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Return to Vang Vieng?

I really love the fantastic scenery of Vang Vieng, Laos. The last time I was there was in June of 2009, and, as I posted then, I was quite loathe to return, due to the extreme frat/high school drunk-party atmosphere of the town. The backpacker crowd had taken over, completely lacking any respect for the local culture, running around half naked, noisy, and totally out of control. The laid-back vibe of Vang Vieng had disappeared, perhaps never to return.

Salvation has come, though, in a report posted on a Travefish blog. It seems that last August, the Lao authorities stepped in and closed the bars lining the area of the Nam Song River where most of the party crowd began their day by kayaking or tubing. They also shut down the all-night party spots, and most of the bars now close around midnight. The blog reports that

Vang Vieng is returning to its roots as a place where people came to chill out, have a couple of beers and take in the natural beauty of the surrounding area. If you were tossing up over whether to come or not because of Vang Vieng’s reputation, don’t deliberate any longer. Vang Vieng is now back on the map as a top spot for those seeking to experience the natural beauty of Laos and interact with the local people. But for those seeking a serious party — the party is over.

From my point of view, all I can say is Hallelujah!

My Lao traveling companion and good friend, Nai, has been having some family troubles lately. We had been planning to go to Phuket, Thailand, but with the troubles, he may, perhaps, want to travel somewhere that’s closer to his family. If that’s the case, perhaps we’ll head north to Vang Vieng rather than to Phuket. I don’t know yet if our plans will change, but I’d be quite happy to return to Vang Vieng.

Trip Wrap Up

I made it back to Yeosu in good shape, not too much the worse for wear, though it took me a few days to recuperate. My best intention of keeping up a running commentary of my time in Laos and Thailand fell short of the mark (again).

I never did make it to Bangkok, for one reason or the other. The train strike lasted only a few days, but after staying more than a couple of days in Nong Khai, Thailand, time ran short, so I spent the last part of my trip in Laos.

On further reflection about Vang Vieng, though there weren’t nearly as many tourists there as in December, it was still like being in a huge fraternity or high school party. There were a very large number of backpacker-type travelers between the ages of 18-22 (estimate). Most seemed to party hard into the wee hours or take the float-and-get-blasted trip down the Nam Song river. One night, Nai decided to go to one of the island bars and have a few beers. I could hear the music blasting from our guesthouse room, and it didn’t stop until 3 a.m. Nai told me later that the Lao police visited all the bars still open at that time and ordered them to shut down, due to the late hour and all the noise. Good for them! I’m sure Vang Vieng used to be a peaceful, sleepy village, but no more. Construction of new guesthouses is rampant, as usual, and I’m sure the place will become even more of a party town for youngsters in the future. I’ll be rethinking about visiting there again. It’s just not that enjoyable, for me at least.

Back here in Yeosu, we had a LOT of rain yesterday, well over a couple inches, I would guess. It’s rainy season here, too, and it’s supposed to rain off and on into the weekend. It’s kind of nice, but I’m sure it will get old quickly and I’ll be yearning for the sun soon. I’m not worried about the wet weather cutting into my jogging time, though; I cut my foot a bit on a sharp edge in a hotel shower, and, while it’s nothing remotely serious, it’s just enough of an injury that I won’t be able to run for a little while. Hopefully, I’ll be back up to speed by the weekend or early next week.

I’ll try to get some photos posted soon, but I won’t promise anything. My schedule right now is pretty light, but the university begins holding English classes for young, promising local students next week, so I’ll start getting some extra hours in then. I’m also part of a team of teachers writing a textbook for a new university class starting in September that will focus on English for Tourism in Yeosu. More hours = more pay. 😎 More later.

Vang Vieng

I’m enjoying a few days in Vang Vieng, a lovely, but usually tourist-packed town north of Vientiane. Being that it’s low season now, the number of visitors here is quite a few less than in December, the last time I was here. There hasn’t been any rain, but it’s been mostly cloudy and humid. Nai and I might go tubing on the Nam Song tomorrow or perhaps take a hike up to the Buddha cave.

There’s not really too much happening here, and I was planning on going to Bangkok near the end of the week. However, I read today that the trains have all been stopped due to a nationwide strike of railway workers, and it seems like it’s another nail in the coffin of the Thailand tourism sector. Visitor numbers are down drastically and the industry is begging the government to do something. Chief causes for the huge dropoff are the takeover of the airport last year by protestors and continuing political turmoil, high prices, bad economy, and the perception that tourists are being treated less than cordially by many Thais working in the service sector. So it goes. More later.

Christmas in Vang Vieng

Nai and I went to Vang Vieng, one of our favorite areas, for a few days around Christmas time and, in fact, spent Christmas Eve and Day there. The village was lit with a few holiday lights and fake Christmas trees, but nothing spectacular. The most notable sign that it was a holiday were the hordes of drunk, loud and sometimes obnoxious younger backpacker-type tourists celebrating the season. Like I stated earlier, this time of year is the peak of tourist season, and if I’m ever back in Laos in December, I’m going to avoid Vang Vieng.

Despite the crowds, we still had a decent time, relaxing along the river for the most part. Here are my favorite “Christmas” decorations (and any other time of year for that matter) along the Song River.

Hammocks_1-w

Of course, not everyone was partying and getting smashed on Beer Lao. Quite a few people took advantage of the great weather, kayaking and tubing down the river, a popular pastime here.

Nam-Song-Kayak-w

So, after a hard day of “hammocking” (as opposed to kayaking) along the river, it was time to go back to our room at the Riverview Guesthouse and sit on our balcony to watch the sun go down.

More-NK-Sunsets_2-w

Here’s another view from the balcony, looking over some newly built river side guesthouse bungalows towards the surrounding mountains.

Nam-Song-Guesthouse2-w

New bungalows had also been built across the river, reached by crossing a footbridge.

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One of the highlights of the trip was my introduction to a fantastic Lao dessert (name unknown). Made with coconut and cream, these were cooked over an open fire in small, covered containers. Eaten fresh and hot from the fire, these were delicious!

Lao-Dessert_1-w

Lao-Dessert_2-w

After spending four days in Vang Vieng, it was time to go back to Vientiane and sit along the Mekong and watch the sun go down. Vientiane actually seemed more peaceful than Vang Vieng. Notice how low the river is compared to the photos of it I took last August.

Vientiane-Sunset_3-w

So, all in all, it was a nice visit to Laos, as usual. I’ll post some more photos to the Photo Gallery eventually, so keep checking in. More later.

Vang Vieng

Laos is looking good, if wet. I’m now in Vang Vieng, my third time here and, despite the rainy afternoons, it’s been a very pleasant day–quiet, peaceful, relaxing. We sat along the banks of the Nam Song river this afternoon, watching tubers and kayakers floating through. Though the river is quite high, many people are making the enjoyable from the put-in point to Vang Vieng. I’m here with Nai and his sister Nui, and two of his friends, Suwon and Noh. We’re heading back to Vientiane tomorrow, and afterwards, who knows where I’ll be? The trip to Singapore is still on and various locations in Thailand are still a go, including Bangkok, Phuket and another island, yet to be determined. I’ll probably hang around Vientiane for another 10 days, before leaving for Thailand.

As I stated, the afternoons are rainy, with heavy downpours about the same time every day, around 2 or 3 in the afternoon (though today was an exception). Along with the normally high humidity, it seems that nothing ever really dries out. When the sun is out, in the morning, that is the time to dehumidify, so to speak. Still, it is not overly hot and not as unpleasant as it might sound.

Vang Vieng is really undergoing some busy construction, with new guesthouses, hotels and restaurants going up ’round the clock, so it seems. It’s a far cry from even a few short years ago when it seemed much more sleepy and laid back. It would be a good place, perhaps, to start a new business. (Ding, ding, ding, as bells go off and alarms ring in my head–bowling alley, American restaurant, laid-back bar???? I’ll have to save up some more money before I think too much along those lines.)

No photos this time around, but I hope to post some more as I go along. Keep tuned. More later.

Thai/Laos Photos and Comments

As promised, I’m finally posting some photos and comments about my recent trip to Laos and Thailand. Some of the comments I made in earlier posts, so if I duplicate myself, forgive me. I’ll post these over a period of days (hopefully), so hang in there.

Here’s a photo of my former Andong University colleague, Tyra, with whom I rendezvoused in Bangkok. She’s a Canadian and is now basking in the sun on the beaches of Bali. We also hooked up with Eugene, another former colleague (American), but for some odd reason I didn’t get any photos of him nor did he get any of me. Strange. Perhaps we were focused in on the lovely Tyra. You can see more photos of her at the Photo Gallery. This is at Wat Pho in Bangkok, site of the Reclining Buddha.

Tyra_Buddha

So, it was up to Laos after the short stay in Bangkok. I met Nai at the train station in Nong Khai, Thailand, and we crossed the border into communist Laos. Believe me, unless you have to deal with the bureaucracy, you wouldn’t know it was a communist state. The people, for the most part, are not political. Many of them dislike the system, but they accept it with a nonchalance that reflects their easy-going lifestyle, or so it seems to me. If another system were in place, they would probably feel the same way.

Anyway, we hung out at Nai’s house and in Vientiane for several days before heading up to Vang Vieng. Before leaving, Nai introduce me to his wonderful friends, Say (pronounced “sigh”) and his wife Joi (“joy”). Great people, who welcomed me into their home like I was a long-lost brother. I would see more of them when we returned to Vientiane later. Here are Say and Joi sharing a tender moment.

Say_Joi_small

Then it was off to Vang Vieng, about which I have written. Like I stated in an earlier post, the weather was beautiful. Compare the following picture with the one I took last June.

Dry Season
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Monsoon Season
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Here are some photos from the river float. I’m not sure I’d want to try this during the rainy part of the year when the river is high. Here are Nai, a lady whose name I forget, and Guy (the friend of the woman) putting in at the start point.

PuttingIn

Here’s Nai in a death defying slide at one of the many stops along the river.

Nai_Slide

And here is Robert, a fellow who was along with Guy and his girlfriend and who works in Vientiane, and Nai with a cool Beer Lao at one of the many beverage stations lining the river. Actually, it looks like they’ve had more than a couple.

Bev_Stop_1

There’s not a whole lot to do in Vang Vieng besides float the river. You can explore some caves or do a little hiking in the mountains. Here, Nai sits on a quaint, little, orange suspension bridge that leads to one of the caves. (Notice the Morocco cap he’s wearing.)

Nai_on_Bridge

After a busy day on the river, though, you can visit, if that’s your thing, one of the many bars along the main tourist drag where seemingly bored tourists lay on futons watching reruns of “Friends,” something I just don’t understand. Why come all the way to Laos and then lay around like zombies entranced by the boob tube? And that seems to be all that these bars show, and there are plenty of them, at least half a dozen, all showing “Friends” reruns, speakers turned up to the max. Idiotic. Vang Vieng is infamous, though, for catering to the “pot head” tourist, so maybe the folks watching TV are actually pretty much “zoned out,” unable to do much of anything else. Just my opinion. I won’t patronize these places; the gal who came tubing with us suggested that we go to one to eat before we went out to the river, but I refused.

Or, you can walk along some of the side streets and try out some of the local food at one of the numerous vendors. Here we found some delicious chicken, broiled over the standard charcoal fire.

Night_Vendor

Ok, that’s enough for now. I’ll continue the journey to Luang Prabang the next post. More later.

Sunday-Vang Vieng

We decided to stay in Vang Vieng an extra day, since the weather is now beautiful, but also because we had planned to take the bus back to Vientiane and fly from there to Luang Prabang. However, I think it’s a bit expensive, so we’ll take the bus to LP from here and fly from there to Xing Khuan Province (spelling is probably way off) and the Plain of Jars.

We did an inner-tube float trip down the Nam Song river yesterday and I managed to avoid being sunburned. It took nearly 6 hours, but only because we stopped at every little (and big) bar along the way, where you can take a break for a beer or soda, play volleyball or kickball, swing from ropes, a la Tarzan, into the river and just generally lay back in the shade for a while and watch all the tubers and kayakers float past. We also met up with Guy, one of Nai’s friends from Vientiane, who joined us on the float. It was a pretty lazy day . . . lots of fun. More later.

Laos–Vientiane

Nai greeted me at the train station and we had a happy reunion. He’s really a great guy, humorous, fun and playful, like most Laotian people. We stayed at his family’s home for a few days, went into Vientiane for a couple more and finally caught the bus to Vang Vieng today. Up until now, the days have been very sunny and hot, but, wouldn’t you know it, Vang Vieng has been getting clouds and rain, just like the last time I was here. It looks like it’s beginning to clear up, and if we have good weather tomorrow, we’ll probably do some river floating on inner tubes.

Vang Vieng is also experiencing a BIG boom. Construction is going on everywhere you look, with new guesthouses and restaurants in the making. It looks like tourism is finally expanding in Laos, though I doubt it will ever reach the numbers that visit Thailand. Still, I hope it proves to be beneficial to the Lao people. More later.