Saturday, 12 September 2015

Vientiane and Vang Vieng

24 hours after leaving Hanoi we arrived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The term 'capital' really only refers to its administrative powers as the city has a small town feel to it without the madness of other capitals we have visited making it an attractive place to stay. 
There are a several attractions to see including Patuxai, the 'Arc de Triomphe' of Laos, and the important Buddhist stupa of Pha That Luang. To wander around the city taking in these sights is a nice way to spend the day before getting a bite to eat and heading to the Mekong River to watch the watery world float by. 

The following day we were en route to Vang Vieng via a scenic route where shallow, crop and forest covered mountains roll as far as the eye can see, lending to a patchwork vista. Vang Vieng is a controversial tourist destination and is coined as the world's most unlikely party town. In the last ten years, floating down the Nam Song river in tractor inner-tyres has become a popular pastime that recently took a dark twist as the scene exploded and alcohol and drugs were thrown into the mix. In 2011, 27 tourists died from drowning or diving head first into rocks, completely justifying my apprehension. The river is quite fast-flowing so kitted out in life jackets we hopped in the tubes and set off and were pulled ashore to visit the first bar which surpassed all expectations, minus the signs advertising 'happy pizza,' made with marijuana or magic mushrooms. We lounged on sun beds with a cheap beer in hand listening to music in the sunshine whilst other visitors played table football or basketball. Apparently later in the day it can get quite rowdy but following the tragedies that have occurred here, the tone has been considerably lowered and some bars closed down. 

We visited a few more bars then meandered down the river for the rest of the journey, with limestone rocks towering in the background, offering shade to the village kids playing in the water. Apart from their squeals of delight and the calls of wildlife, there is a serenity to the silence of the river. We arrived back at the tubing office, de-robed and headed back to the hostel totally shocked at just how fun an afternoon this infamous activity had provided. It's clear to see how it can get out of hand very fast, being unregulated as it is but if you go with even an ounce of common sense then it's nothing but a bit of fun in the sun.