Vang Vieng ~ Ha Long Bay on Land: Full of Natural Beauty: and Tubing!

Deep amid Northwestern Laos, within the old growth forests and the Nam Song river, nestled in a valley of grandiose limestone hills, a tourist hot spot has arisen: Vang Vieng. It gained notoriety a few years ago when, within a 3 km tube session, it was possible to consume at a minimum, if you stopped at all 12 bars, all with free shots upon entry, you can see how an afternoon could just slip away. Not shots of that irascible tequila, or the maddening whiskey, or the swashbuckling rum, but the home made LaoLao. It’s a highly potent rice wine. Those shots were on top of any Beerlao that you consumed during the hours floating the river. Somehow, amid all the drunken buffoonery mixed with an unpredictable river, dozens of people managed to die every year. There were rope swings, zip lines, deck jumps, mushroom cocktails, uppers, downers, Fear and Loathing in Laos Vegas. But, that binging┬áparadise couldn’t last, and now the memories exist only in the rotting, empty bars on the slopes of the river. Although the drug and liquor fueled haze can be seen in some of the tubing patrons’ eyes, the town seems to be moving into the realm of respectable town with the possibility to party. Outdoor activities abound and are sure to please. I had an amazing rock climb and a slow kayak ride (it’s the dry season). Food comes in a few varieties, fried meat, fried rice, fried noodles or Pad Thai. I ate some great Indian as well as a nice schnitzel with sauce, but it’s not made for the gourmand tourist.

The surroundings are surreal. Its setting is a miracle in green. The mountains are between 500-1500 meters high, and almost every morning you could expect to rise and see this make-out session of cloud and rock.

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This was the view from my 4th floor balcony.

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This was the view from my tiny hostel balcony.

There were a few temples and I had some fish-eye fun with the paintings.

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I got to do my first real rock-climbing up ancient limestone cliffs.

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Bob was working on prepositions and he approached me for help. I think he knows the difference of “in” and “on” now.

This place was way more than I expected. The landscape was so irrepressibly intriguing and benignly beautiful. The villagers apparently willing to tolerate our behavior for going shirtless and watching Friends and Family Guy all day. For some reason, a few bars have all ten seasons of Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Rachel’s hi-jinks and innuendos. It was such a comfort being so far away from anything familiar and having those 6 perfectly cast goofballs on the tube set ’em up and knock ’em down. “How you doin’?”

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Leaving on the bus, winding through the mountains, heading toward Luang Prabang, I found these misty mountains in a quiet drizzle.

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Vang Vieng ~ Breakfast

Vang Vieng ~ Breakfast

It’s a tourist town. The party people tube, the adventurers ride 4 wheelers, the vigorous go rock climbing, the hungover/lazy go to the chill bars and watch Friends re-runs. No matter who you are, this was your breakfast most days. There is a glut of street vendors advertising any combination of meat, cheese, avocado and egg; as well as sweeter treats like crepes and shakes. I tried to switch it up one day and had a muesli and yogurt. I was hungry within 20 minutes.

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Vang Vieng ~ Blue Lagoon

Vang Vieng ~ Blue Lagoon

It’s a tiny little swimming hole the color of watered down Powerade. Water cold and refreshing, with a rope swing and multi-level tree jumps, washes away trail dust. The cave in the cliffs above is accessible only by a steep, slippery, sloped stairway. A gold Buddha lays on a golden dais inside, among the dew dropped boulders of this former hideout for Laotian rebels. Beer and chips for sale. A wonderful setting amid a resplendent jungle town.

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