Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Vang Vieng

Our journey from Luang Prabang turned out to be seven hours, rather than the four we were quoted! For a 268 km trip, that works out at an average speed of 38 km per hour, which describes perfectly how mountainous and bendy the roads for the entire journey. I later found out that there’s an old road and a new road. The new road is steeper and scales just one mountain, however, the old road scales three, so I guess we must have taken the old route! The overcrowded minibus that we took was pretty old, so perhaps the steep new road was more than it could have managed! It was, however, a very scenic journey – absolutely stunning mountains clad with dense jungle.

Vang Vieng is party central – full of western backpackers celebrating Christmas, but even more Koreans in town for a music festival, which just so happens to coincide with the Christmas holidays. There are so many bars, all with loud music blaring out and competing against each other, resulting in a total sound clash. It’s loud, brash and full of twenty-something-year-old backpackers. We did feel a little old and out of place at times, not being big into the dance or K-pop scenes, but the town had a good laid-back atmosphere and was good fun.

Vang Vieng riverside
Fortunately for us, we stayed just outside the centre, in a more peaceful area so we couldn’t hear the pumping music as we went off to sleep. We did, however, have to put up with a very confused rooster on the property next door, who only crowed between midnight and seven in the morning. I’m not sure why he slept all day and woke up in the middle of the night, but it made for a terrible night’s sleep! 

There’s quite a lot of nature in the area – lots of chickens, ducks, pigs and cows wandering around on the road, so we had to be careful when walking back to our accommodation at night – there were no street lights and I almost walked into a cow at one point! 

Vang Vieng is most famous for ‘tubing’ – floating down the Namsong river in a big inner tube and stopping at riverside bars along the way. As the river is quite fast-flowing in places, some of the bars throw you a rope, then reel you in. Others, you just paddle to the bank.

The tubing scene has apparently calmed down quite a lot in recent years as it was getting too loud and people were getting too drunk and having accidents – but it’s still a must-do activity if you’re visiting Vang Vieng. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed taking in the mountain scenery as much as the occasional beer on the way downstream. We did avoid the ‘buckets’ of locally brewed ‘Lao Lao’ whisky, though I dare say they claimed a few casualties throughout the day!

Keeping on the theme of alcohol, every evening, our host, Nouth, would bring out one of four bottles of her mother’s home-brewed spirits and invite everyone in her restaurant to do a shot with her. It was pretty potent stuff – apparently made by fermenting sticky rice – and tasted a bit like homemade plum brandy. For added decoration, each bottle had a creature in it: the four we tried over the duration of our stay had a scorpion, a giant centipede, a snake and ants in them! Not terribly appetising, but also rude to refuse our host!

Can you spot the scorpion in the bottle?
Following our day of tubing on Christmas day, we booked in for a traditional Christmas dinner at the Irish Bar in the town. As much as we enjoy spending the odd Christmas in the sunshine, we always miss the big family dinner, so it was a real treat to have a proper roast with all the trimmings and to celebrate with other homesick westerners.

On our last day in town, we hired a scooter and visited two of the Blue Lagoons (there are three in the area) and Tham Phu Kham Cave. It was tough going on the scooter as most of the way was on unpaved dirt tracks, but worth the effort as the lagoons were beautiful, deep turquoise water pools, with platforms to jump off and a series of rope swings going into the water. I couldn’t resist doing a few acrobatics whilst I was there!

Kev's leap!
Tham Phu Kham Cave involved a climb up a steep cliff, which lead us into an enormous chamber. Inside the cave is a large Buddha shrine as you enter, then with a head torch you can descend further into another deeper, big chamber. I must admit we got a bit creeped out and we only had one torch between us, so we decided not to venture too far inside. Apparently, the cave goes in quite a long way and down to a maximum depth of five hundred metres, so we didn’t want to venture too far in, in case we got lost and couldn’t find out way back out!

Tham Phu Kham Cave
Next up, we’re back on the minibus and heading south to Laos’ capital city, Vientiane for a couple of days before we go back to Thailand in time for new year. I’ll write again soon! 

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