Posted by: Larzizou | March 19, 2009

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, another backpacker-Mecca. Ghost city made out of thin air, artificially developed in the last few years to accommodate drunkard-to-be youth of the wild wild Western world. Here we are !

Mike and I arrive at 2am after a rather erratic trip (see here). We check out a few hostels recommended by our Lonely Planet guidebook, but (1) things have dramatically changed since the last edition was printed and (2) all the places we check are full or in poor shape. It does not help either that we don’t have a sense of the city layout.

Well, Mike believes he does. He had been in Vang Vieng a few days two years ago. He is stubborn and wants to go back to the cheap and (once) decent hotel he slept at. Can we afford to be stubborn at 3am, under the rain, in an empty ghost city, carrying heavy luggage ? Yes, we can. We go here and there, one step left, and one step right (props to Lou Bega) walk for maybe half an hour, decline to pay a hefty price to sleep in the only (relatively) luxurious hotel around after heavy hesitations. Had a camera been following us, it would have been one of these moments you would have watched thinking “mmmmhhhh”. I am hopeful but very skeptical regarding Mike’s ability to find THE hotel at 3am, especially since Vang Vieng changed so much recently.

We finally get there. It’s cheap (maybe 8 USD a night for two) and decent (not too many roaches or mosquitoes, air-conditioner noise no louder than a busy highway in India, hot water no pressure, free – used – flip flops). Only (minor) issue : the hotel is slightly ex-centered and located on the only street that has not been paved (but is undergoing constructions) ; accordingly, we have to carry (and not roll) our (oh so heavy) luggage and get our Havaianas full of mud under the splashy effect of rain on soil. Reddish-brown mud. Long night of sleep, much needed and appreciated.

After running a few errands, like searching for a quick laundry (quick cannot happen – weather is too humid for natural drying and there – obviously – aren’t automatic dryers) and checking emails, we proceed to a rapid visit of the premises. As you can see, pretty rudimentary. Only a few streets, crossing each other, and electric cables.

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The future’s means of public transportation. Had seen them in Cambodia, on the road from Poipet to Siem Reap. Alas, did not try them. Number 345 on my to-do-list.

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Stands selling all sorts of good, from food to scarves, to things we cannot identify. Mostly things we cannot identify. If we did, we probably would not have eaten them.

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Our unpaved street. Every time we go somwhere, we have to wipe the mud off of our shoes (we are forced to removed them before entering our hostel). Or wear no shoes, but the rocks hurt my delicate feet.

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Why is Vang Vieng so popular among backpackers ? Tubing. We’ll get to that later.

There also lots of other activities around, such as this 2 days camping adventure advertised on the board below. I quote : “Free:  Beer Lao, Lao local whiskey and special smoking.”

Special smoking, as you can see, has been faintly covered with adhesive tape. In France, we call that a secret de polichinelle. Although the expression may have originated in Italy.

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And now, in the tubing, as the t-shirts – I have seen all over South East Asia – read. Even though it’s off season and we get there at 3.30pm (closing time is 6pm), tubing is extremely busy. We wait in line to rent a life jacket and waterproof diving bags (useful for cameras and stuffs). We wait in line to rent our “tubes”, large plastic tyre-like floating buoys. A staff member writes a number on the top of my left hand : 157. We wait in line 10 min to hop in at the back of the jeep. Not very sunny, but so humid that I am already half wet when we get to the bank 10 minutes later. Everybody is pretty much thrilled. Tubing is not exactly an activity for adrenalin junkies. At least, not per se.

Get your bottom in the tyre and dragged by the current is pretty much all you have to do. It’s not really easy to have some control over the direction you are taking. Extreme arm-peddling can be involved, and often unsuccessfully.  Which makes it all the more hard not to be separated from your friend(s) at the stops. Which stops ? Bar stops.

There are bars on each side of the banks every other hundred meters. Each has its own specialty : reggae music, electro, rock, cocktails, pills and god knows what. Mike knows what to, at least from his recollections (which prove to be inaccurate). As we don’t really know what to expect, we skip the first few bars and randomly stops at the 5-6th. Big mistake: it’s much less visited. To get to the banks, each bar’s staff throws bottles, objects or tires at you (going down the river) and drag you to the shore. Quite unique.

Mike only gets a beer. And I water.

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Introducing Tarzan from the Mekong.

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Unluckily, the weather sucks.

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At most bars, you have these sort of amenities. Gigantic looping. Flying foxes. And other devices to throw yourself up in the air and then in the water. I don’t believe safety measures have been taken very seriously. All the more appealing.

You have to admire the man (below) : wearing a speedo in 2008 takes an old age or a raging personality.

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This mysterious girl comes from heaven and works for…the Bucket Bar. More on that later.

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Mike is not a newcomer…

After the big jump, this guys helps you getting back on track at the bar. The current is relatively strong, so without him, little chance to get back.

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Step…

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…by step.

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Now it’s my turn. I am posing next to the real life Tarzan or Jesus, I am not sure.

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The Mekong, the cables, people deriving.

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This is how high the fox and trapeze are; maybe 50 feet.

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Throwing my arms in the air before throwing myself. Smiling  because I have not jumped yet. And Kriss Kross will make you…

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Playing with Picasa. Perfect timing to notice that this post is rather boring, mostly pictures of me and random. people Again, there is not much else to do in Vang Vieng taking pictures of yourself and random people, especially if they are half naked, especially if they are women (I think I just earned +50 google search).

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And going at it…

I jump three times, the last of which is very hurtful : I release the handle right after the first swing, when at the top velocity and height. Feels like falling from the 5th floor (and surviving).

Peddling hardcore, it took this group of Japanese about 5 minutes to get back on their feet, that is, downstream.

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A new construction, not yet completed. Will be a killer toboggan. Maybe literally.

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The funny detail ? Disclaimers are written in Laotian…when most users are foreigners who don’t understand anything but Sabaidee (“hello”) and Kopchai (“thanks”).

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Snakes. This is what you swim with in the Mekong. Which reminds me that over a thousand species unknown to man have been found in the last 10 years in the Mekong. Check this link.

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What do people do here when the cable, suspended over water, is stuck ?

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They send a twelve year old boy to unhook it. More than perilous. Customs, I guess.

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People tubing… You have to wait before jumping. Wait that all the farangs are evacuated.

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They come in droves.

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These two guys were really friendly but really creepy. Jaws wide open, most likely under unidentified influence.

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That’s what friends are for : holding each other out.

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Getting dragged to the bar.

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Notice the happy faces (or the mud).

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Last but not least, the flying fox. Last time I did it was in Zimbabwe/Zambia, at the victoria falls, but harnessed to my back. Quite different here as you have to let yourself go into the water after the smooth cruise. Notice the dancing cow at the end !

Second bar we stop at : the reggae bar. Everybody is a friend of everybody, or so. We meet a girl, I believe from New Zealand or somewhere else. I feel that she has a thing for me. Good, I think to myself. She’s actually quite good looking. But hey, she leaves with another man she must have had something stronger with. The story of my life.

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Pensive.

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More people going downstream.

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire. Do you think the rain pervades through the crisps packages ? It did.

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Emptying, gotta go. But how ?

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With style. And it’s Mike’s idea. We’ll get to the edge, tie our Havaianas to our ankles, jump directly into the tyres and let ourself go downstream…

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Before going, Mike trying a move with the bucket bar (English ?) girl. We’ll meet her tonight.

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Daft Punk makes the world go round.

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I am kind of scared as we go downstream : the current is really rapid, night is falling so we don’t see much (we have a hard time not separating from each other too much and peddling in one another direction) and Mike alerts me that if you don’t take the right turn, the river becomes dangerous and 5 km down is where you usually end up, with no sight nor anyone to help you out. Luckily, child aiming at making a quick buck help up getting to the bank (and duly claim change after). So we indulge. Then, heading home, and going out for dinner. Pizza dinner.

True. And licit drugs ?

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By the time we leave the restaurant, I have already drunk 4-5 caipirinhas (with not much alcohol) and lost 3-4 pool games. Every other person in the streets is going to the same direction : the bucket bar. So we go. Rather cool vibe, cheap buckets, run by backpackers who didn’t know better than staying here for a while…

It doesn’t take us long before being taking off, to the sky with diamond (without Lucy though). While Mike is getting busy with a Briton in her early early 20s, I am taking care of her friend, Mary, British too. I am not a “lines” guy, but for once, maybe because slightly drunk, I lay some, to which she responds surprisingly well. I don’t think I ever kissed a Mary before. However, unaware of how great I am, not in her right mind or else, she quickly grows disinterested and we split (sounds better than : she split from me).

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The bucket, Mike and the British. Liquor makes the world go round, too. And everybody pretty.

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Wearing a t-shirt that reads “Je suis beau et intelligent”, literally “I am beautiful and smart”, means:

A – you suck

B – you suck

C – you suck

D – well, you know

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After one bucket comes another… Mingling. I am not sure where Mike is heading.

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Newfound friends that you never heard of ever again.

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More people, more buckets. This really is the uninteresting part of my trip. Drinking, speaking your absent mind of, taking pictures, drinking, etc.

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That night, we fell on an Israeli crew.

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More drunky Mike and Israelis.

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Mike, Reut and her unpretty friend. We met Reut again later on the way to Vientiane, and vaguely kept in touch, Facebook helping.

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It’s between 3 and 4 am, we have moved to another, clandestine bar. So clandestine that we barely hear the music channeled through a laptop. Only the strong survive. I am not sure how strong Mike is.

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Life continuing. Had to drag and carry Mike all they way to our hotel, under the rain; the drunk b****** torn apart my t-shirt’s collar. I am not sure how we made it, but we did.

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Why would you go thousands of miles away from home to watch Friends reruns ? Something definitely beyond my understanding. It was similar to what I had experienced in Thailand. Backpackers and other travelers would often congregate in the afternoon to watch, religiously, TV series, they could watch home, chilling at a bar. Anything but that.

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Sometimes in life, you feel lost, you need to take distance. Move far away, travel, breathe, read, escape. Get into a frenzy of new activities. It happens that you just don’t understand anymore the world that surrounds your little person and need explanation, even for the simplest things.

This is how I felt when I fell upon this DVD sleeve. The movie is called Bratz. Really, it’s a stupid movie. I downloaded the video because it was in Spanish and I am trying to learn Spanish, with more or less success. The movie is terrible. The story of how four teenagers, best friends for life, trying to get their groove on the new high school they enter, while remaining faithful to who they are/were and to each other.

Now, aren’t DVD sleeves supposed to make you want to see/buy/rent a movie ? To promote it ? How “a silly movie that’s essentially a series of clichés strung together into a semblance of a movie” helps that end ?

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Who’s that boy ?

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It’s Mr Bim !

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Mr Bim !

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Of her, we don’t know much. For the three entire days, that we stayed in Vang Vieng, we would buy her sandwiches for almost every lunch and dinner and make chit-chat. At times, Mike would even take sticky rice, that he craves, away from her, to which, Mr Bim objected (he snitched to his mom!).

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That night we left, we felt.

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Don’t get me started on the absurd rules regarding banks and withdrawing money in Laos.

Don’t get me started either on getting a Vietnam tourist visa from Laos.

And don’t get me started on bus linking Vang Vieng to Vientiane.

Please don’t.

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Responses

  1. t’es moche
    ceci dit, j’aimerais bien être moche comme toi

  2. Je comprends cher ami. Keep the faith ! Real beauty is inside. Ah ah ah ah.


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