Leaving Luang Prabang was a sad affair. However, driving seven hours through some of the most stunning scenery in Asia made us forget our pangs for LP rather quickly.
Our fearless G Adventures group leader, obviously accustomed to the seriously winding roads, was able to nap on a dime.
If I ever felt crammed in our little mini-bus, all I needed to do was look out the window and see how others traveled the roads. Granted, the locals probably weren’t covering vast overland distances that we were…
Did you read my post about the bear torture and farming in Laos? I mentioned that we saw jarred bear paws at one of the side-road vendors. This is that photo. So awful….
Our lunch stop just happened to have stunning panoramic views of the gumdrop hill valley.
Before venturing to Vang Vieng, I knew two things about the place: 1) the town is nestled in the most stunning karst mountain scenery and 2) it’s an adventure-lovers dream, and one of the highlights is booze-tubing down the Nam Xong River (or it was). A friend of mine from my previous African adventures traveled on to Southeast Asia after we parted ways last summer, and she filled my ears Facebook inbox with suggestions and stories, including the highly recommended tubing experience. She was possibly one of the very last revelers to partake in the debauchery of the party town’s main attraction.
Vang Vieng was quite famous for their party tubing scene. And now, thanks to poorly planned and shoddily made bar “extras” (like water slides that weren’t quite long enough) and bad (drunken) tourist behavior, many have died, and the Lao government was forced to destroy the tubing-bar infrastructure and has closed twenty-four some-odd bars. Read this article about Vang Vieng’s party town reputation. CNN Travel Desk also has a good article about the end of the party town and a separate article highlighting the hedonistic nature of Vang Vieng from the past decade.
Apparently, the tubing scene started after the year 2000, when some local entrepreneurs rented out some inner tubes, thinking it would be a fun, ecological way to see the Nam Xong River, and then it snowballed from there. Bars started popping up on stilts all down the river, offering buckets of whisky for US $3, a kilo of weed for $300, magic mushroom shakes, or opium-laced pizza. The backpackers were likened to zombies, stumbling back to their guest houses, half-naked.
It is still possible to go tubing on the river, but without the bars, the activity has lost its appeal. And quite honestly, the river moves slowly enough that people were getting stuck (and it was getting dark), and they looked pretty bored. We passed ’em on by in our fancy kayak, buddy!
Read what bloggers are saying about the Vang Vieng tubing debacle.
- Chris from Backpacker Banter discussed the dangers in drinking on the river just before the whole industry was shut down last summer.
- Red Crane Travel talks about tubing activity suspension on the Nam Xong River.
- CNN GO posits the end of the party.
- iBackpackertravel claims that tubing is now banned in Vang Vieng, as of November 2012, but this is not true, based on what I saw there last December.
- Bridget O’Flaherty of The Diplomat touches on the pros and cons and asks: Is the party over in Laos?
Enjoying The New (Improved?) Vang Vieng
Honestly, I didn’t realize how extensive the party scene was in Vang Vieng, and it quite literally all but shut down several months prior to our visit. I was not sad about this in the least. There may have been a time in my life where Party-Town, Laos would have been extremely appealing to me. Maybe I’ve just gotten too old or my travel priorities have shifted. I still love to have fun and revel in a good ole adventure, I just don’t need to get completely s*%t faced with other tourists in order to have a good time. And, if you think about it, it sort of detracts from the local culture and experience.
Kayaking on the Nam Xong was simultaneously relaxing and exhilarating. There were bouts of rapids that caused our guide to shout “put your cameras away!” Each time, he would paddle on over to me and help me tightly wrap my camera in the waterproof bag the tour company provided, which was not so conveniently tied to the kayak behind my back. The rapids were fairly choppy, and I managed to get thoroughly soaked, being in the front. Other than those few bumps, the river was calm, for the most part.
A Room with a View
We kayaked for a couple of hours and ended up right back in front of our hotel. How conveeeeenient! May I just say that that the views from our hotel, Thavisouk Guesthouse, were phenomenal.
The hotel restaurant sat on the Nam Xong River, such an inviting venue to enjoy a bowl of red curry. With all of the activities Vang Vieng has to offer, one may be enticed to spend a lot of time doing absolutely nothing other than relaxing amidst the karst mountains and taking in the raw, natural beauty of Vang Vieng.
As tempting as it was to relax and do a whole lot of nothing, I opted to spend a day driving around the area in a dirt-buggy, mini-car thingy, exploring caves, waterfalls, blue lagoons, kicking up dirt-road dust the whole way! It was pretty fun. Next post!
Thanks for stopping by!