It’s official. I’m old. 38 years old. Ancient really. I was born at a young age, but I’ve got to say that in all of my life I have never been this old before. I was reflecting on my age while staying in Vang Vieng, Laos.
Vang Vieng is set in an incredibly beautiful location. The river is of the crystal clean mountain variety, and imposing limestone karsts make for an impressive backdrop.
The town itself feels more like a resort than a town. A backpackers resort. I have heard it be described as Khao San Rd in the jungle (the famous backpacker road in Bangkok). If you had to build a Club Med type place exclusively for backpackers, you would use Vang Vieng as a model. Apart from government administrative buildings it’s hard to find a business here that isn’t given to tourism.
There are bars, restaurants, guest houses, internet cafes, banana pancake street vendors, travel agents and souvenier shops everywhere. There are sports bars playing Australian cricket and English football, serving up Australian steaks and English breakfasts.
Pancakes in Paradise
Then there’s the Friends Bars. when I arrived in town one of the first bars I saw had “No Friends” on the front sign. I couldn’t work out why you would sell a bar to someone who has no friends. I soon worked it out after doing a lap of the main street. Every second bar was playing Friends on repeat. It’s a surreal sound hearing Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross, and the sound of canned laughter everywhere you go.
Bars that weren’t playing Friends were playing Family Guy. I haven’t discovered the delights of Family Guy yet, but seeing I like the Simpsons I’m sure I’ll like this show.
Vang Vieng is a base for activities such as kayaking, caving and rock climbing. The number one activity in Vang Vieng by far is tubing. Here you rent out an old tractor tube and then you are driven to a launch spot a few kilometres upstream. The float will take 1 to 3 hours, depending on the season. Being the dry season I got stuck in the river navigators version of the doldrums, and had to paddle my way downstream by hand for a while.
While tubing down a lovely river with stunning scenery is a nice way to spend a day, the real attraction for “tubing in the Vang Vieng” for most people is the bars that line the river. Some bars throw ropes out to you to try and reel you in. Some bars have attractions that are a lure enough in itself, such as mud volleyball, flywires and even a giant slide.
Tubing Slide – Vang Vieng
Judging by all the “Tubing in the Vang Vieng” T-shirts that you see on sunburnt Scandinavians all over Southeast Asia, Vang Vieng has become one of the premier stop-off points on the banana pancake trail.
Tubing in the Vang Vieng Singlets
If you are a twenty-something backpacker, you will probably love this place. At 38 though I was feeling my age here. I am now twice the age of a 19 year old, which this town had in abundance.
When I was 19 the Seattle grunge scene was the soundtrack to my life. Now I’m meeting kids – adults actually – who haven’t heard of Kurt Cobain. It will only be a matter of time before I meet adults who weren’t born when he was alive.
I turned 38 in Luang Prabang. I had timed my travels to make sure I spend my birthday there rather than in a bus. It turned to be an ideal place to have a birthday. In hindsight I now see that Luang Prabang is a flashpackers paradise, with all those funky cafes and bakeries with wi-fi and trendy villas. And I, for want of a better word, have become a flashpacker.