Laos Pt. 3: The Vang Vieng Vortex

The first thing you probably hear about Vang Vieng is: Let’s go tubing on the Nam Song river! And although that is definitely a ‘must-do’ for every tourist who visits that riverside town, there is a lot more: Vang Vieng hypnotizes you with its great nature assets during the day and its crazy party scene during the night. A lot of travelers, especially younger backpackers, get stuck in that circle of adrenaline, whisky and the wild beauty of nature – they call it the Vang Vieng Vortex…

Scare stories about Tubing

Tubing is inseparably associated with Vang Vieng –  and without the shadow of a doubt you will meet other travelers on your way to VV who tell you about it. It is a memorable experience and big fun – if you are commonly reasonable and take a bit care of yourself.

During the heyday of Vang Vieng Tubing there were about 20 bars along the river, where tubers could stop, drink or play drinking games, dance and jump back into the water. The latter was the most dangerous part, as it is hard to predict how deep the water is. So every months tourists died in Vang Vieng until the Lao government pulled the plug – fearing negative consequences for the tourism in general. Now there are just 4 bars left, from which only 2 are allowed to open at the same time. All river swings had to be removed and there are more drug investigations. Although tubing was way crazier some years ago, here are my three “favorite” scare stories/anecdotes I heard or read when I got to Vang Vieng in February 2016:

1. “Pink Eye”: There is a chance that you can get a virus that causes a bad eye infection from the river or other tubers. In order to avoid extra risk try to not drink out of the same bottles / straws as strangers you meet on the river and be suspicious with people who wear their sunglasses at night in the club or so… Pink eye can be soothed with eyedrops you can normally get in a pharmacy (Lao style: booth on the side of the street…).
2. Numbers: Before you can go on the river you rent a tube. There you have to fill out a form with your name and details and they write the number of your form with a waterproof pen really big on your hand. Why? The answer is as easy as frightning: if you die while tubing and they find you it’s easier to identify you… They obviously learned from experience.
3. Watch your legs: When we were in Luang Prabang we met other travelers who said: “Oh cool, you’re going to VV – don’t loose your leg!” We were laughing, thinking that was just a little mix up with the friendly greeting “break your leg”, but they stopped laughing and pointed out: “No, seriously! Our friend lost his leg there.” We were shocked. It is actually possible to hit or jam your leg that severe on the rocks that it might cause irreparable damage. So watch out for the rocks in the shallow water.

But apart from the dangers you have to be aware of, Tubing is an awesome experience, especially with some (new found) friends… you’re floating down the river for about 2 hours, passing breathtaking nature and just enjoying life. Just make sure to not dawdling around too much – even in summer it’s getting pretty chilly on the river after the sun sets behind the mountains (already around 4pm). If you don’t bring back the tubes until 6 you additionally loose your deposit.

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Outdoor Activities

Another attraction nearby Vang Vieng is the Blue Lagoon. I quickly have to anticipate: for me personally that was a huge disappointment. As a lagoon I expected something hidden and beautiful – but that one is basically a turquoise pond where Asian tourist in bright orange swim vests jump on each others heads while screaming loudly… BUT right behind the lagoon there is a huge cave which is absolutely worth the 200 steps you have to get up to get in. It is really big and if you have a torch or headlight, you can even try to go deeper inside – but there is really no natural light anymore and safety precautions are not really an Asian thing – so again: just go as far as you feel comfortable.

Moreover there are possibilities to do rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, zipling or mountain biking in the area.

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Party scene

Besides the impressive nature and the adventurous outdoor-activities, there is another thing Vang Vieng is pretty famous for: its nightlife. Various places offer free whisky (Lao-lao), happy hours, laughing gas balloons and of course the local Lao Beer. Many restaurants – like Milan Pizza –  have next to their normal menu, also a ‘happy menu’ which contains creative dishes from Weed, Opium or Magic Mushrooms…

Sakura Bar is one of the biggest party places in town and always packed, since they serve free Whisky-Longdrinks every night between 8 and 9pm. Loud party music, some beerpong-tables and a bonfire in the back make the Sakura party complete. Especially popular with Europeans and South Koreans – the latter quickly conquer the ‘stage’ and dance like crazy. And even if you leave the bar, the town or even the country you’ll be reminded of Sakura bar since so many people wear their t-shirts that say “drink triple, see double, act single”… nothing to add.

As the town center is pretty small, all the bars are close to each other and there is also an Irish Pub, the Kangaroo Bar or Moon Bar. During main season there is a jungle party every now and then a bit outside town in the forest. And there are two clubs in town, that have alternately opened: Viva Vang Vieng (mainstream dance music) and Room 101 (electronic music).

Sandwiches & Pancakes are sold all over town on little street stands by (mostly) local women. Very cheap (you can negotiate as well, but it’s cheap anyway) and if you need some food inbetween barhopping, that’s the place to go!

Friends Bars are bars or restaurants, where all benches face a flatscreen TV showing the sitcom ‘Friends’ 24/7. A good place to chill and grab some food after a night out.

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Sleep and get around

Finding a place to sleep is not too difficult as there are so many hostels and guesthouses. We just got there by bus and then started looking for a place to sleep. You can pay night by night and decide every day till 12 if you want to stay for the next night or check out. Very convinient. I stayed in Central Backpackers, which looked weird from outside (major constructions going on) but it was great inside! We were in a room where big beds (no bunk beds!!) were standing next to each other with 1 meter-gaps in between. So comfy and you connect with your roommates so quickly as you’re all on the same level (that makes actually a difference I figured out…)

Getting around is as usual best by tuk-tuk – I wouldn’t take a scooter there as the streets are just crushed stones and accidents are quiet likely.

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Here are some more posts about Laos that could be interesting for you:

Pt. 1: The Slowboat Experience
Pt. 2: Luang Prabang – Buddhism meets Colonialism

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