Ankhou Graphic Design

Web development, graphic design, and photography by Ian Houghton, based in Revelstoke, BC.

SE Asia: Vang Vieng

0 Comments | posted 3/07/10

Here’s my final set of photos from South East Asia from one of the more notable locations on our trip. Vang Vieng is Laos’ answer to Thailand’s Khaosan Road, except with smaller amounts of gimcrackery.

The focus is less on selling useless gifts and more on shovelling as many intoxicants into tourists as their bodies can safely handle, and perhaps slightly more. Subsequent to this, Vang Vieng’s inhabitants goad you into floating down a river in an inflatable tube. The riverbed is naturally carved from razor-sharp limestone, and is lined by bars which practically force you to drink more alcohol and use their rickety rope swings to leap tens of metres into the deep spots, which are few and far between. And you love every minute of it.

To give a rough idea of what to expect when you get to Vang Vieng, we arrived after a hideous 6 hour bus journey through pouring rain with dozens of fellow tourists. It was dark, cold, and our focus was to find a place to stay as soon as possible. We gladly coughed up for the (admittedly reasonably-priced) guest house into whose courtyard we had been tactically discharged from our foul-smelling transport. After setting up camp, we wandered down the street and checked a couple of bars for food options. We opened the menu of the first one we settled in, and the first page listed the local delicacies: mushrooms, weed and opium.

We didn’t partake, but we had acquired a flu bug somewhere during our border crossing into Laos and the rain that had been persistent since shortly after we arrived in Vientiane stuck around for the next two days, ensuring our first impressions of Vang Vieng were not particularly astounding (especially given the gastric results of that first bar meal; the next couple of days weren’t pretty).

Rain in Vang Vieng, Laos

Rain from a cafe in Vang Vieng

This shot was taken from a bar where we ate a few times. I can’t remember the name, but I do remember it having the best (read: spiciest) Tom Yum Gai (tomato, lemongrass, lime, chili and chicken soup) I had anywhere in South East Asia. Trust Laos to do it better than the Thais.

Guesthouse and mountains in Vang Vieng

A guesthouse in front of Vang Vieng’s limestone cliffs

On the second day, the clouds started to clear and we realised exactly how impressive the landscape around us was. When we arrived it was dark, and when we woke up it was foggy and raining. It let up briefly in the afternoon and the limestone crags started to poke their way through.

Guesthouses and mountains in Vang Vieng

It really felt this dreary for the first couple of days

The rain was a little depressing, particularly given we were both feeling pretty fragile health-wise at the time (V moreso than I, it must be said). It felt a little surreal at times, and we worried that we weren’t going to get to experience Vang Vieng properly. The rain and our health was one of the major reasons we didn’t push on to Luang Prabang, a UNESCO heritage-listed city in the centre of Laos which I was keen to visit.

Hill, forest and cloud layers in Vang Vieng

The weather made for some nice layering of the landscape when the clouds parted

Tourist boats on the river in Vang Vieng

The dreary weather didn’t put off the other tourists

We went tubing on the river one day. For those of you who don’t know, tubing is where you get given an inflatable lorry inner tube and float sedately through the serene Laos landscape, stopping only to chug whisky buckets, throw yourself off bamboo scaffolding and listen to horribly out-of-place electro music blaring from the gigantic speakers of the ~20 bars that line the river. Seriously though, it was a lot of fun and you don’t have to get wasted if you’re not keen. We didn’t. Apparently people have died on the trip before, which I don’t find hard to believe. I have some photos we took while tubing from a waterproof camera, but I haven’t scanned them in yet. I’ll update this post at a later date.

Ducks in Vang Vieng

The ducks were loving the rain

Sunset in Vang Vieng

The rain stopped! The clouds parted! A glorious sunset

The rain finally let up on the evening of the second day and gave us a beautiful view of the river and the cliffs. It closed in again on the third day, but it confirmed it was worth the wait for the weather to improve.

Tourists on the river in front of a Vang Vieng sunset

The weather became slightly more conducive to tourism

Light shining through clouds in Vang Vieng

The remaining clouds produced some spectacular lighting

Bright cloud in Vang Vieng

This cloud caught the light of the sunset opposite nicely

Bright cloud in Vang Vieng

I love the reflection here

There were lots of rickety bridges like the one you see above spanning the river; there was a small island in the centre which had been commandeered for guesthouses and tourist bars serving whisky buckets. We were in Vang Vieng for Australia Day, and had coincidentally met one of V’s Canadian friends earlier in the afternoon. We ended up having some drinks with him and his roommate that evening (a character named Michael Jackson no less!) and played a remarkably awful game of pool.

V sleeping in a hammock suspended over a kitten

This little guy went and sat there voluntarily; V didn’t have a clue

We chilled out in hammocks one afternoon and ended up playing with some kittens. V napped above this one for about 45 minutes.

The train between Laos and Thailand

The train border crossing between Laos and Thailand

We eventually bought combined coach, border and sleeper train tickets to get us back to Bangkok from Vang Vieng. We caught a coach to Vientiane (and saw the beautiful Laos countryside we’d missed on the way out due to the rain), hopped on a short train across the border, then transferred to a sleeper train to Bangkok. It wasn’t incredibly comfortable and the breakfast was absolutely exorbitant (~300 baht / $10 for two pretty shoddy meals if I recall correctly) but it got us there, and we actually got some sleep which was traditionally a difficult proposition on the large tourist buses.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the photos. I’ve got plenty more from other trips I may work my way through at some point – it’s quite relaxing to pick out the best shots and writing a little about the trip helps cement the memories.

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