So our minivan journey from Luang Prabang was an eventful one; there we were, driving through the picturesque mountains, when all of a sudden we were surrounded by thick, white mist. All you could see in front if you were the white and black striped bollards that curve every bend (of which there are many) and you had to squint to see those. Yet the driver kept in going. My head was screaming “west are you doing?! Just stop!” but I think I was stunned into silence. This continued for about 15 minutes and I feared for my life, oh I dunno, around five hundred billion times, but we made it through the mist to clearer skies once more!
We arrived in Vang Vieng around 1:30 but were once again dropped at a bus station 3km from the centre rather than actually in the centre so we had to catch a Tuk Tuk in. The more time I spend in Laos the more I feel they are trying to scam us and get more money out if us wherever they can – the Tuk Tuk driver quoted us 20,000 kip each for this 3km journey despite us paying the same for a 10k journey in LPB and despite the guy inside saying we could easily get transport for 10,000 kip each. The 6 of us sharing a Tuk Tuk were resolute and eventually he took our money at 10,000 each.
Once in the centre, J sat with our heavy bags while I went for a walk to scout nearby hostels and their prices (it was far too hot for both if us to be lugging our massive bags around). A lot of places were quoting 70-80,000 per night for a double room with fan but I managed to locate Mexaiphon Guesthouse down a side road that charged only 55,000 (a fiver a night). Plus it was surrounded by the homes of locals, with teenagers playing guitar and singing and younger kids playing in their yard. They seemed delighted by our arrival, especially the little ones who kept asking my name to then only giggle with delight when I told them my name and asked for theirs.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the centre, getting our bearings and figuring out what we might want to do during our time here, before heading to Smile Bar along Nam Song river to lay in the hammocks and watch the sun set.
That evening we went for dinner and ended up joining 3 guys, one of whom we met on our slow boat and the other two at the LPB bus station that morning. Afterwards we headed to Sakura bar as they offer free whiskey and mixer from 8-9pm. Now we had already heard of Sakura as so many tourists were wearing their vests in LPB, which were emblazoned with the intelligent caption “Drink Triple, See Double, Act Single”. You get one of these “free” tshirts when you buy two vodka drinks (totalling 50,000 kip, or £4.50). Whilst I happily enjoyed drinking copious amounts of free whiskey and pineapple juice, whilst the atmosphere if the place was actually pretty cool (offering beer pong, a dance floor and an outside area) and whilst we met a great group of people all whom were adorning these tshirts, I just couldn’t bring myself to get one. Plus I hate vodka, and I’m far too old to drink alcohol I don’t enjoy.
The following day, feeling a little bit fragile, we headed out in a Tuk Tuk for a day of caving, tubing and kayaking. First we went to Tham Nam cave (or the Water Cave); a 500m long cave that has the Nam Song flowing out if it that we got to tube inside. With head torches on so we could see where we were going, it was such a different and cool experience. I would definitely recommend. We then had some lunch if chicken kebabs, veg rice and baguette before heading to Tham Sang, the Elephant Cave, which I found disappointing. It contains a few Buddha images and an elephant-shaped stone, but that’s about it.
We then spent the afternoon kayaking the Nam Song – I’ve never kayaked before (only canoed, and I was a bit of a fearful squealer age 11 for some reason so I didn’t enjoy this as much as I would have thought) and, while my hands got a bit sore and we had to negotiate ourselves over some rocks after becoming wedged, it was so much fun and with Vang Vieng being surrounded by the most stunning mountains it wasn’t a bad view either!
I’m not sure I really want to mention the way we finished the tour, by heading to a nearby “lagoon”. The quotation marks are because I feel they use the word quite loosely, as it was nothing like other lagoons I have seen – it almost looked man-made, as though they had just dug into the ground, and with the hanging tyres and rope swings it felt more like a park. For 10,000 kip to enter, I wouldn’t bother going.
On our final day in Vang Vieng I headed out around midday to partake in the infamous Tubing down the Nam Song. Vang Vieng is renowned for tubing and not exactly in the best way; in its heyday the Nam Song would literally be lined with bars, where tubers would float from one to the next playing drinking games and getting themselves into a bit of a stupor (there may or may not have been drugs involved…). The number of tourist deaths by drowning hit the media and Laos were forced to crack down on this activity, so now there are only 2 bars open each day and they alternate.
I arrived at the Tubing Station just before 1 after lining my stomach with a chicken baguette and paid the 55,000 kip (fiver) fee and the 60,000 kip (£5.40) deposit (you lose 20,000 of it if you bring the tube back after 6, and you don’t get a refund if you lose your tube) and then jumped on a the Tuk Tuk with other tubers to be taken to the starting point. The starting point was right opposite the bar in our case so we headed there first to get in the swing of things with beer pong and flip cup, which was a great way to socialise with fellow tubers. We then head out on the river for about 15 minutes before we hit the next bar, where we enjoyed a game of basketball with Koreans (whom naturally beat us).
I should mention that to get to the bars from the river there are men standing on the banks who throw a rope out to you that has an empty water bottle at the end for you to grab onto and pull yourself in. They are literally fishing for humans.
Around 3:30 and about 2.5 hours in we went back into the water for our final leg of tubing, which, as it was low season, only took about 45 minutes to an hour (apparently in high season, when it’s dryer, it can take at least 2 hours). Tubing along the river, surrounded by misty, grand mountains and with the sun beating down in us, was one of the most relaxing yet awe-inspiring experiences; you get to take it all in much more than you could on a kayak. Plus, with Asian people in kayaks zooming past all saying “hello” as they pass you by, you spend the whole time with this warm, buzzy feeling inside.
That evening we booked our minivan to Vientiane for 9am the following day for 35,000 kip each (£3.25)…