I arrived in Vang Vieng in the dark.
When you arrive at a place in the dark, you cannot, of course, see the surrounding area or countryside. I could only see the town streets which looked charming and simple. One large central lane, with a few side streets with lots of cafes, restaurants and quirky bars. The next morning I woke up and I was still unable to see the surrounding area due to heavy cloud, rain and mist which surrounded the entire vicinity. It was wet and it was cold which annoyed me a little as wet and cold seems to be following me around quite a lot recently. It was not until later that day when the clouds and mist slowly lifted that it actually became apparent to me that I had found myself in one of the most stunning and dramatic places I had ever seen in my life in terms of the scenery. And I have been to New Zealand so that was saying something.
Hopefully some of my photos I share throughout the blog post will show what I mean, although looking through them myself now I don’t think they really do the place justice. Despite the advances of iPhone photographic technology, I honestly think a photo can only show so much. I think you really have to be present in a place like this to feel the allure of it which I certainly felt.
On day one, I did take a walk around the town, saw the Nam river and visited a cave.
As I mentioned the first two days I was in Vang Vieng, the weather was very cold and wet – which really limited the activities I was inclined to do. No chance I was going tubing, or kayaking in this. I also mentioned in my former post (Vientiane) that I had heard that a ghost of the former party scene still existed in Vang Vieng (after the more crazy party days of Vang Vieng from the 90’s and early 00’s had ended here) and on the second day of bad weather, this ghost abducted me, wrapped it’s evil arms around me, tempted me into yet another adventure of all-night insanity and then spat me back out again the next morning leaving me in pieces without so much of an apology or a word of comfort.
Ok, enough of the fancy / dramatic ghost analogies. Basically, what happened is that I met the couple who I said I had been planning on meeting up there which was a good laugh, I had a bit of a session with them (they were actually quite sensible and went home around midnight) but then of course, me being me when I have had a few, I carried on by myself until the early hours of the morning starting in a place called Sakura and then heading to a second nightclub talking absolute cod’s nonsense to strangers, and probably annoying at least two or three of them. After the club closed, I also got lost and due to a flat battery on my phone I couldn’t find my way back to my hostel which is very unlike me as I am usually quite sensible and safety conscious. Despite at one point, after half an hour of searching, almost shouting on a street corner for someone to help me and asking several people for directions, nobody helped me at all (seems to be a bit of a theme here which started at the border with our visa issues) but I eventually saw the lights with my hostel name on it after roaming around for at least an hour like the lost drunk Western numpty I promised myself I would never be. I found out later in the clear sober light of day, I was only about 15 – 20 minutes from the hostel but it took me over an hour and a half to find it. For months, I had been accosted by Tuk Tuk drivers and Motorbikes Taxis and just when I needed one the most there wasn’t a single one in sight.
Day 3 – recovered from hangover and extended my stay with the hostel from 3 to 6. I am in my late thirties now so nothing happens on hangover days.
Day 4 – the weather cleared up, the sun was shining, hangover departed, and a solemn vow was made to myself not to drink for the rest of January. The party time, which had started Christmas Day and lasted well over 2 weeks was now well and truly OVER. That day I took a 1 hour walk to Pha Ngeun which is a karst mountain, climbed it which took another hour and then walked back to town.
Day 5 – I rented a motorbike and did the West Vang Vieng Loop getting right in amongst the karsts which I really enjoyed.
Day 6 – I took a tour with AK Homes Tours (highly recommended, very professional, fun and helpful guides) which involved cave tubing, zip lining (which I loved) and then Kayaking down the Nam River. I met some nice people on that tour as well including a Canadian guy called Fred and a Swedish couple. Finally on that day, I broke my solemn vow made on day 4 and met a few of them for some drinks later after the tour. We started at Gary’s Irish Bar and then had a couple of drinks outside a minimart and ended up in a nightclub afterwards. Decent night overall and no problems locating my hostel this time.
To be honest, I think I could have spent another week in this place and Vang Vieng is definitely one of my favourite places on the trip so far. In fact I would go as far as to say it has been number one which surprised me as I wasn’t expecting that from some of the stories I had heard. I thought it was basically a place for younger, party crazy, gap year backpackers rather than mature, sophisticated cultural explorers / adventurers like myself (hmmm yeah my last few posts on my boozy adventures have really backed up that statement!) but I think the place has changed and it is now essentially just a very scenic base for outdoor adventures and activities. Also, I actually think I have realised that this is the sort of thing I have come for – activities, adventures, moving. After living a sedentary office life for so long I think I came travelling basically for two reasons – a) to escape routine and b) to move. Yes, I like a temple or a museum and also seeing some sights and of course learning about different cultures but going forward I am definitely going to try and throw more adventures / activities / outdoor pursuits etc into the mix.
Anyway, I had even spoken to the couple that had been here about going hot air ballooning but I am glad we didn’t in the end as there are 14 negative reviews on trip advisor about the balloons landing in trees or hitting power lines! I mean there are also 175 very positive reviews but when it comes to hot air ballooning I think I would prefer to go with a company with no negative reviews at all.
The next day it was onwards to Luang Prabang and I woke up with a headache to make it for the 11.30AM bus and again made another solemn vow to not drink for the rest of January until I am heading to Indonesia……..to be continued.
Next post: Time in Luang Prabang