Getting to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang involved a lenghty 7.5 hour minibus ride. It was lengthy for us as we were lucky enough to get the worst seats on the minibus; the foldable aisle seats with no head rests.
The ride was lengthy for two reasons.
The first being that the road between these two locations is not a straight-shot and smooth highway. Quite the opposite. It was a mountain-meandering and partialy completed road on which the minibuses rally along. We’d suggest taking some anti-nausea pills before embarking on this journey because at multiple points along this trip, we both felt quite motion-sick. There was a girl seated on one of the other minibuses in our convoy who had a serious throw up session at each stop along the way.
Which brings me to my second point, the stops. Our first stop was along a mountain pass and had no point besides to allow the taxi drivers to have a fat chat. While seated in our stationary minibus, we all watched the 3 minibus drivers enjoy a cigarette while having a good chat and laugh together. We are so glad that they are able to find an appropriate time and place to spend some quality time together.
Soon after we were back on the road, we made our next stop. Lunch time. Oh wait, I meant to say Driver’s Exclusive Club lunch time. We stopped at a small open-air road side restaurant/shop prior to which, the drivers made sure to honk their horns multiple times to alert the restaurant owner of their impending arrival. The drivers quickly congregated around a table that had been decorated with different dishes and a big sharing-sized serving of sticky rice. We were all so hungry and were excited to get in on the action. We sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. And then we waited some more. Nothing. No menu. No service. Apparently she only caters for drivers and passengers are required to purchase instant noodles. We were pissed. How selfish and inconsiderate could these drivers possibly be? But at the same time, we weren’t all that surprised. We hadn’t experienced much warm hospitality from the Laotians so why would we expect it here. Piece of advice: bring a packed lunch.
This lunch break was about 1 hour long. Which is an exceptionally long break. Through our travels we have become accustomed to 20 minute lunch breaks and 10 minute bathroom breaks.
We were back on the road, and then of course another stop… we thought it was a bathroom break. Well it ended up being a 45 minute bathroom / snack break. For the driver, of course.
So, our supposedly 5 hour ride took 7.5hours. We weren’t impressed. We arrived in Vang Vieng at 4:30pm. We had originally planned to arrive at 2pm, which would have allowed enough time for us to head to the blue lagoon for an afternoon swim. Well… that idea was shot.
We were starving as our ramen lunch had worn off and we were in desperate need of showers.
We checked into the Maylay Hotel which was decent. A large clean room and decent breakfast for 23USD per night. We cleaned ourselves up and headed out in search of food. After a filling meal, we decided to explore the little town of Vang Vieng.
What we found were bars, bars with drugs, restaurants, loads of places selling outdoor activity packages, Koreans, Koreans, Korean marts, Koreans, Korean karaoke bars, Korean hotels and more Koreans.
Holy Moly! Where were we?? Back in Korea?? This city hosted the most Koreans we have ever seen outside of South Korea! We had no idea they loved travelling to Laos and especially Vang Vieng! It honestly felt like Korean Vegas.
The next day, we decided to do the infamous tubing. We honestly did not look into it very well. We will forever regret that decision of not doing our research.
The most we read up on were the changes that have taken place on the river. Apparently, there had been many alcohol and drug related deaths on the river. So the government stepped in and shut down most of the bars on the floating route. So now you can expect to find about 4 bars that you can stop and pop into. Mind you, Celeste was still on antibiotics and trying to cure her strep throat. So she was just stoked for the actual tubing.
Anyways, we popped into a tubing place, not realizing there was a difference between the tubing places. It was 60,000Kip per person. There was another couple there as well so we were able to share a tuk tuk to the starting point without paying extra. Right as we boarded the tuk-tuk, 3 other travelers joined us.
During the ride we all noticed we were going south of the city. We were under the impression we started north of the city and exited the river at the town of Vang Vieng. Hmmm, maybe the river curves? We thought.
Well we popped our tubes and bodies into the river and started our float with a Laotian guy from the company.
After about 20 minutes we arrive at the first bar. The beers started flowing for our party of 7, with the exception of Celeste. After about 2 hours we were ready to mosey on. At this point we don’t know where the Laotian guy went. The bartenders informed us that he went to meet a party of 30 tubers and that we should wait for him. We decided not to. We wanted to move on. So we grabbed our tubes and went on our way. About 5 minutes into our float, another Laotian guy in a boat rocks up and tells us to hold on to his boat so he could take us to the next bar faster.
Within 5 minutes we arrived at the second bar. Wow! That was fast! At this point they told us the float was over and we should stack our tubes.
What!?? We thought there were 4 bars? This was supposed to be a 2 hour float! We floated for a maximum of 40 minutes!
Well, we ordered some food and drinks. We did some zip-line water jumping and went for a swim. Okay, then we were ready to go.
Nope. Not possible. They kept giving us different times of when we could leave. Then pushing it back by telling us “5 minutes”. They said those two words about 50 times in a 2 hour period.
At around 4pm a group of 30 young Israeli’s rocked up from their float. They were ready to party hard. And so they did.
The bartenders from the previous bar soon rocked up. It became apparent that this tube company owns both bars. They keep you at them for as long as humanly possible. We were cash cows and they were cashing in! The more drunk people got, the more alcohol they bought and the more money they made. They weren’t letting us leave this show until the party was over.
The worst part was, we were at their mercy. We had no idea where we were since we floated south of the city. There was no town in sight to even hire a tuk tuk. We were too far to walk. We were trapped.
We had arrived at this second bar at 2:45pm. They would not take us back to town until 7pm.
Imagine being trapped at a club for 21 year olds. Everyone is drunk, music is blaring and you literally have no way to leave.
For some people, this sounds like the best time ever. For us, it was hell.
When we finally did make it back, ourselves and the other couple we met decided to grab Korean BBQ for dinner. After 4 years of living in Korea, we know a good Korean bbq. This BBQ was far from it.
To make up for the terrible dinner, we got chocolate ice cream afterwards and that was honestly the highlight of the whole day.
🏞Tip: Don’t go through the tubing company that uses the RED tubes. They are a scam! The legit company uses WHITE / YELLOW tubes. They will take you north of the city and your final bar, at the end of the tubing, will be in Vang Vieng. They will tell you to carry your tubes back to the shop once you are finished.
I wish I could tell you that we loved our experience in Vang Vieng. But that would be a lie. We left with a lot of regret. We should have done more research, we should have used the correct company. We should have done a different outdoor activity.
Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Oh well, we have a story and a weird experience that we can reflect on.
The next day, we left for Vientiane.
Getting to Vientiane from Vang Vieng involved a 4 hour minibus ride. This ride was far more comfortable than our previous minibus experience between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. We were collected from our hotel at 8:30am by the minibus. We made 1 snack stop along the way where we enjoyed two Loas-style iced teas with condensed milk. They had nothing on Thai iced teas but they were still pretty decent. Most of this journey was along a straight road with few bumps or twisties so we arrived in Vientiene feeling pretty good.
🚌 Vang Vieng ▶️ Vientiane Tip: We booked tickets from a local tour shop for 50,000 Kip per person. This was the best price we found so either shop around or negotiate with the ticket seller.
We booked just one night at the very comfortable and friendly-staffed My Box Hostel. The stayed in single beds in a shared dorm. The beds were great with thick duvets, storage was secure and the rooms were well air-conditioned.
After we checked in and locked up our bags, we made our way into town to explore. Walking down the streets of the city, it soon became clear that Vientiane had more to offer than we were led to believe. We were pleasantly suprised to find a wide variety of different restaurants and cute french cafes. First order of business was lunch. We trekked across the hot town to Kung’s Cafe. The food here was great and very reasonably priced. We both enjoyed a rich and plentiful portion of Yellow Noodle chicken soup and shared a classic Laos Bahn Mi sandwich.
Next we decided that a good cup of potent French coffee was more than necessary as we both felt a little defeated by the heat and the meal. We walked over to Bakery by Boris and enjoyed two delicious iced americanos and a slice of orange dark chocolate cake in the modern and air-conditioned cafe. The cafe was bustling and seemed to be a definite hit amongst foreingers and locals (including Laotians and the many French expats).
Next on our itinerary was a visit to the COPE Visitors Center. This center is dedicated to informing tourists about the ornaments dropped on Laos during the Vietnam war. It was sad to learn of the millions apon millions of bombs that were unleashed apon Laos and how many of these undetonated ‘bombies’ still pose such a threat to the daily life of so many Laotians. There is plenty of information on the types or bombs dropped by the US, methods of ornament detection, educating affected communities on how to deal with ornaments in the field, areas worsts affected, injuries and prosthetics, as well as the agreement that many counties have signed to ban the use of cluster bombs given their devastating effects. Admission is free but feel free to leave a donation.
Next, as we usually do to eacape the heat in most new counties we visit, we decided to take it easy in the afternoon and head over to the local cinema. We watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and, even though this is not a movie critic blog, this movie was an insult to the original gangster 1993 Jurassic Park. Where did it all go wrong Universal?
To end off the day, we explored the night market which overlooks the Mekong river. At night, this area really comes to life with locals and tourists bustling amongst the plentiful stalls selling either food, drinks or merchandise. We went back to our hostel, booked bus tickets to Kong Lor, showered off the long day and tucked ourselves into bed.
Good night Vientiane.
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