Vang Vieng, Laos
Oh Vang Vieng. I have a love hate relationship with that town. Well more with the area. I love the area, there are so many amazing outdoorsy things to do, but I did not like the town. At all. It is just one big tourist party town. Apparently it used to be super party central, but then too many tourists died while drunk and tubing (tubing down the river going bar to bar all day) and the government cracked down on it. There are still more bars there then we saw anywhere and they all had ridiculous signs for free booze or other souvenirs if you drink there. Free t-shirt with alcohol purchase! Free drinks 8-9pm! Buy one get one free drinks! Free shots with every purchase! Drink all the alcohol!! I'm really glad we were there during the low season as I cannot imagine I would have like it at all if there were even more people partying it up there. It was like what I imagine MTV Spring Break to be like. I don't know for sure as I never did that party all day spring break thing, but this is as close as I will hopefully ever get. If you are into that thing then this is the place for you! We just aren't party people.
We woke up in Na Nam and had our breakfast (I talked about that last post) then headed out to the bus stop to get to Vang Vieng. We got to the bus stop and there was a van there all ready to take us away and we jumped in. Along the way I thought wait a minute...we are going back the way we came yesterday...and we did. 2 hours to get back to Vientiane which we were not expecting. I'm not sure if you just can't get to Vang Vieng from where we were or what, but it was a bit of a crazy ride. The driver of the van was super slow at first, winding through all the little towns looking for other people to take to Vientiane. There was only one older lady in the van when we got on and she was super friendly and tried talking to us with a huge smile on her face, but unfortunately we had no idea what she was saying. Then once the driver got on the main road he drove so fast! And weaving in and out of traffic like they do (you can always pass a slower car if you can - if there is no traffic coming the other way or if the road is wide enough for three lanes of traffic) and it was a bit intense.
Then once we got back to Vientiane we had take another bus to Vang Vieng. That one was just over 3 hours and not so much fun. We didn't plan for such a long trip (we hadn't learned yet to always always prepare for a few extra hours to get somewhere) so I was starving by the time we got in. The van was also smaller than other we rode in and I was definitely too tall for it. I had to slouch down to not hit my head on the ceiling, and with the bumpy roads that is not good. Even if I was sitting up straight my legs didn't fit between the seats so I had to sit sideways as well and there was just no room. They pack people in which I get, but not very comfortable for me since I am a giant there. Really it seems like they cannot leave without a full van. The drivers have to hand off paperwork and stuff and people check to make sure every seat is full and that is just what I gathered. Not sure if it is true or not.
The driver for the second part of our journey seemed nice and much more cautious than any other drivers we had. He was really slow. I loved Laos, but you have to be prepared for a few hour trip to take all day. Who knows what will happen to delay your trip. You just have to go with it. If you can't do that then Laos is probably not a good place for you. Anyways the van was an express or something since it didn't really stop at all until we got close to town. We were again the only tourists in the van, everyone else was a local. The van pulled over next to this big dirt field and the driver got out to get some bags off the top for someone and Raymond looked at his GPS and was just like I think we might be here? Just then someone came and was like this is Vang Vieng! It looks like there is absolutely nothing around, but they said to just walk across the dirt field and we would find the town so we headed off. And wouldn't you know there was the town. The first thing you see if the above cartoon on a giant sign.
We tried to find our hotel and I was tired and cranky and had to pee and was starving and luckily it was just a few doors down from where we were. The town is not that big so it wouldn't have taken long to wander the streets until we found it, but I just wanted to get checked in and get some food. It was sooo hot and humid there as well! It was too much when I was so cranky hungry. I figured it would be fine the next day since we planned on swimming and water = amazing in the hot humid weather. Above are some more "rule" for Laos that were in the hotel. I didn't realize until there that I wasn't supposed to just wear a swim suit to go swimming. I knew walking around to cover my shoulder and stuff (though you see plenty of tourist ladies wearing tank tops), but never thought about swimming. The girls wear t-shirts and shorts over their suits so after that I did as well. Or I wore Raymonds hiking shirt and shorts since I didn't even think to bring something like that for swimming.
After we got checked in we went and got some food at this vegan place I had listed to eat at and...it was not good. It wasn't the worst thing ever, but I wouldn't go back. It was just...I was so hungry I didn't care and ate it all, but if I wasn't I don't know that I would have. Probably would have just gone somewhere else.
We then wandered down to the water just in time for sunset! For a town that is right on the river it doesn't have much in the way of a waterfront. Not a lot of restaurants or anything taking advantage of it. You have to go down to the one boat launch to be able to see out for the sunset
Then we just went back and hung out in the room since it was so humid out until we were hungry for second dinner. We just went out to the restaurant where we were staying to eat there as they had pad thai and tofu dishes. Much much better than first dinner place.
The next day, our first and only full day in Vang Vieng was one of two rainy days on our trip. After that storm in Na Nam I just kept expecting crazy thunderstorm. It was thundering, but never got really crazy. We were going to go explore some caves and then go tubing down the river, but with the thunder and the rain we held off until the afternoon. In the morning we got up and had breakfast at the hotel, museli with bananas which was amazing! Best included breakfast by far - they did not skimp on the bananas. Then went and wandered around town. It had been raining hard when we woke up, but by the time we were done eating it wasn't so we took advantage of that.
There is really no one in the town during the day. Everything in the town is geared towards tourists. Basically all of the restaurants have the same menu, but some are better than others. There are lots of convenience stores and shops selling dry bags and such for tubing. All of the restaurants lining the streets had lots of places to lay and watch episodes of Friends. Don't like the episode that is on at this place? Well just try one of the many other places that are playing it. I have no idea why that is on the TV constantly there...On our way back to the hotel it really started raining so we just hung out in our room and planned for our next stop. We could have stayed in Vang Vieng another day, but I was itching to move on since I didn't care for the town. If only the outdoorsy things weren't so pretty...
When we got hungry and there was a break in the heavy rain we went down to one of the few restaurants along the water for some lunch. We were the only people there, but we did see a lot of kayakers going by. It started pouring again shortly after we got there so we just sat for a while and watched the clouds in the mountains and the kayakers paddling by.
After lunch, and once it stopped raining so hard, we headed out to Chang Cave to explore. It is close by, set up for tourists, has a pathway and lights so I thought it would be a good choice. I'm not sure how I feel about wandering around by myself in dark caves where you can't see anything except what the headlamp shows. Raymond wanted to go to a cave though so Chang Cave it was.
We passed this sign for the good or best Thai/German place...not sure there are that many Thai/German places...
You walk down this dirt road that was really muddy due to the rain until you get to Vang Vieng Resort where you have to pay $0.20 to walk through to the caves. Then you pay for the caves before going across the bridge to get to the mountains.
Stairs up to the caves - they were really steep
It was really humid after the rain so it took a little while to get up, but the view was great!
Plants on the walls outside
We were the only ones in the caves when we got there. We got to run around and explore and have fun. I really enjoyed the caves. There were so many cool formations and stuff. We spent a good 45 minutes or so wandering around. Here are some photos of the inside:
Viewpoint inside the caves
As we were coming down there was a huge tour group going up. We timed it perfectly! The guidebook had said you could swim at the caves and go through this tunnel to another cavern, but I didn't realize until later that night that it meant this blue pool of water at the base of the stairs! We didn't go swimming as the water was moving really quickly and it didn't seem like a good idea at the time.
The walk back was nice and we tried to find someplace on the water to have some beverages and watch the sunset, but we couldn't find much so we headed back to the boat launch.
We watched the sunset from the boat launch area which was nice and as I was looking around I noticed 2 or 3 restaurants that did look out over the sunset but were a little farther down the street. We went to explore as we wanted some beverages and to just hang out a bit until we got hungry. The first place obviously would have the better view, but the second place had more of a non-alcoholic beverage selection so we went there instead. We hung out, had some drinks, ate some delicious foods (we ordered pad thai with tofu and tofu satay and the waiter was just like you must really like tofu!). We had talked before about staying another day, but if it was rainy again the next day we wouldn't really have much to do. We decided to just head out to Luang Prabang in the morning and got our bus tickets for a 9am bus.