist agencies. So how should you spend a day in Vang Vieng you ask?

Your first day in Vang Vieng, roll out of bed around 11 and head straight for Sakura bar. Sakura in the village center stands out with style and also has a projector and a pool table. Sakura provides some nice food to and decently priced drinks to start the day off right! Around 12:30ish it is time to head to the mighty Nam Song River. There are two shops in town that rent tubes and provide transportation to the first tubing bar (did I forget to mention the river is lined with bars?). The first bar is one of the best, so make sure you get to it before everyone moves along down the river.

When you roll up in your tuk tuk you will be impressed. The bars along the river feature pounding music, cheap drinks, and rides, ya that’s right, rides! Now I don’t mean your typical western carnival rides or anything, but these are good. The first bar showcases a massive trapeze swing that launches wannabe daredevils 50 feet into the air before dropping into the refreshing rapids. Further downriver you’ll find several more trapezes of varying heights, jumping platforms, flying foxes and massive slides. If these rides don’t sound dangerous enough already, wait until the drinks start flowing.

Most of the bars along the way have free Lao Lao (cheap Lao liquor) and sell Beer Lao for a reasonable price but the most enjoyable drink on offer is the famous Lao Mojito. Served in a bucket, this sugary blend of mint and Lao Lao is hangover waiting to happen, but damn is it good.

Several bars and several buckets later you are likely to find yourself at one of the bars featuring a mud wrestling pit or perhaps you’ll meet Mr. Lao Lao who is always happy to pour Lao whiskey directly down your throat. All in all a day in Vang Vieng means a wonderful time for most!
This slide is very fast and painful

That being said, keep in mind that tubing in Vang Vieng and the activities associated with it can be very dangerous (several people die every year, and nearly everyone leaves with an injury). Be Careful and do not get too drunk! In addition, it gets dark pretty early due to the steep surrounding mountains; make sure to get a tuk tuk at the first metal bridge if you don’t plan on tubing the entire way back to town (the bars get pretty sparse along the way).

Have Fun!
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