Vang Vieng is a bizarre place. I hated it when I arrived there, but the more I stayed the more I enjoyed. Planned to spend two days, but ended up doing six days in total. Felt guilty about it too. The town itself is like Had Rin (the Full Moon Party capital on Koh Phangan) of Laos. Very undescriptive, touristy and messy. Full of chavs, very quiet in the daytime and blooming in the night-time. The main attraction of Vang Vieng is of course tubing. Party like there is no tomorrow, starting in the morning and going on until the sunset. Very full-on and very messy on the verge of being dangerous. In fact a girl was found dead in the river, while I was there. Not really surprising considering the river, free alcohol and zip-lining. This is partying Jimi Hendrix style – party hard with no handbrakes until you drop dead. Thankfully the tubing site is some 6km outside the city, so you are spared of the horrors of tubing in the daytime, unless you are up for it. I went there twice only to realize that it is not my thing by any means. Instead I attempted to swim down the current, which frankly was a bad idea, because of the low muddy water and rocks. The result was bruised knees and funky body odor.
Around the sunset time Vang Vieng loses its sleepy atmosphere with tubers getting back into town. It is truly a remarkable sight to see tuk-tuks packed with wasted tubers getting back into the town. Very surreal. Despite the initial skepticism I found the nightlife in Vang Vieng itself very enjoyable. The place to be is Q-Bar with decent music (crazy baila extravaganza and occasional house) and good atmosphere. People are undoubtedly wasted, but in a good way, no drunken idiots. Partying is full-on, take no prisoners type, but as everywhere in Laos it ends up early around the midnight. On the other hand people compensate the early end by starting early, so the net result is more or less the same. The after-party is at Sunset Bar, which goes on till 3AM, but no music at all.
Vang Vieng surroundings are a whole different story and is the main reason why I stayed so long. You go across the Nam Song river, walk 100 meters and you find yourself in unspoiled countryside, full of rice fields, mountains and caves with little signs of development. It will undoubtedly change at some point. Hotels, minimarts and roads will be built and the tourist infrastructure will spill onto the other side of the river. But for now it is such a contrast to the busy life of Vang Vieng. There is Blue Lagoon, one of the major tourist attractions. Not technically a lagoon nor that scenic, but a fine place for swimming and spending a day at. There are a lot of caves and the ones I went to were truly remarkable. Tham Hai was especially awesome – a dark and long tunnel, which just keeps going inside the mountain. Almost like a prototype for a subway. Most hills are unclimbable with the exception of one. Not a very high one, but it was challenging to climb nonetheless, especially considering very basic infrastructure, flip-flops and the dusk time. The mountains also sports a 10000 kip entrance fee and is locked for the night. That is Laos.
The second reason for the extended stay was the accommodation on the chill side for the river. If I did not find it, I would have left much earlier. Banana Bungalows, 30000 kip (slightly less than 3 euros) for a bungalow with no bathroom and some kind of dust falling down from the roof all the time. But the atmosphere was lovely – very Pai-like, tranquil and peaceful, plus amazing people. A bunch of californians, two Israeli guys who pretended to be twins, a magician with anger problems and Pai/slow-boat crew. Vang Vieng is bizarre indeed.