We’d been warned for months about Vang Vieng, a mecca for party-hard backpackers in Laos- complete with restaurants offering “happy” menus of drug spiked food and drinks. Two other bloggers told us that despite the awful things we’d heard it was a not miss and so we decided to chance it. After being completely disappointed with four thousand islands were were hesitant. With a wish and a prayer, we headed to Vang Vieng and somewhere between Britney Spears’ greatest hits and Jameraquai we found a reason to stay.
Nestled in the mountains, Vang Vieng has become a town with two faces, the party-hard scene and the adventure tourism scene. For sure these two don’t normally mix, and as we walked down the street I was shocked at the number of backpackers staring blankly at Friends re-runs on restaurant TV’s. Annoyed, my mood didn’t change until we were sitting in out hotel room overlooking the river. The charm of the place began to grow on me and by the time we were rock climbing the next morning after a great night of sleep, some delicious western food and numerous fruit smoothies I was sold.
We spent a day mountain biking to various limestone caves in the surrounding hills. For sure they are heavily backpacked, but it was lovely floating through the underground river on a tube, that was until navy crawling through the cave I came face-to-face with a large brown spider. “Not dangerous, right?” I asked our guide in pigdin English. “heheh,” he replied. Thankfully there were no other suspicious creatures in the other caves.
It was sunset by the time we got to the “blue lagoon” cave. Up the steep cliff side of a mountain, the cave itself is actually home to a gold reclining buddha. Although there were a few other late afternoon tourists with us, it was really amazing to look up from the bottom of the cave to see the buddha on his platform with a small sliver of late afternoon sun. By the time we left we were the only tourists left on the site, which proved to be a problem because Danny had blown out his bike tire. Hitching a ride back to town in the dark was actually rather easy. The hard part was mountain biking back in the dark. Major kudos to Becka for attempting something she hates, at night, in the dark.
It is easy to see the negative impact of tourism in town. Sitting down to dinner one night we were presented with the “happy menu” of all sorts of food and drink that could be made with marijuana, mushrooms and opium. Never seen that before! Bar after bar has theater style seating facing televisions that play reruns of friends and family guy seemingly 24/7. It’s not pretty.
The long and the short of it was that Vang Vieng way exceeded our expectations. We were sad to go after only three days and with the ridiculously cheap and delicious fruit smoothies, fresh stuffed crepes and baguette sandwiches not to mention gorgeous scenery and good activities we could have stayed much longer despite the “happy” meals and reruns.