Today’s forecast: 38°C, sunny 🥵
Mosquito bite tally: 11
Sweating on the bumpy road to Vang Vieng
I am composing this blog entry while hiding out in our hotel room to seek some reprieve from the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing over the past couple days. We arrived in Vang Vieng yesterday evening after a long bumpy ride from Luang Prabang. The trip down south to this little town takes about 7 hours via several curvy, partially paved roads. I didn’t find the ride itself too bad, but the suffocating heat on our arrival is what has really got me. Mr. Chuckles and I are both thinking that even though this trip has been a lot of fun, we will be relieved to get back to the temperate climate of Canada.
Vang Vieng is a town in Vientiane Province sitting adjacent to the Nam Song River, surrounded by cliffs and green paddy fields. The local population is only 25,000 but the town buzzes with activity during tourist high seasons.
Vang Vieng has a bit of a rough history when it comes to tourism. In the early 2000s, it was a hot spot for young foreign backpackers and infamous as a party town where ‘anything goes’. The town became popular for adventure activities such as tubing down the Nam Song River, which had no safety regulations. This, along with an abundance of alcohol and drugs, made for a dangerous combination causing several tourist deaths. Eventually, a government crackdown in 2012 led to most bars – especially those on the riverside – being shut down and a curfew implemented.
Nowadays, Vang Vieng has cleaned up its image and is promoting itself heavily to Chinese and Korean tourists, who are presumably a tamer crowd. It continues to be a top destination in Laos for adventure activities like kayaking, tubing, caving, trekking, and ziplining, but the overall party atmosphere has simmered down.
Some other popular activities include hot air ballooning and buggy driving, but our Intrepid guide advised against participating in either because of their questionable safety record.
I find Vang Vieng to be quite a dusty town, probably made worse by the fact that it is dry season and there’s still some smog from the burning up north. Conditions are a little nicer down by the river but I can’t get over how muggy it feels here.
Cooling off at the Blue Lagoon
I was originally somewhat ambitious with my plans for this trip and was looking into a full day tour for trekking, kayaking, and caving. By the time we arrived in Vang Vieng however, Mr. Chuckles and I were pretty run down and decided to take it easy on our free day instead.
We booked a tuk tuk to take us to the Blue Lagoon, a popular swimming hole located about a 20 minute drive from the centre of town. It’s also possible to bicycle there in 45 minutes or walk in 2 hours, if you’re keen on getting sweaty. We paid 200,000 kip for the private tuk tuk transfer, which included the toll for the wooden bridge crossing Nam Song River. Entry to the lagoon was a separate fee of 10,000 kip each.
There are actually at least three blue lagoons in total, but the other two are man-made although bigger and more secluded. We arrived in mid-morning at the original blue lagoon and there was a small crowd of Korean and Chinese tourists present. However, apparently very few of them were interested in swimming so we were able to get almost half the lagoon to ourselves. The water was cool and deep, making for a refreshing swim.
Behind the lagoon, there are some zip lines and the Tham Poukham Cave. We tried to climb up the steps to check out the cave but only made it about a third of the way before I decided I didn’t have the right shoes on and didn’t want to risk spraining my ankle.
On the way out, things were getting considerably busier in the lagoon and we were able to entertain ourselves with a bit of people watching before we went back to town.
Lunch and a failed Friends bar search
We had lunch at Happy Mango Thai restaurant, where we enjoyed some spicy sour chicken wings and crispy duck pancakes. I also made an unsuccessful attempt at finding a Friends bar. This is a thing in Vang Vieng where bars will play Friends reruns on repeat on their televisions – perfect for me as a Friends aficionado who has seen every episode probably a dozen times. Unfortunately when we arrived at one such bar, called Victor’s Place, there was nothing on the television. We couldn’t handle the heat any longer after this, so we’ll be taking it easy and cooling down this afternoon and evening.
Tomorrow morning we will be heading out to Vientiane, Laos’ capital city, where we will be celebrating the New Year and capping off our tour in a couple days. Time flies!