Vang Vieng is a place that makes as much money as it does primarily, I think, due to its location. By the time you get here from anywhere you are a bit travel weary, thinking how nice it would be to curl up with some pizza and beer while watching TV, so the town has accommodated. So much, in fact, that you cannot walk down the main street without hearing a band singing “so no one told you it was gonna be this way…” from one of the bars-
There are a few dozen bars in Vang Vien, and the number one activity in them is playing an endless stream of Friends episodes. I’m not sure why this is as my international friends tell me Friends was never as popular abroad as it was in the US, but I haven’t really watched it since high school so I confess a few hours have gone into this endeavour. “Hey, this is the one where Joey and Rachel finally kiss!” “No we should stay for this one, it’s the one where Monica and Chandler go on their honeymoon…”
It never fully dawned on me how soap opera-y Friends was until I got to Laos. Welcome to the twenty-first century!
(Oh, and for those who don’t like Friends some of the bars show Family Guy as a distant second, and The Simpsons is the third runner up. Except they only show the new ones, so I don’t watch.)
It should be noted that Vang Vien is also ubiquitous because of all the “happy” menus you can ask for in addition to the regular meals, for all the backpackers eager to get any type of drug in their shake or on their pizza. I don’t though because a. it’s not my style, and b. the local police have realized lately how profitable this is so lots of undercover cops are around ready to catch tourists and charge a $500 “fine,” which beats the part where the law in Laos says they’re supposed to throw you in prison and/or excecute you. Somehow I think such an incident would put a damper on my trip.
When the TV shows get boring the other popular thing to do around here is go tubing on the river in an old tractor tube. You go past a bunch of bars which are all too eager to pull you in for a drink, and give you a chance to try their swing-
There is a video of this too actually, but the video will need to wait until the faster Internet connection in Bangkok… Until then I must say, while I don’t have much of a future in being a trapeze artist you have to trust me when I say it’s really fun. I liked it a lot more than the zipline or the water slide at the other places we stopped at actually.
A picture snapped on the river while taking a tubing break. I like this one because all I could think of was how moms in the US always wait at the school bus stops to ferry their kids home in cars, and this woman was ferrying her kids via boat (except there was no school bus stop in Laos, obviously).
There are more tubing pictures as well, but I wasn’t really using my camera as it was mainly stored snug in someone else’s dry bag. But when I get them, I will post them. Until then, I will mention a bit about my guest house, which has a great view-
I must say, I really like this place because I scored my own little bungalow for $6. And the company can’t be beat- the first morning I went to breakfast I saw Anne, the friend I’d made my first day in Laos but hadn’t seen since, as it turned out she had the bungalow next to me. Squealing and hugging ensued with everyone looking on understandingly, as you can’t go more than a few hours without running into someone you’d met before in Laos. There aren’t that many tourist destinations after all, so everyone tends to go on the same path.
For fun, a giant moth a guy found at the guesthouse, with a girl’s hand for scale. I should mention by the way, if you’re scared of giant bugs and spiders don’t come to Laos. Skipping all of South East Asia would probably be a good idea actually. Your life would be one constant stream of freaking out a few times a day.
And as a final note of advice, if you come to Laos you should always carry an emergency reserve of another, better currency with you. (The highest preference is for US dollars but Thai baht are also gladly accepted, Euros not as much.) Why? Because this country has only a few ATMs and you can only withdrawl a max of 700,000 Lao kip (~US$70) a day assuming the ATM is working. As of yesterday, suprise!, the ATM in Vang Vieng has had its international line down. First day was fairly ok until they ran out of money (no international line, no credit cards!), and today they have extra security at the bank to guard the new cash infusion sent from the capital. But lots of tourists are nonetheless stranded until the ATM comes online again.
I am sure you are all happy to know that I am not an idiot and do not travel ill-equipped to nations which didn’t even have a single ATM ten years ago- my main worry right now actually is to not have too much cash when I leave, as you can’t convert kip to any other currency! This more to remind others on the road that even if Vang Vieng has everything Western from milkshakes to sitcoms, you are still a long way from home.