Situated two hours north of Vientiane in Laos, Vang Vieng is (in)famous for
drunken wasted incoherent backpackers, tubing the river between countless bars, mud volleyball, rope swings and water slides, then wasting away resting in restaurants that all serve the same thing and that all have Friends and Family Guy episodes on 24/7 repeat. (Actually, this stop on the backpacker trail may be no longer…or at least very, very different.)
When backpacking solo around SE Asia I almost didn’t go to Vang Vieng. It sounded like it could be fun…but more likely that it would just be one big hot mess and I would be irritated being by myself and surrounded by drunken groups of gap year students. I’d heard that it was tourism gone way, way wrong. The town was ruined. I went anyway telling myself I could check it off the list and leave the next day if I wanted to.
And while I feel kind of funny admitting it…I enjoyed myself more there than any other place in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Yes, all the rumors were true, but at the same time, I met a good group of people who stuck together for several days, I hadn’t watched any TV in months so it was a nice break to be able to veg out a bit with cheap food, beer and Joey and Chandler…and Vang Vieng is really, really beautiful.
The karst mountains you see in the background of the photo are fascinating and look so exotic compared to mountains I know at home. To float down the river (after the bars) and be surrounded by these mountains, jungle and greenery was magical (maybe someone who was comatose at this point would disagree with me but…). And there’s more to Vang Vieng than baguette sandwiches, beer and bars. We went kayaking, we explored caves along the river where we had to pull ourselves through in an inner tube because the opening was too low, and the water too deep to walk through, we saw Buddha shrines and views of the sleepy little huts. Aside from the partying and bars, it really was peaceful and beautiful. Will I ever go back? No, probably not…but I’m glad I did and have this moment in my memory.