Is Vang Vieng The Worst Place We’ve Visited?
So here I was on my own again, separated from Paul who had taken a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia, and heading to Vang Vieng on the VIP bus from Luang Prabang.
Actually, I wasn’t on my own, I was travelling with Paul’s parents and a friend. And actually the VIP bus was only ‘VIP’ in name. It was a heap of junk on wheels, full of vomiting tourists carrying their bags of sick to the front to throw out of the door into the countryside, driven by a lunatic who spent at least 60% of the time driving through the twists and turns one handed as he made calls on his mobile phone. The other 40% of the time was dedicated to trying to avoid a breakdown and doing roadside repairs to the bus when it did actually break down.
It was after this wonderful 8 hour journey that we arrived in Vang Vieng and I quickly decided that this may well be the worst place we’ve visited on our travels in South East Asia.
Sorry Vang Vieng lovers…
In the pursuit of fairness, I must admit that I only spent one night there. I’d booked three nights with my adopted travelling companions Eileen and Pam (of slow boat ‘Fearsome Duo’ fame) and Dave. We were hoping to see some of the surrounding scenery which is supposed to be pretty impressive but we hated the town so much that we decided to leave and bought a bus ticket out of there, within about 4 hours of arriving.
In short, Vang Vieng is weird (and not in a good way)
It’s a collection of tour agencies, bars, touristy shops selling all the elephant trousers that one human could possibly need, mediocre restaurants, massage parlours and hotels.
To be honest, as soon as we arrived at our hotel, we didn’t get off to a good start. They had lost our reservation and we were left in limbo as to whether they even had a room for about 20 minutes while they shuffled paper and avoided eye contact.
Then we committed the ultimate sin and asked if they could make us some vegan vegetable fried rice for breakfast because the vegans amongst us couldn’t eat the other breakfast options.
All hell breaks loose, they are confused as to why we can’t have dry bread while all the non-vegans at breakfast have pancakes, waffles, eggs etc. They offer a laughable $1 discount and then principles get involved.
We have to invoke the powers of the Fearsome Duo and Eileen is elected to speak to the manager on the phone to explain the situation, which involves using the ‘broken record technique’ and repeating the phrase “we don’t eat egg and milk, we’d like some fried rice with vegetables” about 2000 times before they finally crack and agree.
After this tiring check-in we retreat to our rooms only to read the rules posted on the wall instructing guests not to ruin the bedsheets by sleeping in the beds after getting ‘car spray tattoos’ and warning us that it’s probably going to be noisy with pissed party-goers, but there’s nothing they can do.
We decide to go out and explore, letting the natural beauty of the landscape and the charm of the town win us over. This would have been a perfect plan except the natural beauty was hidden behind hotels, bars and building sites, and the town has no charm.
Vang Vieng is in fact, decidedly charm-less
We stroll around town watching people stagger back from their boozy tubing days out. I despair at a girl stood at a burger stall eating her burger, in only a bikini, at 7pm at night. We see a young man in his early 20’s who’s drunk and being aggressive to his girlfriend as she tries to calm him down after he’s randomly punched the wing mirror of a local person’s car.
Seriously, is this the reason why people go travelling?
We read signs in bars which give us a hint that this town is really all about getting drunk despite recent attempts to clean up it’s reputation and become ‘family friendly’. We check out the bars along the river front which are famous for showing constant re-runs of Friends; they seemed to have an aversion to chairs, opting for seating that reminded me of cattle pens with a few cushions strewn about. Perfect if you like Friends and don’t like sitting on chairs of course, or perhaps are too drunk to sit on a chair?
You might have guessed by now that this isn’t quite our thing
The vegan food options for dinner weren’t looking good either; no quality local Laotian inspired food, a nice (but expensive) looking Mexican place and a load of baguette stalls that would be perfect if it was lunchtime or if we were drunk and wanted to eat cheap food to sober up.
This is the final straw for me and so I’m happy when we decide that Vang Vieng isn’t for us and buy a bus ticket get out of town the next morning.
Next stop, although a little earlier than planned, the Laotian capital Vientiane…