This beautiful town surrounded by mountains, breathtaking views and intertwined with the mighty Mekong river is known for great parties, river tubing, blue lagoons, caves and playing endless episodes of Friends in every cafe – Vang Vieng, the most unlikely drug capital of Southeast Asia.
A PLACE TO CHILL:
The drive to Vang Vieng from Vientiane was pretty bumpy, but our mini-van was air-conditioned and the driver seemed to know what he was doing so we arrived safe and sound. It was about 1pm when we checked-in to Easy Go Hostel, a sweet place with a good common area, pool table, not so good wifi (standard) and a decent bunk bed in a clean enough dorm. It cost 40,000 Kip ($7NZ) each per night, we stayed here for our first night before moving to one that offered free drinks and a singlet for our second – Vang Vieng Hostel. This was a better quality place for the same price, the staff were friendlier and it included free breakfast, we were happy with our choice to move.
TUBING, HAPPY PANCAKES, BLUE LAGOONS AND MOUNTAIN TOP VIEWS:
Floating down the Mekong
After dumping our stuff at the hostel on the first day we strolled into town to find out about tubing down the Mekong. We’d heard this was a right of passage for backpackers going through Southeast Asia and wanted to give it a whirl. We found the place to hire them, grabbed one each (50,000 Kip ($8.70NZ) each with a 65,000 Kip ($11.30NZ) deposit each) and were told they had to be returned by 8pm. From here a large tuk-tuk took a group of 10 of us to the starting point, about a 20 minute drive away. Neil hung out the back as it was too full for him to fit inside.
On the way I got chatting to a couple of guys who had done this every year for the past four or five years. One explained it used to be a massive pub crawl down the river with about 30 bars you could float to and stop at on the way. But, he said, it got too dangerous and there had been too many (30) drug and alcohol related deaths so they closed most of the bars, leaving only three. Probably a good thing.
I asked if drugs were legal here and he laughed and said of course they weren’t, but the cops didn’t mind as long as they got their cut and catching tourists was a good way for them to make money. He then told me two of his mates had been walking down the road we were driving along to get to the river a week earlier and had all of their belongings taken by police. What do you mean taken? I had to ask, he explained the cops had told them to hand over everything they had or they would take them to jail. For what? Whatever they wanted to charge them with, he said. At that point I pulled Neil in and told him to put his camera away.
We got to the tubing start point and jumped in, a little anxious after the ride over, but the water was cool, the air warm and the scenery beautiful.
It took us almost four hours to float down the river, plus the half hour we stopped at one of the remaining three bars. The bar was bustling with loud music cranking.
Our stop was a wicked spot, it was busy, but not overflowing, there was a mini basketball court with water splashing out of the hoop, ping-pong and we meet another Kiwi. Check out the video below!
We had a few drinks and some hot fries before grabbing one for the road and floating back to town.
A few local boys jumped onto my tube, so cute!
Tubing was one of the best adventures we had in Laos, but I would recommend doing it sober. We meet several people who were doing it for a second time, this time round sober, as they couldn’t remember the first. We also did a bit of research and it turns out over 30 people have died tubing the river because they’ve been too drunk or high to navigate their way. Maybe it’s because we are about five years older than most the other young tourists in the area, but we had an awesome time without getting wasted.
Below is where we ended our tubing expedition – it become one of our favorite bars. You walk over a rickety wooden bridge down to the river side, lined with about 10 bungalows, each with hammocks. There were also several tubes anchored in the river just out front, nice to chill out in.
Check out the little video we made – be sure to follow our YouTube channel for more 🙂
The town really utilises the river, you can sit right on it!
Happy pancake sir?
Right, so after being sensible and safe, we got back from tubing and Neil was super hungry he couldn’t wait for me to shower before dinner and decided to grab a snack. There were about 10 street food stalls lined up just down from our hostel all selling the same thing, pancakes and sandwiches. Neil absolutely loves a banana and Nutella pancake, so it was an easy choice. He asked for one and the lady said, “yeah, yeah I’ll make one, happy pancake for you sir,” with a cheeky grin. He demolished the whole thing in two minutes and we headed back to the hostel to get ready for dinner.
An hour later we were sitting down at a little restaurant on the river when Neil started teasing me and making stupid jokes – something he normally does when he’s had a little much to drink. I looked up from my menu to tell him to stop it, when I noticed his eyes were super blood shot and he looked really out of it. He suddenly said, “what’s happening? Something doesn’t feel right, I feel anaesthetised.” I got the bill and came back to find he had eaten his entire plate of spaghetti bolognase in less than two minutes and was almost passed out on the table. It took me 15 minutes to carry him to the hostel, a two minute walk, and another 10 to push him up to his bed, we both had top bunks. By now he’d lost his speech and couldn’t move, I kept asking if I should get a doctor and every time he groaned and shook his head. I sat beside him for three hours, when he finally rolled over and said, “I need to brush my teeth,” classic dentist.
After asking around, we found out the next day he’d eaten a “happy pancake” – basically they cook it in hash butter either made from opium or weed. Turns out they’re very popular among young tourist who normally share one between four to six people. Neil ate the whole thing. Again, I think our age may have had something to do with our innocence in this matter. What an adventure.
Milky blue water and amazing views
Our second day in Vang Vieng started very slowly at a “Friends” cafe where we had breakfast and watched about six episodes of our favourite sitcom – got to love Friends.
We hired a motorbike for the second half of the day (40,000 Kip ($7NZ)) and went out to one of the blue lagoons for a swim, 10,000 Kip ($1.70NZ) each for entry.
This was a super popular spot with hundreds of tourists floating around, we stayed about an hour enjoying the cool milky blue water and jumping from the big tree above the lagoon.
On our way out we saw a sign to a lookout and decided to see if it was easy enough to climb in our flip flops. It turns out it was the best lookout in Vang Vieng called Nomxay. It cost 10,000 Kip ($1.70NZ) each to climb and the guy at the entrance said it would only take about 20 minutes and was totally doable in flip flops. It took us about an hour and the terrain was a really tough climb up, that view though – worth it.
We sat in a little hut right up the top for a while just to admiring the spectacular mountains. Neil said getting a good sweat on helped him recover from the day before.
After the climb down, which was harder than the climb up (bring good shoes if you’re going to do this) we headed back into town, showered and had a night out dancing and chatting with likeminded tourists, a lovely end to Vang Vieng.