Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vang Vieng - Party Capital of Laos

A few hours bus ride north of the Laos capital is the little town of Vang Vieng. Visually, it is quite interesting; karst hills jut from the landscape like moss covered teeth. The streets are also interesting if you're looking for fun.

During the Vietnam war, the US built a runway in the valley and used it as a supply depot. Today, it sits unused, testament to troubled past. Instead of airmen, the town is frequented by backpackers looking for the opposite of war. The town is full of guest houses and funky restaurants where visitors lounge away the day watching DVD's of American TV shows or prepare for expeditions into the nearby countryside. The beach-town feel to the place is heightened by the numerous young people decked out in in shorts, sandals and t-shirts.

It's not the airstrip or hills that attract them, but the river. Vang Vieng is now the inner-tubing epicenter of Laos. In the morning, trucks loaded with tubes, kayaks and party-goers head up-river to release their charges into the river. A few hours, and quite a few drinks, later, they arrive back in town, wet, sunburned and happy ... and nearly unable to walk.

The river is on the far side of town. It looks quite peaceful during the dry season, but during the rainy season it can move very fast. In response to the popularity of the town with visitors, the locals have expanded by building guest houses on the far shore; while some distance from the "action," they tend to be more quiet. A rickety bamboo bridge facilitates the crossing.

The far side of the river is rural farmland. The rice paddies are dry, but cows and water buffalo make the most of the minimal grazing opportunities.

Of particular interest to me were the obvious shell craters in the middle of fields, another reminder of the country's recent history.

A terrific place to chill out for a few days, Vang Vieng is an ideal stop over between more adventurous places in Laos.

See larger photos here.

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