Jenny\'s Southeast Asia/China Adventure

Travel time: February - June 2004  |  by Jenny Chu

Laos: Vang Vieng

Friday, 3/5/04
Day 31, Arrival in Vang Vieng

"In a February 2003 attack on Route 13, twelve people, including two Swiss citizens touring by bicycle, were killed and many injured. The Lao government has characterized these attacks as "banditry," but given the extreme violence of the attacks, political motives are likely. In light of the Vang Vieng-Kasi area attacks, especially along Route 13, the Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens avoid travel by road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang and on Route 7 from the Route 13 junction to Phonsavan town . Due to these security concerns, U.S. Embassy personnel are not permitted to travel overland in this area."

Although for the most part, I think U.S. Dept of State warnings tend to be over exaggerated, I did consider booking a flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane and then heading up to Vang Vieng. I figured why take my chances. However, once in Laos everything seemed so serene and since I also had not heard of any recent rumblings, I decided to take the bus down Route 13 afterall. To play it a little safer, I hopped on the VIP bus figuring that no one would open fire on a bus full of foreign tourists (I bought my ticket at the bus stop instead of booking through a tourist agency, saving enough money to buy a baguette).

The bus passengers - mostly Western tourists, plus a handful of Laotians - departed on time at 10am for Vang Vieng(wow). Complimentary barf bags were given out and cheesy techno turned on as the bus rolled out of the parking lot. The journey took us on a windy road through the mountains dotted with simple huts, reminding me of the fact that I was traveling in a third world country. Patches of land were also being burned causing the sky to be a bit hazy. Sadly, slash and burn farming seemed to be everywhere. The bus stopped a few times to pick up some villagers who got on with big sacks of rice which they put in the aisle and used as their seats. One Laotian girl got quite sick and barfed into her bag, although some of it splashed onto a Swiss girl's backpack - who then came to sit next to me. Lucky for her and lucky for me, I don't get motion sickness. (I'm not going to spare any gory details of my travels-sorry =) )

Lao's countryside enroute to Vang Vieng.

Lao's countryside enroute to Vang Vieng.

The six-hour ride went without a hitch and we arrived at Vang Vieng around 4pm. Since I had no idea which way was town and where I was going to stay, I followed behind two guys. Glad that town turned out to be only a five-minute walk away, I decided to take the first guesthouse that seemed decent. It was full, but the woman led me to Thavisouk, which seemed really new and for $4, I had a great room with big, clean bathroom. Sorted.

Excited to see Vang Vieng, I left the guesthouse and headed out to do a bit of exploring. I soon found myself sitting on a bamboo mat with Beer Lao in hand -soaking up the beautiful view of the calm Nam Song river flowing by with the tall majestic karst mountains rising in the backdrop. With the sun setting, the scenery was postcard perfect.

I then had some tasty tasty Indian food for dinner ($1.40) and was starting to feel a little bit lonely. Vang Vieng was known for being a backpacker's party town and I was ready to party. But con quien? I guess I was going to have to settle for some novel reading. On my way back to my room, I fortunately ran into Annemette and Suzanne, the two Danish girls who I had shared candelight conversations with in Pak Beng. They invited me to join them in their night of debauchery and an hour later, I had finished a Malibu and Coke and a Vodka Redbull at a bar in town (two drinks for $3.80. yipee). We then headed off to a "party" at a bar near the riverside. There are just enough backpackers in Vang Vieng to make for one decent party. I met a few people while sipping a pineapple shake vodka infusion and was having a grand 'ol time. The only thing that sucked was the trance music they were playing. Where's a bit of good ol house or hip-hop when you need it? At 2am, after making plans with Suzanne to go tubing down the Nam Song river the next day, I headed back for beddy bed.

Saturday, 3/6/04
Day 32, Floating down the River

Have I mentioned that life in Laos happens in slow motion? This morning, I ordered an egg baguette and it took them 30 minutes to make my sandwich. I was starting to think that the chicken had to lay the eggs first. There's a saying that I had read previously that goes a little something like this: " The Vietnamese grow the rice. The Cambodians watch the rice grow. The Laotians listen to the rice grow." Not that I'm complaining, I'm definitely enjoying the laid back atmosphere that Laos seems to offer. But when it comes to food and hunger, I can get a bit edgy sometimes.

Anyway, I met up with Suzanne and Annemette (the other one) and together with the Swiss girl who I had sat next too, two British girls, two British guys, and a Canadian-we jumped into a truck with our innertubes tied to the roof. Down at the river, I stepped into the clean calm waters of the Nam Song with my innertube around my waist. The nine of us started to drift slowly along the river as we got acquainted with one another. We made for a fun group, and thirty minutes later we celebrated our good fortune of being able to travel to this tranquil, beautiful place at a floating bar constructed of bamboo poles.

I soon would discover that every few km, we would hear some Laotian shouting happily from the riverbanks, "beer lao, beer lao." At our second bar stop, we were pulled to the bar with a long bamboo stick and treated to some hip-hop and techno. Some of us played a game (don't know name) where you hit the ball with your head and other body parts over a horizontal bamboo stick, while the rest of us downed our drink.

For lunch, we stopped alongside the river at a place that advertised itself with a sign painted with the words, "Swinging. Beer Lao. Super Fun Happy." It was run by a chubby old Laotian lady who made me a great cucumber,tomato,onion baguette sandwich. At this time, one of the Brits also discovered that he had lost his money in the water. What a British man wouldn't do for a beer? Nothing. This one offered to climb to the top of a few-meter high wooden ladder and do a back flip into the river for a bottle of Beer Lao. Another Brit, agreed to buy him the beer Lao in exchange for a laugh. Matt had never done a back flip in his life and stood there petrified for 15 minutes. Even the Lao grandma was getting impatient, as she chanted with the rest of us, "Jump, Jump!"
Matt finally did his backflip and got the beer he greatly deserved.

Back in the river and into our innertubes, the scenery remained beautiful throughout our route. Sometimes, I floated down backwards to appreciate the mountains a second time. During the rainy season, you can float down the Nam Song river in about 1.5 hours. But, it was currently dry season, so it took us 4 hours to reach our final stopping point (of course the route also depends on how many Beer Laos one stops for!) When we reached the shore, we dried ourselves by a bonfire while listening to some hippity hoppity. Everyone made plans to meet up to party, then seperated to shower and grab dinner.

After eating dinner by myself, I went to meet the Danish girls at 8 as planned, but didn't see them. I went back to my room and crashed out with the lights out. Floating down the river was more exhausting than I thought! What a great day tho.

Vang Vieng's beautiful karst mountains.

Vang Vieng's beautiful karst mountains.

Sunday, Monday 3/7-38
Day 33,34- Solitude and Sickness

Since I had fallen asleep with the fan on full blast and not enough clothes, I woke up with a head cold. Thus, my next two days in Vang Vieng were filled with napping, eating, movie watching and the occasional walk down to the riverside to be comforted by the view.

I didn't talk to a single soul these two days and as I read my book, 100 Years of Solitude (except when ordering my meals)- my own state of solitude was getting me a little sad.

While certain times I embrace being on my own, I find myself lonely in backpacker towns like Vang Vieng where you see everyone else having fun in groups (the Danish girls had already left). I was also feeling a bit isolated and maybe it's being a little paranoid, but I think that being Asian, people tend to talk to you less-assuming you are Japanese (the majority of Asian backpackers) and can't speak English well.(in fact, the danish girls were surprised to find me speaking perfect english when I first met them back in Pak Beng). There are also very few minorities on the mostly-white backpacker circuit in Asia(and in Europe), so I can often feel a bit shy and intimidated to strike up conversations with strangers. My last two days in Vang Vieng was such a time. (no one initiated the typical traveler conversation with me either-Oh are you traveling on your own? Where have you been? How long are you traveling for? etc"- which is how solo travelers usually hook up).

© Jenny Chu, 2004
You are here : Overview Asia Laos Vang Vieng
The trip
Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Start of journey: Feb 02, 2004
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: Jun 02, 2004
Travelled countries: Asia
The Author
Jenny Chu is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 20 years.
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