So thankfully on the morning of the 28th we were getting the hell out of Vientiane, off to a more adventurous place, the legendary Vang Vieng. We got up early and headed out to our bus. The bus wasn’t so much a bus as a minibus, actually no it was a van. It seemed that everyone taking the bus was new to the way of the Laos because we watched in disillusion as the driver climbed onto the roof with our bags and tied them together with a string. I asked them would they be ok and he replied “yes, yes, ok”. He seemed reassuring but the smell of his morning whiskey made us think otherwise.
It wasn’t long before we saw how beautiful Laos is. The hills and mountains are so unique in their shape and stature and the countryside is as green as Ireland only a bit more tropical. Our bus ride took us through many little towns and villages and seeing the way the people live is just fascinating. The major industry amongst the villages in Laos is making weaves and as you drive through, you see men, women, children of all ages joining together in the trade. The houses are wooden, on stilts, with thatched roofs, the clothes of the people are rough and torn, but they look so happy in their little civilisations. So after a very bumpy bus ride through the hills on the concrete-less roads, we reached Vang Vieng and our monkey treehouse.
It really was like a treehouse. We were staying in a 16 bed dorm which was a maze of beds reaching high to the roof of the hut, there were no doors, simple matresses and mosquito nets, all for the low price of €3 a night. There were 3 or 4 huts smaller than ours and there was a common area outside, basically a balcony, a table, cushions and a fridge full of beers. So the Australian lads arrived soon after and we celebrated this with a beer and headed into the town.
Vang Vieng isn’t real Laos, the town is very much built for tourists. The only way the locals make a living around this place is tourism. So if you want culture, not the ideal place to go, but we would get our culture in Luang Prabang in the new year, anyway one walk around this place and we loved it. Many many restaurants, a LOT of bars, food stalls on every street corner and the best part – there were plenty of restaurants with comfortable sofas showing Friends and Family Guy over and over. Many people we told this to afterwards said oh you come all the way to Laos to sit on your ass and watch TV like at home? Yes when we’re hungover, that is what is best so feck off.
That night we went out for dinner and a few beers and the one down side of Vang Vieng is despite having many restaurants, the food is pretty awful. Buying rolls and sandwiches at the street stalls was much cheaper, nicer and more efficient as you grab a quick bite between bars. On the first night, the town was actually pretty quiet so we just had a quiet few in a chilled out bar on comfy sofas. We wanted to be prepared for the madness that could occur the following day.
Tubing is a once in a lifetime adventure. Simple epic. However, for anyone considering going, there are some vital rules.
1. Tubes are for losers, no need for them, too expensive and after many drinks, you may lose it.
2. Tubing begins around 12 or 1 for most people. The sun goes down around 6, are you able for 5 hours of day drinking? If not, good luck to you.
3. The river is fun to swim in, much more exciting than being in a tube. However, there are jagged rocks lining the river bed. Just a warning, you will get cut up.
4. The ziplines are one of the greatest thrills in the South East Asia experience. But don’t be an idiot and jump in the water where you can see the rocks just below the surface, you will die.
5. What happens in Vang Vieng stays in Vang Vieng. Except for now I will break that rule for the good of the blog.
We really did have a brilliant 2 days, the 30th and the 31st, going from bar to bar, meeting so many people, ziplining (it is our favourite passtime ever), oh and many bars have slides too. The river is lined with bars, there must be at least 20. So people begin their day at the first bar and make their way down the river through the bars during the afternoon. The day ends at bar 5. Nobody makes it past bar 5 unless they want to have some alone time. When the sun is setting, 90% of the people are usually at bar 5 and from there everyone heads back to their hotel or treehouse and gets ready for part 2 – the night out.
The night out is not as good as the day out. There is a great atmosphere at night time, cheap drinks, cool bars, lots of people, but that much drinking can really get to people. Andy and Byron found that out on the night out of the 30th. Aren’t Aussies supposed to be able to drink? The treehouse was great for meeting people, on our first night in the common area we met so many cool people, had a great talk over a few beers and in the mornings we had a big group who would get a tuk-tuk together to go tubing. We all went out together on New Years eve and it was a mental affair. The drink was flowing, neon paint all over us, bars playing the same songs over and over did get annoying though. Alcohol ensured the group broke into pieces over the course of the night of course. Diarmuid and I got home at 2.30 and met Guy and Carlos in the treehouse. Diarmuid came up with the idea of “hey why don’t we go out again?”. I am not sure why but it seemed like a great idea. We got home at 6. Out of it.
The next two days were not nearly as enjoyable as the previous two. On new years day, we could barely function, more out of tiredness than being hungover. The novelty of the treehouse was wearing off, the beds were uncomfortable and at night time it was like sleeping in an igloo it was so cold. Several hours of New Years day were spent watching Friends, that was the highlight of the day! Byron on the other hand found his form on the morning of New Years day, he partied so hard he came back in the evening with ideas of changing his plans to go travelling with Guy and Ben because he wanted to “have fun” and “party”, he was very very very drunk. Andy was mad. Diarmuid and I weren’t so much mad at Byron, it is hard to be mad at him, he’s such a nice guy, we were just so confused, a day of drinking and he had a new itinerary for January. He of course crashed in the evening. After dinner I was hunting for a companion to watch the Liverpool game with. I did head to the Irish pub nearby and was enjoying the first 15 minutes when a strange thing happened. The pub closed. An Irish pub closing at 10.15. An insult to our great nation. Byron came out with me to watch it somewhere else and we talked about how mental he was, but he seemed set on his plans. The next morning he woke up and realised he is an idiot. Below he is pictured almost passed out and wondering where he was the past 24 hours. He apologised to Andy who had already considered coming with us for the next few weeks. And then we had to say goodbye to the lads, which was really shit. Despite some antics from Byron, we had a great time with them once again and if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have even been in Vang Vieng for New Years.
At this point, the novelty of the treehouse was dead. I had to get out. I told Diarmuid I needed to move into a nice guesthouse in town or I would go mad. The lack of sleep, the lack of hygiene and the lack of warm water was getting to me. And thankfully Diarmo agreed, he had barely slept in days! We had been away 7 weeks, so used to living out of a rugsack.. but still pontsy city boys at heart. So for an extra €6, we got a really nice room with a balcony in the town centre. The greatest shower and night’s sleep of my entire life. But the next morning we learned one of the most valuable lessons about Laos. Do not trust the ATMs, they break down. A lot. So every one in town was broken and we still had to pay for the hotel before we left. Guy saved us.. he paid for our hotel as he was coming to Luang Prabang with us and said we could pay him back whenever. Legend. He believes in good karma, on this day he said we got good karma. We left Vang Vieng behind, what a great few days, but we needed a serious detox.