As you float down the Nam Xong on a yellow and black inner tube, you can’t help but see the evidence that you missed the hedonistic past life of Vang Vieng. Bars that were once packed with drunk and/or high tourists are now ghost towns, shells of their former selves. We even saw the former “death slide”, a concrete slide that people would barrel into the river from at great height with only the rickety stairs still standing. After too many deaths by drowning or injury, the government cracked down on Vang Vieng in 2012, closing all the bars. They’re coming back to life, slowly, with four bars allowed to be open at once, but it’s nothing like it once was. Or so I’ve been told.
For those a little less partial to the partying lifestyle (ahem… me), I didn’t mind. Instead of downing shots and swinging from trees, I leaned back in my tire, soaked up the sun and marveled at the majestic limestone karsts. The 1-2 hour trip (depending on the season and water flow) is a peaceful one, as kayaks of tourists pass you, occasionally splashing you with water.
Having heard so much about the Blue Lagoon, David and I decided to rent bicycles to make the 14km round trip. I quickly learned that I’m a city bike girl and not a mountain bike kind of girl. Let’s just say the pot-holed, stone covered route left my butt sore for a number of days. Amidst cries of “ouch”, “mother trucker” and “sweet Jesus”, I did manage to glance up at the rice fields being harvested and the gorgeous mountain scenery. Butt pain aside, it was worth the trip out, but be prepared for the pain. Or learn how to stand on a bike. Balance-challenged folks like myself struggle with that!
What I loved about Vang Vieng was the laid back attitude. The “good view” bars that seem to be open twenty four seven and played episodes of Friends on a never-ending loop. I have one friend in particular who would be in heaven with that (you know who you are)! You have the option to be as active as you want, provided you’re willing to pay the price for the adventure-filled activities, or be as chilled out as you like. We went for a pretty decent balance of the two.
Luang Prabang Bakery provided some delicious treats for our daily coffee and snack runs. My waistline doesn’t thank me for the enormous cinnamon roll, the king-sized chocolate muffin or the peanut butter ball. I swear that David and I shared and least… one of those things. Om nom nom.
One of the oddities of Vang Vieng is that many buildings seem to either not have finished their top floor (potentially ran out of money) or they’re battling for better views, adding a floor at a time. The strangest thing.
Beware the motorbike rentals. If you haven’t done it before DO NOT assume that you’ll be a natural on a bike. We saw multiple, and I do mean multiple, people with bike injuries. One guy sprained or broke his ankle – not sure which, but crutches were involved. Another man had road rash head to toe the scrapes were nasty. Go for peddle power instead. Your travel insurance will thank you. Alternatively, if you’re feeling the urge to get on a bike, take the overnight trip option and head to Kasi, home of Welshman and bike tutor extraordinaire, Uncle Tom.
Two days and three nights were sufficient for us. Relaxed, rejuvenated and full of pastry, we bought our tickets south, back to Vientiane. We’ll remember you fondly, Vang Vieng.
The Nitty Gritty Costs
Tubing – 55,000 kip per person ($7-8 CAD). Includes a tube, life jacket and tuk tuk ride provided there are four or more people leaving at once. If not, you have to cough up 20,000 kip extra.
Bicycle hire – 15,000 kip per bike ($2 CAD). No helmets. Free lock included.
Motorbike hire – we didn’t rent one, but the average cost seemed to be about 80,000 ($11 CAD) kip for the day.
Blue Lagoon – Entry fee of 10,000 kip per person ($1.40 CAD). Life jacket hire… negotiable. We got it for 10,000 kip($1.40 CAD) but guaranteed it was too much.
Hotel – We stayed at the Malany Villa 2 in a pretty basic room (fine by us). Best shower we’ve had to date in SEA. No fridge. Spotty wi-fi. Super central, but everything is super central. We paid $11 CAD per night ($10 USD)