Friday, March 14, 2014

Vang Vieng, a quiet party town

As our bus left from Vientiane to go to Vang Vieng, I had already formed an image of this town in my mind, from whatever I read on Lonely Planet, Tripadvisor and other travel forums. A town with young westerners, drinking till they throw up, do drugs and get ready to die by jumping in the shallow waters of the river. This is what the town is famous for. Once not even on a map, this town turned out to be the most unlikely party place on earth!
When I got there though, I realised immediately that this town had changed from the times the stories were written in travel databases. Vang Vieng is situated along the river bank amidst tall limestone mountains lush with greenery. There are not more than three main streets in the town, plenty of guesthouses and restaurants and many travellers. But the place is much quieter now, thanks to efforts taken by the government to make it less wild by closing down many night clubs and taking strict actions against usage of drugs and the like. The number of deaths of stoned travellers in the river has also reduced significantly in the last two years.
Checking in the guesthouse, I came down on the main street and witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets behind the mountains.
Sunset and the mountains
As night started to gather, I expected an increased activity among travellers and more noise, but I was wrong yet again. This place has become rather quiet. Except for the live music being played at the Irish pub, the majority of the street was silent as early as 7 PM.
On second day, our group consisting of a Turkish couple, an American girl and a Japanese guy decided to go Tubing.Tubing is an activity, where you are dropped off about 5-6 kms upstream with tubs and you float down-stream. There are a few bars on the river-side where travellers stop to drink some beer or cocktails. We hired our tubs and started floating downstream and as it was a dry season, we had to struggle through lot of round stones hitting our butts. Also, because of dry season, it took us a long time (almost 4-5 hours) before we stopped before the last stop. Too much relaxing for me and soon I got tired of it! Still, if you are in Vang Vieng, be sure to do this, it is fun, at least for first 2 hours.
Next morning, we hired mountain bikes and decided to go to see a cave and a blue lagoon. The lagoon is located about 7 kms from the main town and the road is not paved. It is a dirt road and can be a bit bumpy. So make sure to have good bikes with good suspension before you start.  In spite of the bad road, the ride was beautiful. Muddy-colored road running through rice fields, spotted with small houses and all in the back drop of huge and stunning mountains. You can’t help but enjoy the ride. Also, if you do the hard work, you are more likely to enjoy the lagoon, which is a nice and quiet pool of cool green-blue water. Take a dip and all your tiredness will be vanished. In the afternoon and especially on weekends it gets quite busy, so plan to come on a weekday. There are a few swings to jump in the water and a big tree with branches hanging over the water used by travellers as a jumping spot. Also, there are small hut-like wooden structures where you can relax after soaking in the water.
Beautiful dirt track

Blue lagoon

After a bit of dipping, we hiked to the cave which is set in the mountain just behind the lagoon. A small, 15 minutes hike took us to the entrance. Just a little inside is a statue of a Buddha. Continuing on, it gets really dark and you are better off with a head-torch. We continued to walk through the darkness and ended up completing a circle in the cave before coming back to the entrance. Watch your footing, as sometimes it can be slippery and there big holes that can take the unwary deep inside!
Reclining Buddha

Cave opening
We started to ride back at around 4.30 and reached the town just before the sunset. Another beautiful sunset, this time with a large hot-air balloon floating mid-air, increasing the awesomeness of the whole scene!
As I left this party town for a quieter place the next morning, I realised that this is definitely not only a party town. There’s a lot more you can do than just getting drunk and partying. But for that be ready to go out of the town and explore the mountains!

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