December 2008


Someone was telling about how they had heard about tubing in Vang Vieng and really wanted to go. Vang Vieng is the Sin City of Laos. It’s overflowing with backpackers, American sitcoms and Beer Lao.

I remember the first time I heard Vang Vieng described to me was from a religious aid worker from the town. She said the town was despicable, and the tourists showed now respect for the locals. A sign of the disrespect was white women wearing bikinis while walking through town, culturally the equivalent of a westerner wearing a bikini in church so she told me.

I know two people that have injured themselves on the infamous water swings of Vang Vieng. Along the river you can go tubing. This involves floating down the river on an inflatable tube. Depending on the season, which effects the water’s speed, it can take between two to four hours. Even longer if you spend a lot of time at the bars along the banks.

There are about eight bamboo bars along the river. They serve beer and lao lao cocktails. There’s lots of seating to lounge around in but the main draw card are their massive bamboo swings. They are reason why they write a number in permanent marker on your hand before letting you float down the river. Identifying your drowned, bloated body, will be easier for the officials.

These swings can throw you up to 9m in the air from my guesstimate. Crazy people, ie. most people, hold on to the swing and go back and forth before finally letting go. This seems very dodgy as although you swing out to the water, you end up swimming back in towards a cluster of rocks. My house mate bruised a nerve in his head after landing awkwardly.

Another swing in a flying fox contraption that will give you severe whip lash if you fail to let go before you reach the end, as my friend found out first hand.

You can’t use the swings unless you buy a drink, so the system works to make sure you’re drunk and thus putting the maximum risk on your life. I saw a girl with badly cut legs, and I’m sure that’s quite common, especially in the dry season when the water is not so deep.

There are a couple of caves near the river you can go to look out. My friend and I went to see one. We handed our money over to the attendant, but he failed to give us our change (US 20c), which is one of the very few times that’s happened to me in Laos. When he finally made the climb to the top, it was actually quite dangerous with lots of sharp rocks and us decked out in dodgy thongs, the lighting system hadn’t been turned on so we couldn’t see anything. So yeah, we got shafted out of our $1. There are plenty of other caves to see around the place that are very impressive, including one that is so big you can actually go swimming inside it. The local guides there are really helpful, although though expect fluent English.

After visiting Vang Vieng three times I am still very fond of the place and would definitely like to return. There are some elements of the backpacker tourism industry that are unpleasant, but by in large they’re kept to themselves in the river bars and happy pizza restaurants around town.

Things I would recommend are the food at the Organic Farm, staying at the Viengsavahn guest house (good value for money) and the #1 pancake seller.

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Find it here:

http://www.smh.com.au/travel/a-taste-for-slow-20081113-63w8.html