Vang Vieng

While planning our trip, most people had little to say about Laos and the few that did said it was awesome but only discussed the “tubing” in Vang Vieng. Tubing involves floating down river 5 km on an innertube while partaking in various offerings from riverside bars. More than any other place we’ve been to, Vang Vieng exists purely for tourists. It was at one point just a tiny village, but has exploded into a town entirely made up of guesthouses and restaurants playing Family Guy and Friends on loop.

Vang Vieng, like Amsterdam, has developed a reputation for freely available drugs, to the extent that many bars have a separate ‘menu’ for weed, mushrooms and opium. Unlike Amsterdam, it has no other redeeming qualities in its culture or architecture, though the surrounding landscape of mountains and rivers is rather beautiful. It’s not the most beautiful we’ve seen, so its unclear why Vang Vieng has become so insanely popular. The guidebook describes it as an irredeemable ‘paradise lost’…which is ironic as it is probably a glowing review in the Lonely Planet ten years ago that gave the village its reputation and made it what it is today.

The karst mountains surrounding Vang Vieng are, like many mountains in Laos, honeycombed with caves. On our way into town, we stopped to see some that were just off the main road. Laos tourist attractions seem to enjoy micropayments so we were charged to park, charged to cross the small and only bamboo bridge over the river, and charged once more to actually enter the caves. They were also charging for toilets. The area boasted four caves, though one was only 20 feet deep into a pillar of rock and dominated by a massive Buddha. Once you’re able to find the larger caves, a man at the entrance hands you headlamps, and then waves you in the direction of the cave mouths.

We’ve both entered numerous caves in our travels, though never unguided and unlit. As we went down the tunnel of the first cave, the light from the entrance faded entirely away and we met up with two other tourists who said they were unable to find the end. We didn’t go much deeper ourselves, and 5 minutes of very slow, slippery walking in the darkness revealed nothing new. The other cave was only a single very large room, lacking the infinite tunnel of the first cave. The rock formations were nothing spectacular, but still created the appropriately spooky atmosphere. The experience of entering caves like those alone was unexpected and awesome, since we’re used to caves in Asia being lit up like Vegas and packed with tourists. It’s worrying that tourists are given free will to potentially destroy the fragile caves, but they were surprisingly clear of graffiti or damage… probably thanks to the fairly light traffic they receive.

We only have a couple pictures of Vang Vieng which we might put up at a later date. We’ve spent most of our day off lounging in cafes reading so there hasn’t been much to capture. Tomorrow we head toward Vientiane, which we hope to hit within two days. Hope everyone is well.


Other Pages Updated: Pictures, Maps, Statistics

~ by Elephants on November 26, 2010.

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