To give you an idea about Vang Vieng, the government has apparently carried out an education programme out of fear that the local population might start acting like tourists. I was also told that a few years ago a lot of the village upped itself and moved a mile or so away. On arrival it’s hard not to understand why. It is the tourist town to beat all other tourist towns. Everything that exists, exists to part the tourist from their money. Culture went missing a long time ago as I awoke at four in the morning to hear a man bellowing “America rules, YEAH America” outside my window. That said however I was pleasantly surprised at just how enjoyable my stay in the stain on the earth would be!
I traveled down from Phonsavan with Carly and Ben. The first day involved very little other than pondering the next few days activities. I managed to avoid the trap of watching repeats of ‘Friends’ all day, although those showing ‘Family guy’ had me a little more tempted. The following day we rented out bikes and escaped the town. You see as ugly as Vang Vieng is, the surrounding area is stunning. Huge limestone peaks surround the town, and rivers flow around it. There are over forty caves in the area. The bike ride was at times tough considering it was on dirt tracks covered in stones. My hand is still bruised as I type this!
First stop was a climb up one of the limestone peeks which revealed a beautiful view over the surrounding countryside. It was just a shame that the weather, whilst making the hour long climb pleasant enough, didn’t make the view as dramatic as it would be on a clear day. We then got back on the bikes and headed to the blue lagoon and Poukham cave. After passing numerous signs advising people of all the injuries that have occurred in the cave we climbed up the rickety steps and entered. It’s incredibly striking as you see the sheer size of the cave and in it’s center a reclining Buddha. Very other worldly. Being men, Ben and I went deeper into the cave using two hopeless torches. After clambering about we arrived in another cavern, pitch black and silent it was a magical moment. However after half an hour of walking and crawling over obstacles to get to it we thought we ought to head back. As for the blue lagoon? Well it was quite a distinctive colour and lovely for a quick dip and swim. Very refreshing after all the walking and cycling!
The third day I guess is why everyone comes to Vang Vieng. Oh sure it’s about the scenery, but in reality it’s the tubing. I don’t know whether it started here but it’s certainly the capital of it now. We had very little to go on other than blind speculation as to what the day would entail. To be honest I felt a little apprehensive. One person a year dies each year tubing as well as numerous injuries. We were going into the unknown. The speculation stopped as we paid our money and deposit and climbed into the back of a tuk tuk with Dean, Christy and Rhiannon, all from Wales. On top were loaded huge rubber rings. We drove some three kilometers down the river before being directed over a bridge, rings in hand. As soon as I looked to my left I just had to laugh. It reminded me of Hook (I think it’s Hook anyway) when Peter Pan revisits Neverland. A huge number of rickety wooden structures, also known as bars, have been built over the river. From these there are slides, swings and zip wires. People sat around lounging in the sun, others were embracing the adrenalin rush! We had a beer in the first place before jumping in a ring and sailing off down the river. First obstacle was the rapids! Fortunately they were slow enough but could be interesting during the wet season! Then the next obstacle, dodging a water bottle attached to rope being hurdled at you (it’s the way they pull you into the bars). With Dean heading in, we all joined him. Four hours later we realised that we could still see the first bar. Not great when you consider the journey back to base is three kilometers.
I said before I went that I would not touch the swings but said nothing about zip wires or slides so I guess I stuck to my principles. They were brilliant fun especially the slide which launched you and your ring flying through the air. Another high point of the journey down the river was the wonderful bar which included both mud volleyball (I was at the right end fortunately) and tug of war. Showing 2012 Olympic spirit the Welsh and English joined together against a group of New Zealanders. Unfortunately we failed miserably. But there is always a silver lining and that was that I was at the back of the rope meaning I stayed perfectly dry. Great planning I thought! Eventually with darkness setting in and deposit on the verge of vanishing we called it quits in our attempt to make it to the end of the course and instead piled into a tuk tuk and headed back just in time to get our deposit back. After a few games on pool we retired, exhausted after a fantastic day.
Vang Vieng surprised me. I can’t overlook the fact that it is an absolute disgrace but get a few kilometers outside and it really is breathtaking. Oh and of course the tubing isn’t bad to! To think I considered skipping it. What a mistake that would have been.