Hello Lifeandlimn blog followers! How are we today? So Andy kinda left you on a cliff edge with mentioning the notorious Vang Vieng at the end of his last post. I wonder how many of you Googled it? If you didn’t, then please feel free to now, Google will have the detailed horror stories on there, death stats, drink and drug reports and probably a few photos of the odd naked Aussie off his face strolling down the street. All the things Andy and I was all too aware of before we went.
Hang on though, before I get to ‘Pleasure Island’ (note reference to Pinocchio – Pleasure Island is where all the bad boys went and became jack asses after drinking, smoking and gambling – so apt!), I need to talk about our journey there. After seeing the monks receive alms at 5.30am in the town of Luang Prabang, we returned to the hostel to pick up our bags and wait out the front for our mini van. We had booked onto a trip to take us to Vang Vieng that would take 6 hours and the mini van was supposed to be picking us up at 8.30am. Why I was panicking by 10.30am when the van hadn’t showed up would be a mystery to any Laotian, remember – always add on 2 hours Emma. It’s the Laos rule! Chill out douche!! Of course the van did eventually turn up – a clapped out old banger with no seats left for us, luggage tied onto the roof with an old tatty piece of rope, soaking up the monsoon-like rain and a drunk driver to top it off! Andy and I somehow squeezed into the front next to the crazy fool, who after every near crash laughed ‘ha ha Beer Lao Beer Lao!’ I thought to myself, Jesus, we have this for 6 hours? I’m going to die today.
But my prayers were answered just 10mins later, when we were dropped off and put onto a far nicer mini bus in town much to everyone’s delight. Phew – lovely air con, seats for everyone and our bags in the boot. I thought to myself ‘well I’ll just sleep the whole way it’s so comfortable’…man was I wrong! Here’s the journey summarised for you:
F1 wannabe bus driver, no seat belts, blind corner overtaking, white knuckles, felt sick and resorted to listening to Enya…yes Enya to try to chill out, 50 m/h up and down steep mountain dirt tracks, monsoon rain, got stuck in a landslide, had a puncture, ran over a duck and nearly hit about 20 cows. However, between the blur of the drive, we got to witness real village life with people living in wood huts on the side of the road, children playing naked in the rain and miles and miles of jungle all around. Absolutely stunning and worth the nightmare 7 hour drive 🙂
So we rolled into Vang Vieng (after being dropped off at the outskirts of town and hopping on an expensive tuk tuk). Everyone on the tuk tuk looked pretty nervous (this was the notorious Vang Vieng no less) and I started to crap myself. I’d heard that bars regularly spike tourist’s drinks with opium and give out free spliffs with any food you order. If you touch the stuff and get caught, it’s the death penalty or a life in a Laos prison. Scary scary stuff. Entering the town, I thought it would be like the strip in Ibiza with wild people everywhere painted up like Avatar and music blasting out of every bar. Well it wasn’t. What it was, was about a 10th of the wildness it would have been if we were there in dry season – Nov to Feb. It was June and of course wet season. There was hardly anyone around, just pub signs everywhere, empty tour agencies, bar after bar playing Friends or Family Guy on massive flat screen TV’s (the only stuff they show on TV here) and people looking like zombies lying around watching it. Was this the right place? Didn’t seem so scary. We checked into our massive hotel (where we were the sole occupants), opened the door to our balcony and gasped when we saw the view. Dark mountains creating the background, green land sprawling out below and a menacing deep dark brown river snaking off into the distance. Wowsa, this place was beautiful! Check out the photos below.
We spent the evening with a lovely Australian man called Ron (hey Ron if you’re reading this!), who we’d met on the bus from Luang Prabang. He’d been teaching English to children in Cambodia for the last 5 weeks and was now working his way round Laos before heading home to Melbourne. We decided to team up and book a full day cave tubing and kayaking for the next day. We drank lots of beer together in an empty Aussie bar which closed at 11pm since it was so quiet. I ate bangers and mash (que orgasm sound) – OMG I cannot explain how good that tastes after rice and noodles for the last 2 months! Ha ha!
I woke early the next day astounded that I didn’t even have a sniff of a hangover and jumped from my bed to go and stand on the balcony. Fishermen were throwing their round nets downstream in the river, swallows were dashing around my head, swooping in and out of their nests hidden underneath the roof of the hotel and the sun was shining. ‘Vang Vieng let’s be havin’ you!’ I thought. We were later picked up by a big tuk tuk with dripping wet kayaks on top (bang on time I might add – I nearly fell over!) We flew down the road to pick up Ron and a group of giggling Korean girls and continued out of town. After putting on some stinky life jackets (why do they always reek of BO?) and a safety talk from our two very funny tour guides, we’re were in the river, kayaking to the other side. Our guide told us that the bridge we could see at our starting point would be underwater this time next month due to the river swelling from all the rain water. It also gets faster which I was shocked by as it was pretty hard to paddle through already. On the other side of the river bank, we trekked through a village and some rice fields, passing ducks and the odd pig on the way. We finally got to a small lagoon next to a mountain and I didn’t even notice the half-submerged mouth of the cave we were about to tube into. The guides dished out head torches and a big black rubber tube each, it was show time! We jumped on the tubes and pulled ourselves along with the rope disappearing into the darkness.
Andy and I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time. Firstly there were spider webs like I’ve never seen before in my life – single lines of silk thread hanging down from the ceiling of the cave – which brush past your head and ears eeeewwwww! I was flapping and screaming, Andy’s torch broke so he had to hold it in one hand and pull himself along with the other. Such a calamity! Ha ha! The tour guides were constantly creeping up on you, scaring you with hissssss noises, making the Korean girls have a heart attack every time. Ron kept trying to dunk me under the dripping stalactites too, so so funny, my belly hurt 🙂 After nearly 2 hours mucking around in an ancient dark cave, we emerged in the blinding mid-day sun and swam in the lagoon for a bit to cool down. After a BBQ lunch we were off again, trekking through the paddy fields back to the river, passing another cave with a big gold Buddha inside. Once in our kayaks, we all raced down the river, avoiding the odd sunken rock or protruding tree. The rapids were out of this world, much more fun in a smaller vessel with just the two of us. Me and Andy had the time of our lives! Poor Ron and one of the Korean girls hit a wave that threw them out of their kayak, luckily without any injuries. After the rapids were far behind us, we drifted through jungle, hearing tropical sounding birds and monkeys calling on either side. However, the tranquility was soon to end as we were nearing the river bars at Vang Vieng (the reason people come here). A circle of wooden huts appeared from around the corner, each of them facing onto the river with ropes ready to throw to you to bring you in.
Boom boom boom boom – every bar louder than the next. The signs covering the trees and huts said ‘free bucket of Lao Lao whiskey for everyone!’, ‘get fucked – smoke weed here’, ‘opium tea’ etc etc. Hang on, wasn’t this stuff illegal? No wonder the bars in town are empty, everyone’s here! Half naked men and women had paint all over them or sprayed-on penis shapes on their backs. Everyone was off their faces, jumping blindly into the river or floating downstream on a yellow tire. We saw our friends from the slow boat to Luang Prabang and they shouted at us, asking where our tubes were. Our guides turned to tell us that last month alone, 2 tourists died – one man after swinging into the river and hitting his head on a rock, the other was a woman who was last seen getting into the fast river on her tube (off her face) and was found downstream 2 days later. What’s scary is 2 dead tourists a month is apparently good for Vang Vieng, there are actually more deaths, they are just not recorded as most injured people die later in a nearby hospital in Vientiane! After passing the busiest bars, we were then taken to one of the last, quieter bars on the strip, full of hammocks and no drug signs. As we were getting out of our kayaks, eager to get a Beer Lao inside us, one of the bar lads (who I reckon was about 19 yrs old), went straight up to Andy and grabbed his penis!!! You can imagine how Andy reacted. ‘WTF are you doing mate?’, I shouted at him too, asking why he’d just touched my husband in that way. The cheeky bastard just smiled and walked off to the bar, happy as Larry leaving Andy extremely uncomfortable and angry at just being touched up by a bloke, me fuming and the Korean girls shocked. Until that point, we’d been having a great time. The only way I could change the atmosphere was to say Andy obviously has a huge willy that everyone, even Laos men want to touch 🙂 He’s like a magnet!
Later that day, after kayaking for another hour to get back to town (how long it takes on a tube is anyone’s guess), we were sunburnt and rather mellow, in need of a few drinks and a party to shake off the bad vibes. Over dinner we drank beer and a bucket of cheap moonshine. We then bumped into our Aussie friends – Lisa and Harry from the slow boat, and walked over the crooked wooden bridge to Pleasure Island, where the Smile Bar awaited us. On arrival we were handed a free bucket of whiskey and cola each. For a freebie you’d expect it to be watered down, this wasn’t! Soooo strong! Rumour has it that half a bottle of moonshine goes into each bucket! Fire eaters and throwers were all around us, people were dancing to trippy music around a huge bonfire and all around the edges of this party park were wooden shacks, where you could sit with your friends looking out onto the river and mountains. The place was heaving. We found a hut with everyone from the slow boat inside and spent the next 3 hours playing drinking games, downing yet another bucket of whiskey…or was it vodka? I can’t remember. Then staggered home like a jack ass after promising to meet up with Lisa and Harry the next day at 1.30pm for tubing. When we got back to the hotel, I threw up black liquid. That’s my last memory of the night.
I opened one eye. ‘Where am I?’ I thought. I rolled over to sit up and nearly fell out of bed, the room was spinning. Wow I was still drunk. What was the time? It was sunny and so hot in the room. Shit, we’d agreed to meet friends for tubing! That’s when I shuddered and tasted whiskey in my mouth. There was no way I was getting on a bloody tractor tire today and drinking more moonshine. My body hated me already! Turns out we’d slept 11 hours and had already missed the chance to tube. With no way of contacting our friends, we staggered to one of the many cafes in town, tried to eat brunch whilst watching 4 episodes of bloody Friends back to back (I was now one the classic zombies you see lying around during the day), but felt sooo rough, we went back to our room and slept till 5pm. I’ve never experienced a hangover like it. Vang Vieng had got the better of us, but man it was fun! 🙂
To be continued…