Sunday, March 24, 2013

Laos : Vang Vieng

As a continuation to my backpacking IndoChina update, we were finally there at Vang Vieng after the 3 hours ride from Vientiane (click here to read previous post). It was a 3 hours smooth ride, reaching Vang Vieng just a little before noon giving us enough time to explore the rest of the town for the day. We were just making Vang Vieng a brief 1 day stop hence we appreciated every little extra time we had to spend there. We did not book any accommodation in advance, hence the first thing we did was to look for an accommodation. The best and most fun thing about backpacking is the spontaneity, threading on the unplanned road seriously.

Vang Vieng is really a pretty small town that can be easily explore on foot or leisure cycling. Catering to the backpackers world mainly, there are no large fancy hotels there, just abundant backpacker hostels or guesthouses hence making it easy to search for one that you are comfortable with. Located beside the Nam Song (Song river), the Laotian definitely make full use of the river to come up one of the most creative activity I had known that is so uniquely Vang Vieng it certainly draws and attracts backpackers from all over the world to not only come to know the town, but also to make an effort to make it a ritual stop while backpacking South East Asia. *to be reveal soon*

The town of Vang Vieng
Now, this is what I'm talking about. Literally everyone that comes to Vang Vieng comes for this. Known as tubing, it simply means floating down the 3.5 km Nam Song, from near the north of Vang Vieng in a huge old repainted inflated tractor-tyre tube. And this was what I was extremely looking forward to too. 

To add fun to the whole tubing experience, deck "bars" had been set up along the route of the tubing,  concentrating mainly at the beginning of the river route with each "bar" offering cheap beer Lao (so much so a can of beer cost less than a bottle of water), snacks and different, some more adventurous than the other activities such as rope swing, sliding, zip lines and so on. 

Before you start wondering about what's the big deal of those swings and slides, let me forewarn you then that their rope swings and slides are not just your average playground swings and slides. Theirs are those that either swing you from 20 meter above ground or slide down like some 3-4 storeys height right into the Nam Song. Or if you are more brave hearted, you can fly fox yourself into the Nam Song as well while everyone else on the deck cheer and clap you on.   

The hard core party seekers can start early as the bars do open really early, technically almost 24 hours so they can float from one bar to another, enjoying the different atmosphere or you can start a little later when the sun starts to go down just floating lazily in the river occasionally making stops at one or two of the bars just for the experience. The tubing usually takes only about 3 hours or less from start to finish so be sure to keep track of the time as there is barely any signs along the river that indicates your location until you are almost at the end. 

Just a word of caution, do look after your tube well and make sure you leave each of the deck bar you stop by with your tube in hand if you do not want the tubing company to come knocking at your door asking for fine for losing your tube. And as you might be drinking along the bars, be extra careful if you are doing the rope swing or sliding down those tall slides that plump you straight into the river as alcohol tend to affect one conscious level and there had been previous reported cases of drowning and death!
Bringing us to our launch point 
The first deck bar closest to the launch point that has the most people as well. Certainly looks as though you are in the middle of Europe instead of being in the middle of a jungle in a town called Vang Vieng in South East Asia instead here. At every bar that you stop by, you'll get a stamp on your hand, so it's easy to identify the hard core party seekers and those that were just simply lazing around. And while you are enjoying yourself away, you would have to leave your tube at the tube counter hence just don't forget to pick back your tube when you leave later
People watch while having a beer Lao and enjoying the serenity of the Nam Song flowing below 
Me and my tube
 You can choose to stop at every single bar as while similar in many sense, every one of them had a little something different from the other or like us, being either too lazy or too late, you can choose to give them a friendly wave as you pass them by
One of those daredevil thing if you see what I mean. A platform to plunge into the unknown below
This is another deck bar that has a super steep slide that once you go up on it, there's no turning back. 
Or you can join in the crowd cheering or dancing the afternoon away
Floating lazily down the calm Nam Song and realizing while it is something unique and fun to do, it is also really dangerous because there are really no signage at all whatsoever telling you how far down the Nam Song you had gone (until the end point). It is also important to note that it's best to go in groups so we can watch out for each other as there are really no one else to watch over you out in the river 

After spending an afternoon soaking up the river and a good hot shower later, we head out back into town for our dinner. Besides tubing, Vang Vieng is also know for their 'tv bars' which are found mainly along the main street with identical menus serving average food that caters mainly to the Western tastes. And all of these TV bars typically reruns episodes of 'Friends' or 'Family Guy' over and over again,so if you are in a nostalgic mood, you can just drop by any of these bars and sit your night or day away laughing at all of these old episodes of your favourite sitcom. Having said that, it was however really much easier to access to Western cuisine than local Lao cuisine in Vang Vieng that sometimes, the reason we choose a tv bar was simply due to it's convenience! 
Grilled hard-boiled egg! Now that's something pretty new
I insisted on not having our dinner at a tv bar, but at one of the few local Thai- Laotian restaurant around and not surprisingly, we were like one of the only few people in there as opposed to the tv bars that were bustling with people
A simple Lao fare
Seriously, let me let you guys in on a secret. The best food in Vang Vieng are not those at the TV bars or in any restaurants but in fact found along these humble local stalls that sells pancakes, sandwiches and burgers only at night! 

Do not underestimate these pancakes, sandwiches or burgers as you definitely could not find anything even close to these Vang Vieng pancakes, sandwiches or burgers back home here. 
Just take a look a their menu and you'll be surprised and tempted by their variety of pancakes and sandwiches that are so different. How does banana nutella or banana peanut nutella or bacon cheese pancake sounds to you? To me, that certainly spells YUMMY. 
The banana nutella pancake that was soooooo awesomely good *drools*
Being pretty much influence by the French culture still, Laos baguette is another MUST eat. This is honestly one of the best baguette sandwich I had ever eaten
The one foot long chicken strips with bacon and cheese sandwich that totally stole our heart. The baguette, perfectly toast and the fillings abundant makes it the no.1 food of Vang Vieng
Enjoying my baguette under the moonlight
Woke up refresh and early the next morning to this beautiful serene view by the Nam Song
Look at those sea of clouds floating gorgeously against the greenish karst terrains
The very cute 'In the Tubing' T shirts that all tubers or non tubers alike should get one home as a souvenir
Beach wears are readily available so no worries even if you forgot yours
Doing the touristy thing - Dropping by for breakfast at one of the TV bars while watching an old episode of Friends
Cheap and tasty banana shake! Seriously, milkshakes in these part of South East Asia (like Cambodia and Laos) are cheap and good. It's like 1 glass/cup of it only costs USD 1 or something and they are pure, concentrated and fresh
Nostalgic moments. The sitcom still tickled my funny bone
Another version of the banana chocolate pancake. Not as good as those I had the previous night from the local stalls though
Scrambled egg with baguette. A whole lot of difference between this and the ones I had last night. Local stalls still does it best
A final shot before we bid this little adventure pack town goodbye

Our stop at Vang Vieng was a very brief one but it was a worthwhile one. Aside from tubing, kayaking, caving or indulging in any of those adrenaline rushing self created activities by the locals of Vang Vieng, Vang Vieng can be a really crazy party town that can be dangerous and noisy but it is also a gorgeous place with dramatic landscape and green mountains serenating the beauty lovers. For me, Vang Vieng is a backpackers town with so many Westerners it's more like being in mini Europe or something.

It is a town that excites and entices, calm yet dangerous and fun even without having to be among the hard core party seekers or among the fan of Friends. The serenity of the town itself is good enough to capture your likings. The few things you have to watch out for to stay out of trouble (unless you are all on purpose to enjoy some 'happy' moments) is of course to be very careful with their "happy" food as the word 'happy' right before their pizza, shake or anything at all that matters is a well-understood alias for recreational drugs such as marijuana, mushroom and so on. Hence, unless you want to tube down the Nam Song in an altered state of mind (or if you do fancy, then get a life jacket at least) or risk getting caught by plain clothes police, just avoid any happy meals there. Otherwise, getting on one of those crazy swings or slides that got our heart thumping was definitely an experience not to be missed. And of course, those super delicious local pancakes and baguettes are the best and something I miss of Vang Vieng a lot even till today

By noon, we were already on the bus heading to our last destination in Laos; one of the world heritage site, Luang Prabang. Till my next update on Luang Prabang then, have a good week ahead lovelies. As for me, I'm certainly counting down to the end of my current rotation right now. Just 3 more days! :)

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