After 6 hours of switchbacks, we were more than happy to step out of the minivan in Vang Vieng. We were really lucky that the van wasn’t packed full and that there were only 4 of us on the journey. At least we could spread out a bit and Gordon rode shotgun so he had some leg room otherwise his knees would have hit his chin if he would have sat with me. We weren’t sure that we really wanted to stop in at Vang Vieng with the reputation it had, not that we’re prudes but we aren’t 20 anymore either. We kept reading articles and blogs on how it is really worth stopping here for the scenery alone, so we decided to check it out and it was on our way to Vientiane.
Currently Vang Vieng is going through some big changes but it has a sordid past and since 2012 the Laos Government has been trying to clean it up. They have their work cut out for them though because personally we didn’t think the town was very nice, it looked really tired. It was quite apparent that it had been decimated by the never ending parties and apparently at one point the backpackers out numbered the locals 15 to 1. It was common pre 2012 to openly see drugs offered on restuarant/bar menus: opium pizzas, magic mushroom shakes, and marijuana garlic bread. People would drink ‘almost free’ Lao-Lao whiskey and at times it would be laced with opium. A favourite past time here was tubing down the Nam Song and bars along the river had rope swings, slides, and zip lines to toss people into the water and many young people died here partying – booze, drugs, no rules, and a river with large sharp rocks doesn’t make for a good combination.
Now the government is trying to turn Vang Vieng into an eco-tourism destination, we think that’s a good thing and we did see a different demographic here so maybe it’s working. The scenery surrounding Vang Vieng is amazingly beautiful and since we didn’t have much time here, we read that biking in the countryside was one of the best things to do.
We rented mountain bikes for the day and set out towards the Blue Lagoon. It was nice but a bit more developed than what we had expected and we think it would have been much nicer if they would have left the lagoon more natural. We hung out there for a bit but didn’t stay as long as we had intended.
We continued our ride through the countryside and did a big loop. We passed so many small villages and really loved the rice fields set against the backdrop of the mountains. It was a LONG ride and my legs were exhausted after the loop, then I found out (according to the map) that I had 10 kilometers left to ride to get back into town. Gordon said he was surprised I didn’t tip over because I was riding so slow near the end – I must have stellar balance.
While we were riding there were these little carts attached to a motorbike that would play a little jingle like the icecream truck, but instead of icecream they sold little cakes. At one point when we stopped for a break, we could hear the cart coming down the road playing the little ‘cake’ song and two small kids came running to their front yard all excited, jumping around, little hands waving in the air, but they couldn’t buy a cake and we saw them walking back to their house clearly disappointed. We flagged the cart down and waved the kids over, the look on their faces just lit us up, such joy and excitement for a little cake. We bought them each a cake and got the biggest smiles we’ve ever seen and a hundred ‘kop jai’s’ (thank you) from them – this was the highlight of our day too. These cakes must be popular with the kids because earlier on in the day we saw a little guy eating one of the cakes and then another kid went up to him and asked him for some. The little guy gave the other kid half and then the other kid took his half and shared it with another little boy – nice to see kids share like that.
We made it back to town totally worn out and filthy (no paved roads here) and we were so happy to have that long hot shower – the hotel even had designated ‘tourist soap’. We skipped the Laos food and went to an Irish pub (yes an Irish pub in Laos, it surprised us too) and had the best comfort food we’ve had in a long time.
The morning we left Vang Vieng, our bus drove across the historic Air America airstrip. Air America was the CIA’s airline that flew covert missions in support of the USA’s wars in Vietnam and Laos.
Even though we didn’t particularly like the town of Vang Vieng, it was well worth the stop to venture out to the countryside. The scenery in this area was gorgeous. We can only hope they can make this town pretty again as we’re sure it once was.
Where we stayed: Vang Vieng Boutique Hotel
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel