Vang Vieng has had a lot of bad press. An old farming village and now a place in the middle of Lao that backpackers have decided to taking over and make into a partying town. During the high season backpackers out number the locals 3 to 1, more on busy days. Drugs were plentiful and drink cheap. Tubing down the river became popular and loads of unlicenced bars opened up on the river enticing the tubers to stop for a drink or whatever brain basher took their fancy. Then in 2011 a record 27 people died from either drowning or diving onto the rocks below, despite signs saying no diving. The total may be higher as many are taken to Vientiane which has the only decent hospital in northern Lao. Drink, drugs, and peoples own stupidity are the main reasons for these death. So the Hobo had to go.
For once the bus dropped me right in the middle of town thank God/Buddha/Krishna/beezlebub or whoever you may worship. I had stomach ache and cramps on the journey down from Luang Prabang and felt just awful. I fell out of the bus straight into the restaurant opposite and searched for digs while trying to drink a shake. I found a hotel opposite and booked a private room for two nights and never moved waiting for the bug to clear.
By the third day I was well enough to go out and find some digs more befitting a hobo and got a wooden bungalow above a restaurant with a view of the river and a balcony with hammock. Bliss.
Checking out the bars and restaurants and chatting to some of the locals I was told that the government had gone down the river demolishing most the bars that had been built with diggers, leaving only a few after the troubles back in 2011 with cries to the press of “This is Lao not Khoa San Road” a well known backpackers dive in Bangkok. The only one or two left who I presume had paid the police off. This effectively killed most of it off although most people will still have a go at tubing, its just not the party it was.
Personally listening to a lot of peoples opinions on what happened I think a lot of the accidents were self inflicted (this is only my opinion based on what I have heard and of course I have no details of individual cases). If you over drink, over do drugs the go and do something as silly as go tubing down the river which does have rapids and whirlpools with no life vest then of course accidents are going to happen. Most people have a crowd mentality. You see it at concerts, football matches and of course any crowd where drink and drugs are readily available. Normally sensible people will act in a manner they would never do on their own. Then people see this and act the same or feel the need to up the scale and do even more silly things. We have all done it our selves, maybe at a party or on new year, but ultimately the main one responsible for our own well being is ourselves. Not the guy next to you passing you another beer, not the guy serving the drinks but you. The person you see in the mirror every day. Yes you know who I mean.
Ok rant over!
Any way I consider myself a decent swimmer. Not great just decent. I know I could swim maybe a kilometer if I had to, less if the waves were bad or I stopped to look at a nudist beach on the way past. But you get the idea. So I booked a days kayaking down the same river. That way I’m more in control and I have a life preserver on so the risks are pretty minimal. Its a great way to see the river and still enjoy yourself. There are a few rapids, a bit scary but after a couple no problem, although we did lose one where after the rapids it was a sharp bend and these guys went full speed straight into the reed beds. Funny as hell. One of the guides had to go back and tip the kayak bow over stern to get it out.
We stopped at one of the few bars still left on the river and the party scene was in full blast and this is out of season. I just grabbed a beer Lao and found a hammock and dozed. Woken only once when some Yorkshire girls discovered I was from Yorkshire and came over to chat. They were young and in skimpy bikinis so I was not too bothered. Next I am being shaken a wake by the guide who was sharing my kayak. The rest had gone on and they could not find me as I was the only one not dancing and shaking my booty but snoozing instead. So we set off, caught up with the others and chilled the rest of the way down the river back to Vang Vieng. Try it. It is so much better then Tubes.
One of the bars in Vang Vieng I went to was actually owned and run by a drug dealer and crazy as it sounds (especially if you know me) he was a nice bloke. A crazy character with a big beaming smile and a ready laugh when he see’s you. He passed my beer over then passed over his specials menu. Seeing I was not interested didn’t faze him at all. There was never any pressure to buy and despite me not being that type of customer a couple of nights we ended up the last ones chatting in the bar as the the bar shut due to the curfew that is in place which means everywhere shuts at 11pm. I never saw him pressurise anyone into drug, I saw him giving advice based on how drunk/high they were and even refused one guy telling him he could have a beer but nothing else as he had had enough. A drug dealer with good work ethics and a code of practice???? Hmmmmmm!
Any way Vang Vieng I found to be a beautiful place. Party town? Well I was out of season so it was pretty quiet. If you have enough of the bars hire a moped and go across the river (which also has some great guest houses and some new bungalows were being built while I was there) and go and explore the villages, waterfalls and caves over there. I would definitely go again.
Thanks for reading.