Laos part 2 – Vang Vieng

Arrival

I quickly located my hostel, Real Vang Vieng Backpackers Hostel 2 (lol, what a ridiculous name), and checked in.  As soon as I had dropped off my bag I heard the unmistakeable Scottish accent of Alex drunkenly shouting nearby in the bathrooms.  I quickly found him and Conor and we all headed out to the nearby Milan pizza place that has a rather interesting menu.  We proceeded to get fairly wasted there and at the Rasta bar across the road, and then ended up another place called Viva Bar that does free drinks from 10-11pm.  I can’t remember but I think we were there until quite late.


In the morning I managed to awake in time for free breakfast and then signed up to go tubing with some other people from the slowboat.  I bought a waterproof phone wallet to keep my phone and money dry in, then relaxed at the hostel until time for tubing.  They took us up the river to the starting point in a tuk-tuk and then we proceeded to float down to the first bar, which rather stupidly is only about 10 meters away.  After having some free very watered down shots of cheap whiskey some of us played volleyball for a bit .
The weather was crap and there didn’t seem to be much of a vibe but we had a few drinks anyway and watched some people play beer pong with the staff.  Then we all jumped back in our tubes and floated off again.  Along the edge of the riverbank is the remnants of old bars and various slides and ziplines that were taken down in 2012 after a string of deaths on the river.  It gives the whole place a kind of sad, abandoned feel and as much as I tried to have fun to be honest the whole tubing experience was fairly rubbish.
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The volleyball at the first bar and basketball that we played at the next bar were about the only fun things.  You could tell everyone else felt the same, as they just sat around drinking boredly and waiting to get back in the tubes so we could finish.  I fell asleep in the tube for a bit after the second bar and when I awoke the sun was setting and it was cold.  We hadn’t reached the end yet but the river was flowing slowly and it was late so we all climbed out and got a tuk-tuk back.

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After that we spent the rest of the day chilling in hammocks on the riverside which was really nice and relaxing.  I swam, had a few beers and wrote quite a lot of my blog. In the evening we got chatting to some crazy Australian guys and ended up going out with them to the pizza place, again!  They told us a hilarious story about these Koreans they met in Sakura bar, where they were the previous night. The Koreans taught them some rude slur that translates to ‘Your mothers c*nt’ or something like that, so they got up and starting shouting it until they had the whole bar chanting it along to the music, much to the shock of the Koreans.
So after some food and drinks we moved on to Sakura, where you can pay £5 and drink all night.  I remember very little after arriving, but I somehow woke up in bed with a Sakura vest on and covered in crisps.

Work

Apparently I had applied for it while drunk?  Anyway I stupidly accepted because I thought it might be a fun experience and if nothing else save me some money.  It was from 7pm-3am and included free food and board, and $10 a day pay (a fair amount of money in Laos).  At first it sounded like a good idea but in the end I kinda regretted it because I just ended spending too much time in Vang Vieng.  It was a good experience though and I ended up getting an insight into how business works in Laos, which is to say it doesn’t work since they ended up not paying me.  I still got free food and board though.
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Since I only had to work at 7pm that day and had nothing else to do I hired a bicycle and cycled to the Blue Lagoon, a popular tourist attraction in Vang Vieng.  There are actually three “Blue Lagoons” but the 2nd and 3rd one are far away so I just went to the first one. It was really nice being on a bike again and the road to the blue lagoon is beautiful – completely rural dirt road through local villages and incredible scenery.  Once there I paid the 10,000 kip entrance, locked up my bike and went in.
Essentially it’s just a riverside area with some wooden shade areas, a restaurant and a river with a rope swing and tree with a platform to jump off.  Unfortunately there was nowhere to leave my phone and wallet and I was on my own, but I asked some people who were sitting on the riverside if I could leave my stuff with them while I had a quick swim.  Then I got a beer and some fried rice, sat in the sun and spoke to some Swedish girls for a bit.  After they left I got speaking to a group of Americans on a package tour but they seemed boring so I went to bum a smoke off an old looking guy nearby.
Turns out he was South African, from George – a town near Cape Town.  I ended up having a very long conversation with him about his life which was incredible – he had lived in Tanzania and run a few businesses there and a hotel, and was now living in Cambodia and doing some ‘business’ there.  He was in his 60’s, been married twice, had two kids and was now just living and travelling in South East Asia on a motorbike.  I think I saw a bit of my future in him, minus the kids and wives.

As the sun set I had to head back for work, so I said goodbye and cycled back to town.


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I had a quick shower and food and then started my first shift.  It was obviously very simple and I liked how basic they ran things.  Just a cardboard box for the money, and a book that they wrote the bookings, names and room numbers in.  It was pretty boring work but it afforded me good time to write and compile the second part of my blog.
Nothing particularly interesting happened the first night, but it turned out he had kind of lied about the hours. Although he said I only had to work until 3am, he actually wanted me to sleep in the reception of the hostel until 6:30am when the morning person came in.  I agreed when he first told me because it seemed pointless arguing, but as soon as 3am came I realised this was a mistake.  It was impossible to sleep on the hard bench in reception and all these drunk young Americans kept coming and going and waking me up.
Eventually the morning person showed up so I went to bed and tried to get a few hours sleep, but being that I was in a 8 bed hostel this didn’t work so well either.

Meeting The Irish

Needless to say the next day I was feeling rough and not very happy with life, so I went on a walk away from town looking for something chilled and relaxing to do.  Right at the far end of a small road that ran along the river I found a hostel called Easy Go and by some serendipitous luck bumped into a group of awesome Irish guys (well, one was actually English but we’ll call them the Irish guys from here on for simplicity).  They had been biking through Vietnam and had come into Laos for a visa run.
I ended up spending the afternoon with them and some of their friends down at Smile Bar, just chilling in hammocks and drinking until I had to head back to work at 7pm.
When I got to work I told Tom, the hostel owner, that I couldn’t work until 6:30am again and I that we had agreed 3am so if he wants me to work I have to go sleep at 3am.  He told me that’s fine, I must just lock everything up and turn the lights off, but leave the door open so people can come and go.
That evening was also fairly uneventful, except for some guy who was tripping on shrooms and his friends kept asking to change the temperature in the room, and a Brazilian girl who was crying because she lost her phone.  I let her use my laptop to check her Facebook and she left it logged in so I added myself as a friend, and then wrote a rude post about people crying over lost phones.  I locked up and went home at 3am and luckily got to sleep quite quickly as I was exhausted.

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In the morning I met the Irish guys again and we had some breakfast and chatted about their motorbike trip.  They told me about their plans to go back into Vietnam and bike down to Ho Chi Min City, and since I showed interest they invited me to join.  I had only ridden a motorbike briefly for about an hour when I was 19, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard so I agreed to join them.
I went with two of them to book rock climbing the next day and then we had a few drinks at Gary’s Irish pub and played ‘killer’ pool.
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Holly and Ali from the Pai crew messaged to say they had just arrived in town, so I went to meet them and we had some drinks and watched the sunset at Smile Bar before I had to go work again.
The job was getting boring and I didn’t really need the money so I told Tom I could only do one more night after this.  I was also feeling quite sick and think staying up late in the cold reception area wasn’t helping.  By 2am that night everything was very quiet so I locked up and went to sleep so I could be up early for rock climbing.  After I went to sleep I heard some people playing pool, which you’re not supposed to after midnight, but I couldn’t be bothered to go tell them to stop.
The next morning the other women working there scolded me for not putting the lights off.  I told her I did but I guess the assholes playing pool must have put them back on and left them on. Bloody kids.

Blue Lagoon

I hurried over to the climbing place and waited but the Irish guys never showed, so I told the guy running it to hang on to my deposit as I might come back at lunch to do a half day.  I walked over to where Ali and Holly were staying and chatted with them a bit.  By mid day I still hadn’t heard anything so I decided to go with Ali and Holly to the Blue Lagoon.
They got a scooter and I decided it would be a good idea to hire a motorbike and learn how to ride. Fortunately there was a really old clapped out bike for rent literally right next to their bungalow, and it was only £4 for the day.  It took a bit of getting used to the gears and kick starting it, but after about half an hour I had it figured out.  Along the way it stalled a few times but we made it eventually.
After having a swim to cool down, we chilled in a funky little wooden hut-like shade thing and had some food and beer. Then we did some jumps and flips off the rickety wooden tree platform thing that was about 5 metres high and went to explore a nearby cave.  There are loads of caves in the area and they go really deep into the mountains, but they aren’t spoilt with lights and safety barriers like other popular tourists caves I had been to.  They are just empty, natural caves so you have to have your own light and if you get lost inside you’re on your own.  We didn’t have lights though other than our phones, so we just explored the entrance bit and the first cavern which is lit by natural sunlight through a hole in the roof. It had a cool Buddha shrine in the middle of the first cavern but other than that was fairly boring.
Then we drove back and I quickly dropped off the bike before heading to work.  On the way I bumped into the Irish lads and they explained they had not been able to find the climbing place in the morning so had just ended up going in the afternoon.  It was a pity as I’d liked to have joined them but I wasn’t too bothered about climbing so decided I’ll get my deposit back the next day.  That night at work there was a new English guy working with me who was going to take my position when I leave. We chatted a bit but I was still feeling sick so I mostly just wrote and sat on the internet.

Easy Go Hostel

The next day I packed up and left Real Backpackers.  I asked the owner for my money for 16730361_10158351878480220_9033012241937063942_nthe four days I had worked but he said I only get paid if I work the whole month, which was bullshit obviously but what can you do.  It’s not like I had a contract, and I was a foreigner.
So I left Real Backpackers, got my climbing deposit back luckily and went to check into Easy Go Hostel.  I met up with Ali, Holly and another girl Benny who works for Viva Bar.  We all went to get some food, a joint at Jaidee’s Bar and then went and chilled the rest of the day in the floating tubes at Island Bar.
Towards evening Benny had to go to work and me and Ali wanted to go to the Jungle Party.  Holly wasn’t keen though so she headed back to chill at her bungalow and me and Ali went to the Rasta Bar first to get energy for the Jungle Party and then got the free tuk-tuk from the pizza place to the Jungle Party.
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The Jungle Party was pretty awesome, I was quite wasted already when we arrived and was chatting to loads of people. They did a fire limbo which I attempted but failed quite badly at.  I’ve really got quite unfit on this trip.  Towards 1 or 2am a girl asked if I wanted to get a balloon, but then expected me to pay when we got them. I was like, no you offered, you gotta pay.  We had a bit of banter but she ended up buying them, but ofcourse I bought her another one later.  We danced and flirted for the next hour or so and shared a few drinks and cigarettes. At some point I lost Ali and he headed home on his own.
I had a feeling this girl was quite young so I asked her and she said she was only 21, which was a bit of a bummer cos that’s even below my threshold.  We shared a kiss anyway and she paid for my tuk-tuk home because I was out of money.  Then we kissed a bit more before she had to go into her hostel, and I can’t remember if we made plans to meet again or not but it’s probably for the best that I forgot.

New Crew

I had also met a cool crew of two American guys, a Canadian and a German girl the night before who were sharing my dorm.  The next morning we all made plans to go tubing together.  I had already done it twice but hey, they seemed like a fun group to go with. A kiwi guy from our dorm checked out that morning and left us a bottle of whiskey and a bag of rice, so me and Kendall, the one American, drank the bottle of whiskey for breakfast.  Ali and Holly joined us and the seven of us all went to rent tubes and get a tuk-tuk to the river.  I was so wasted before we even got to the first bar I barely remember anything.  I do vaguely remember playing the most ridiculous game of beer pong where we were literally just throwing ping-pong balls at each other and randomly drinking.  At one point I gave Kendall a ball and said ‘You either mexi-can or mexi-can’t” – meaning for him to try get a ball in, and because earlier I had given him my yellow cap and when he put it on he looked just like a Mexican.  It was funny. You had to be there.
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Anyway I assume at some point we floated to the next bar which is where shit really got messy.  I was proper wasted and was shouting at Ali who was dancing to take his pants off, and then broke my thumb trying to pull them down.  Then I bought some food and went to drown my sorrows on my own at a little picnic table in the river.  After eating I fell asleep in my tube floating in the river but got stuck on some rocks.  Eventually the others came down and pushed me off so I just floated down the river sleeping.
I must have woken at some point as it was getting cold.  Some girls were floating nearby and I told them we should get out as it gets really cold down the river.  We all got out and arranged to get a tuk-tuk together.  I was obviously trying to pick one or both of them up but I’m sure I was too drunk to even talk, but I walked them back to their hostel anyway and made plans to meet later.
That never happened as I fell asleep as soon as I got back to the hostel.  I also realised I had left my flip-flops and shirt at the bar on the river, so after my nap I went out barefoot to Viva bar with some people, but I can’t even remember who.  All I remember is waking up at 3am asleep on the sofa in the hostel, with very dirty feet and a slight hangover.

The next day we all decided to go get breakfast and then hire scooters to go to Blue Lagoon 3, which was apparently the better Blue Lagoon and quite far away.  I bought some £2 flip-flops and then we hired some scooters for £6 and headed off across the rickety wooden bridge and towards the lagoons.  For some reason we ended up going around the long way and took about an hour driving through tiny villages and awesome scenery.  Me, Ali and Holly were going a bit slower so we lost the others, and then realised we had passed it so turned and went back.
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Eventually we found it thanks to Holly looking for directions on her phone.  Unfortunately the lagoon is actually just a man made pool with some zip-lines and a rope swing, and is built right up next to a mountain that blocks out the sun in the afternoon.  I don’t really know why people say it’s better.  Anyway, I got a beer and then we wandered along a path into the jungle and found Kendall and Verena near a cave mouth.  It had a very small entrance and Holly is claustrophobic so her and Ali stayed behind while me, Kendall and Verena ventured in with only our phones for lights.
The cave went really deep and soon got pitch black, with tiny holes you need to sneak through to get to the next caverns.  They had built some very dodgy looking wooden ladders to get up and down and we precariously navigated these in the pitch black.  I put on a brave face in front of Kendall and Verena but I won’t lie, I was shitting myself the entire time.  For a start we weren’t really keeping track of where we going so could have easily gotten lost, plus there was no phone reception ofcourse and Verena’s battery was dying on her phone.  Luckily we managed to find the way out after getting slightly lost for a bit, and I’ve never been so happy to see sunlight and breathe fresh air.
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We went swimming for a bit after that as we were covered in sweat and dirt from the humidity in the cave, and did the rope swing and zipline a few times before heading home.  On the drive back we saw quite a bad scooter accident but it didn’t look like anyone was seriously hurt, even though the scooter was in bits.  That evening I went to Sakura bar again with Verena and Shenaz and then to Viva again, but we didn’t stay late.  I could tell I was done with Vang Vieng.  I’ve had a lot of fun here because of the people I’ve hung out with, but essentially Vang Vieng is a shit hole and I wouldn’t bother going if I were you.

Vientiane

The next morning I woke up with a strong resolve to get back on the road.  Kendall wanted to stay another night and I think he was a bit disappointed because I had said I would too so we could hitch hike together with Gus to Don Det, but I just couldn’t do another day in Vang Vieng. I was thinking of hitching but I was hot and tired and the bus to Vientiane was only £5 so decided to take that.  Verena, and Gus also decided to leave so we all got the four hour bus together. In Vientiane Gus left to get a sleeper bus to Don Det and Verena met up with some other people and got a hostel with them, so I headed off to find the Irish guys who were staying at a hostel nearby, with a German girl Sammy who had joined them.

I found them and checked in and then we all went to get food together at a really good Indian place nearby, and then went to play ‘killer’ pool at a hostel nearby.  By midnight the others were drunk and headed home but me and Craig wanted to party so we went to this club nearby that the hostel told us about.
It turned out be a huge super club with massive sound system, lights and thousands of people.  We bumped into two Irish girls who I had met in Vang Vieng and flirted with them all night, but just as it was time to leave they both jumped on a scooter with some pro-footballer to go with him to an ‘after-party’.  I’m pretty sure the ‘after-party’ was his hotel room.  Anyway it was 4am and we were wasted so I got a tuk-tuk back and Craig wandered off to find god-knows-what.

16865078_10158374667280220_2343736100689780706_nThe next day I got a lift with them on their bikes to the bus station so we could all get a sleeper bus to Da Nang in Vietnam.  They had decided to rather try get their bikes on a bus because they had come on the road in to Vientiane and said it’s terrible.  We haggled for a bit and eventually got them to take all 3 bikes for $200 and about $30 each per person.
We had a few hours to hang about until the bus so we went for a very weird lunch in a strange place with huge soups, I took a picture on a tiny pink bike, and then got down to the job of dismantling the bikes to put on the bus.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to help so I sat on the curb in the bus station and wrote my blog and drank beer.  Then me, Craig and Dave walked about half a mile to find an ATM as we all had no money to buy snacks for the trip, and luckily we managed to hitch hike back.  16681619_10158374667265220_6655118628413821313_n
Eventually it was time to go so we got some supplies and found some spots at the back of the bus where there was 5 beds next to each other to make one huge bed.  We settled in and started drinking and listening to music and generally causing chaos.
I wanted to sleep so I took a Zanax and passed out pretty quickly, not knowing that we were gonna stop in 3 hours for dinner.  Apparently I got out and ate dinner with everyone but I have zero memory of doing so, and they said I fell asleep with my eyes open. Next thing I remember is waking up at 3am and moving to another bed as I was passed out next to Dave and Sammy.

16997890_10155841426367564_8839966731476434505_nSleeper Bus

At about 6am we were all woken up to get off the bus and go through customs, but most of the others had only just fallen asleep and were a mixture of very tired and feeling the effects of sleeping pills, so as you can imagine going through customs was rather interesting.
Protocol required that we all disembark the bus a few hundred metres from the Vietnam border and then walk through this elaborate gateway to where the visa formalities are dealt with.  This hundred metre or so walk took us about an hour, and involved numerous stops and a few extra-strength South East Asian red bulls.  I had already organised my Visa in Luang Prabang, so I was sorted and had my stamp in about 10 minutes.
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The others unfortunately had a number of issues involving the bikes and incorrect Visa approval letters, one of which only approved a visa if flying into Hanoi airport.  Couple this with extreme tiredness, a general inability to write or talk and an extreme language barrier, and you can imagine a rather hilarious experience that took about 3 hours to complete.
Fortunately in the end the right amount of money and bullshit insured we all got through, and to their credit the poor bus drivers and other passengers actually waited for us.  Luckily there was a shop in the border gate selling beer so I had something to do while I waited.  And then we all boarded the bus again and drove into Vietnam…. which is when shit gets real…. stay tuned!
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