Following my tedious (yet epic) Journey to Konglor I decided to give myself a break and hit up some of the more well-known destinations in Laos. I made a brief (though unsuccessful) stop in Vientiane for my Vietnam visa, then headed up to Vang Vieng to take part in the debauchery that is “In The Tubing Vang Vieng” (as the t-shirts, oh so eloquently, put it). I will start my tale of Vang Vieng with a haiku written by a drunk Stranger Friend post-tubing as I feel it provides a nice introduction:
Perception of life.
Love everyone. TUBE.
Now for my own personal opinion:
In talking to other backpackers, I discovered that Vang Vieng is known mainly for 3 things: Friends reruns, “limestone karst scenery,” and tubing. I obviously partook in each of these things, but honestly I found the town to be a little overrated. It’s not that I didn’t have fun (I did). But it was all just…overrated.
I arrived in the pouring rain hoping to stay at a hostel I’d heard was clean, relatively cheap, and a really good time. Sadly, there were no openings so I wandered in the rain for half an hour, lugging my backpack that seems to get 2 lbs heavier each week, searching for another hostel that I’d heard was “well-known, really cheap, and super grunge.” This was a fairly accurate description. I paid $2 for a dorm bed that would probably (though thankfully didn’t) give me lice.
It was early afternoon and the only person around was some stoned German guy so I headed solo to one of the many restaurants playing reruns of Friends. I don’t really get why it’s a thing, but the vast majority of the restaurants in Vang Vieng are filled with TV’s playing Friends reruns on a continuous loop. Kind of odd…but I liked it, and it was a nice way to avoid the rain.
I then headed out to the restaurant patio to check out this “limestone karst scenery” everyone talks about. I looked, I admired, and I had now accomplished 66% of the activities I had planned for Vang Vieng.
I returned to my grunge hostel, met a couple guys from Montreal (more stoners…I just can’t escape them) and headed for pizza with my new stoner Stranger Friends (they had slices of the “happy” variety…I did not). When they eventually (and predictably) became non-functional members of society, I headed to Fat Monkey’s with a couple less (though still slightly) stoned English blokes (look at me catching on to the English slang).
In my experience, any place in Asia with the word “monkey” in the title is usually a good time. Fat Monkey’s was no exception. I’d planned to stay for two beer (just two) but ended up pub-crawling following the bar’s closure at curfew to two weird after-hours bars where the ratio of lady boy to local to tourist was approximately 4:2:1. Vang Vieng Day 1 was…interesting.
Day 2 I went tubing. There isn’t really much to say about tubing…I wouldn’t even really classify it as “tubing”. It was more just drinking at a series of riverside bars with brief spouts of tubing down the river in between. I’d say you physically tube maybe 20 minutes throughout the entire day. The rest of the time you drink, watch other people drink, play drinking games, and drink some more.
I think this is why I feel Vang Vieng (and in particular “In the Tubing Vang Vieng”) is overrated. The place is just drinking. I obviously have nothing against said drinking (and I truly did have a good time) but I’ve been travelling for awhile now so it takes a lot more than just a drunken good time to impress me. Full moon parties, jungle parties, beach parties, paint parties, tubing…they’re all the same.
Friends is a great show, I love me some limestone karsts, and I witnessed some memorable (though questionable) moments whilst tubing down the Nam Som River. However, in my opinion, Vang Vieng is overrated.