Well, I can’t say that I wasn’t warned. L0nely Planet flat-out states it in their text. Vang Vieng is, at best, backpacker hell! A small little town that seems to exist solely for tourism and nothing else.
So what is to draw people here, you may ask? Well, the surrounding karst scenery. But unlike Yangshuo, the town is totally devoid of charm. And the scenery really doesn’t hold a candle to the Chinese equivalent.
Let me be clear as to why I hate Vang Vieng. There isn’t really an escape to the tourist madness. Every way you turn, you hit another restaurant serving the exact same crappy food for the exact same price (overpriced, if you ask me), with TVs blaring American sitcoms. The two most common include “Friends” and “Family Guy,” with the occasional episode of “The Simpsons” popping up. Choosing a place to eat becomes an exercise in which show would you rather sit through. And of course, they’ve devised a nice lazy way to watch…a variation on breakfast in bed, perhaps?
But much like Yangshuo, nobody comes here for the town itself but for what’s around it. Tubing down the Nam Song (Song River) is one of those “must-do” activities on the Southeast Asian backpacking circuit, which I plan to partake in tomorrow. It certainly is hot enough here to warrant it!
(Add to my misery with the town: the loads of Westerners who have just returned from tubing and are wandering the streets in nothing but their swimsuits and making giant fools of themselves because they are absolutely intoxicated! Rumor has it the river is lined with bars…)
Getting From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
In getting here I opted for a minivan over the bus (it was in fact cheaper, explain to me how that works!). 13 tourists squished into a van…it was certainly faster than the bus, but with far less personal space (though plenty of opportunities for meeting over travelers, including a South Korean fellow seated beside me). The road from Luang Prabang was nearly as windy as my last road trip, but thankfully minus the construction!
Along the way we had to break to avoid hitting the following animals just wandering across the street: A family of chickens (why DID the chicken cross the road?), a pregnant pig, and a herd of cows who was just wandering and actually succeeded in getting into a head bunting fight in the middle of the highway!
Speaking of highway, the Lao variation on an “interstate” is roughly what would be considered a residential street in the U.S.
I couldn’t help but notice as we passed the freshly singed grass that large-scale slash-and-burn agriculture was being practiced, with entire mountains up in flames.