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Out of Town Vang Vieng: Rollin' on a river

By: Expat Advisory Posted: January-01-2006 in
Expat Advisory

Matthew Spriggs grabs a mate, a drink and a tube in Laos.

Vang Vieng is a world away from work. Midway along the Vientiane to Luang Prabang road, Vang Vieng is a backpacker's paradise like few others in the region - a place devoted to hedonism where very little gets done and the atmosphere is pure holiday.

With the serene Nam Song river winding around it and towering limestone karsts on either side, Vang Vieng has become world famous amongst backpackers for its "slow river cruise" - an often drunken drift by inner tube down the picturesque waterway.

After renting a thick and usually very weather worn tube, all the day's participants are herded into a tuk-tuk from their various places of stay and driven to the starting point. But this is no race. In fact, it is the total opposite. In true Lao spirit, the slower you can make your journey the better it gets.

Drifting down the first half kilometre sipping on what could be the freshest mojito ever mixed, the river is suddenly lined with bamboo platforms, all serving drinks and providing refuge from the sun and water.

Meandering progressively through this bizarre floating barricade of bars, what makes the experience so rewarding is the sheer amount of new people you meet. Very quickly cliques form, holding their tubes together with a mesh of intertwined feet and passing drinks around.

Every bar owner will attempt to serve you an infamous Lao Lao shot, better described as moonshine. Beware - the hangover will make you wish you had never been born! The cruise may take all day, sometimes even lasting until the sky turns crimson before travellers drink their way back into Vang Vieng's humble centre.

As with all places in Laos there is a semi-enforced curfew meaning the bars close, which ultimately either leads to quiet street sessions or, if you can convince the owner, an evening sitting in a bar with all the lights out. In some ways, this is a blessed curb on the day's excesses in a place as sublimely relaxing as Vang Vieng.

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