Vang Vieng is a crazy town. To restate, it’s a total backpacker shitstorm, and also the laziest place on earth. It’s a giant, never ending construction site that happens to exist in one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. It is party central, fully incongruent with its location in rural, impoverished, laid back central Laos. It sucks out the ability to do anything productive for anybody within its orbit. During my three and a half days in town, I didn’t write or post anything, I didn’t organize any pictures, I didn’t make any friends that I’ll ever talk to again, and I certainly didn’t get any exercise.
I’ve been to my fair share of party towns. Having visited Vegas, Tijuana, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Phuket, Angeles, Hollywood, Haeundae, Bangkok, Pai, and Munich at Oktoberfest, I may have visited your share as well. What can I say, I like a good party. Vang Vieng is another level though.
The most famous pastimes in Vang Vieng are TV cafes and tubing. I’ll address the former first.
TV Cafes are all over town, and they all show nonstop reruns of either “Friends” or “Family Guy.” I think I saw one rogue shop showing “How I Met Your Mother,” but other than that all of them run the other two shows. TV cafes generally all have wifi as well, and the menu at all of them is nearly identical. The tables are low and surrounded by pillows and mats for lounging or even napping. I threw in my lot with the Otherside Cafe, since it had slightly better wifi than the rest and a delicious chicken Caesar salad that wasn’t on the menu of the other places. Otherside is a “Friends” joint, so I watched a lot of “Friends.” A lot.
On my second full day in town, I took the TV Cafe thing about as far as it can go. I came in for lunch, and ended up staying for dinner. At one point I got up to take a piss, but this was the only time I stood up during the seven or so hours I spent there. I probably watched 19 or 20 episodes of “Friends” in a row. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or disgusted. For the record, the were showing late first season-early second season at this point, which was clearly the apex of the show’s run.
Tubing is the other primary activity in town, although most people don’t actually do much actual tubing. For 55,000 kip and a 60,000 kip deposit (about $15 total) I got a tube and a ride upriver a ways, to the first bar.
The first bar, Q Bar, is just a sloppy drunken mess. I got there at around 3 p.m., and plenty of people had already been there for hours. It was just a mass of drunken 20-somethings, dudes all wearing board shorts and no shirts, chicks all wearing tank tops and dolphin shorts.
After a couple drinks, I headed on to the second bar with this Irish dude. We rode our tubes for maybe 37 seconds before reaching it bar 2. When somebody wants to go to a bar on the river, they let the bar know, and some guy throws a rope with Joe Montana – like accuracy to reel in the tuber in question. The second bar, Star Bar, was a little less busy, but provided free shots (like the rest of them). It also turned out to be walkable from the first bar. After a beer there, we moved on.
We bypassed the third bar and moved on to this bar further on with this crazy slide. We did our requisite shots, but the slide was a no-go. This bar was pretty much empty. We continued down the river another ten minutes and hit another bar, and this one was completely empty. We got road dogs and headed down the river.
The “last bar” popped up shortly after this, but we skipped it as it was also empty. From here, it was another 45 minutes down the river into town, and on that stretch I saw no other tubers. I’d always envisioned tubing as a floating pub crawl, but this isn’t the case at all. Everyone is so paranoid that the next bar won’t be happening that they all stay in the first three walkable bars. The river winding past the looming limestone monoliths was stunning, but it seems the whole spring break crowd misses it.
I went “tubing” one more time a couple days later, but this time I went sans tube. I hung out with the masses at the first three bars, and avoided paying for a tube rental. This was on my last day in town, and it was at around this point that I really started to hate Vang Vieng.
Our culture has to be the worst in the world, I thought to myself. I was surrounded by a bunch of morons, many of whom don’t go anywhere else in Laos. They come straight in from Chiang Mai or Bangkok or Vietnam. In the middle of my self loathing, I had a glorious, self serving epiphany: Wait – this isn’t “our” culture. I can’t be included in this mess. Vang Vieng is the realm of young Eurotrash. I was a fish out of water again, just like in Angeles and Phuket.
I didn’t meet any other Americans in Vang Vieng which means – woohoo! This one isn’t our fault! We have Vegas and New Orleans and Miami and Spring Break. My fellow Americans finally get props for not traveling. We do our stupidest drunken antics at home! Club Med isn’t us, Hedonism isn’t us, and Vang Vieng sure as hell isn’t us. I felt vindicated, so I drank another bucket and then passed out in a TV cafe.
Full disclosure: Vang Vieng can be a lot of fun. I definitely enjoyed myself part of the time. Then again, I can’t see myself ever returning.
On to the pics. Some of them ain’t too pretty.
This is Bucket Bar by day. I had a strange premonition that I would later be quite intoxicated at this place. Bucket Bar is on the “party island” in the river. This place was packed every night, but every other bar on the island was totally dead, kinda like the way the bars work on the river.
This seems like the problem with Vang Vieng in a nutshell. Why would anybody want to take a 19 and a half hour bus to Pai or 31 hour bus to Cambodia? There’s a whole lot to see in between VV and these places.