Sunday, 1 September 2013

Vang Vieng today

If Vang Vieng was a person I could only imagine the huge ego that they would carry.

You drop the name in conversation, run a quick Google search and there’s plenty to be said about the place.

It is our last real stop in Laos (as we don’t really count Vientiane as it’s more of a ‘city.’ Sorry Vientiane.) and I guess it’s the best place to go out with a bang. Even if everyone speculates that the party is over and the ‘First time backpackers’ are trying to find somewhere else to let loose, far away from home so their Mothers can still worry....

Arriving after another long eventful bus journey from Luang Prabang we were beyond stoked to stretch the legs and find our guesthouse. Packed like sardines in the VIP air-conditioned mini van, during the journey I did start to wonder if the public bus was actually the faster alternative. It felt we were stopping at every opportunity.  Starting with an hour-long lunch only 30 minutes into the journey for the driver who spotted his mate already feasting in a makeshift roadside restaurant.

Than hitting the brakes to pick up some dried fish from the stretch of road that is crowded with stalls selling every type of dried fish alternative. I have to say I've never experienced better fishy smells than here. It was special.

I do need to mention one other particular stop the driver made to collect I'm guessing the evening dinner. Holding up large rats from the tail we all gasped from the bus in horror as he turned to wave them with a grin at all of us backpackers. I can't say how relieved I was when a sale wasn't made. Especially seeing both Tim and I were front seat passengers and I was sitting in the middle next to the driver unsure if the dead rats would also be joining us in the already squeezed front seat. 

People refer to tubing in Vang Vieng as the 'thing you gotta do in South East Asia.' You'll experience 'the most fun you can with your clothes on.' I was very speculative about how true this would still be after the local authorities have finally put into place a few rules and regulations that actually make it safe..

You’re probably already aware that on record and paper there have been 22 deaths noted and an endless list of injuries that are tubing related and needed hospital attention. Vang Vieng isn’t just famous for tubing but for the relaxed attitude local authorities have held up until recently.

Today you don’t see 16 bars perched over the river. The slide of death and rope swings. The river is still deadly shallow in low season so I just cant imagine how anyone actually did survive the slide of death. You can’t tube beyond 6pm when it starts to get dark and backpackers seem to look out for one another more even if everyone is slightly tipsy.  There are a few signs erected in town asking tourists to respect how they dress for tubing and not prance around in thongs and speedos.

But what you can still expect is the enthusiasm from the locals that they still want you to have a great day out. From the music to the free shots and mud wrestling and dancing, there were about 5 bars operating when we ventured down the river so for Returners and First Timers you can still have what some would refer to as the ‘most fun you can have with your clothes on.’

The area is so reliant on the tourists for income and development. The burst of activity when tubing first became commercialised several years ago resulted in some rapid development for accommodation and restaurants that would cater for the influx of tourists in the area. After the significant deaths and cautionary tales about tubing numbers have dwindled into the area and during the low season it can feel like abit of a ghost town. Not many people are sitting in the picture menu restaurants watching Friends on the big screen for the day. The shops selling rack after rack of ‘I went tubing’ singlets now have ‘For Sale’ signs outside. The place seems to be suffering and I don’t think it’s just because it’s low season.

With the exception of the main drag the surrounding area is stunning in its landscape boasting huge limestone cliff faces, dense jungle and endless rice paddies. You can easily escape the westernised main drag and find that you are back in Laos when you cross the river and step into the surrounding villages.

What else is on offer in the area is often overlooked. Like Luang Prabang there is so much on offer for the adventure adrenalin junkies. We were limited for time so spent our next day after tubing and hangover resting with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. There wasn’t too many people around. Perhaps everyone else was regretting the extra shots of Lao Lao they were encouraged to drink the day before..

The Poukham Caves here are epic. Initially walking into the main shaft we spotted a large Buddha statue comfortably lieing across a large flat boulder. Dropping down so we were standing next to the statue we spotted a scrawl on a rock with the words 'cave' and an arrow pointing towards our right. Following the direction of the arrow, climbing above rocks and boulders we soon found ourselves beginning to head into the depth of the cave and complete darkness. We did grab a head torch between the 3 of us and it certainly was needed as we turned it off for a second and couldn't even see each others faces. Half an hour later we realised we should probably turn around. The jokes about what we would do if the torch ran out of batteries was getting to much for me. Coming back out into the sunshine, covered in sweat the Blue Lagoon is the best way to quickly cool off. Climbing up to the top of the tree and launching yourself into the turquoise waters after a countdown from everyone watching was an epic way to finish our little caving adventure and get rid of any more sore heads from the Vang Vieng party.

Toodle pip x

Vang Vieng scenery.

Epic kids sign for the Poukham Cave entrance

Buddha statue.

Buddha Statue in the cave.

Straight to the point signage at the Blue Lagoon.

Rope swings at the Blue Lagoon.

Blue Lagoon.