What’s up Vang Vieng?!

island

I’ve been hearing and reading about the Vang Vieng party dying.

The party that’s still vivid in my memory. The party that never seemed to end.
After reading this article, I decided to find out for myself.

Alas, hopping on a plane to actually go see for myself is not in the cards just yet.
My friend See, one of the boys from Easy Go hostel, would have to give the answer. This is what he wrote:
see vang vieng

Yeah, the government has closed the bars on the riverside and the island.
VV is not a crazy party like before, but still has many people visiting just the same.
I hear the government does have a plan to let bars open again, but they have to take time to improve contracting first. Then they will let bars open again, slowly. Go step by step, following their plan.
At the moment we still have bars open in town.
Don’t worry, I think VV will be back to what it was, but it will need time.

His place is still doing well though, and the pictures of him being a bigshot DJ come down the facebook timeline well regularly.
In the Travelfish article we read tubing is still happening, just on a much more decent level.

I guess I’m happy to have widnessed old times. And I’m very curious to see what will come of new times. Next year I’ll tell and show you all about what I find!

In a way I’m happy that crazy crazy party party exploitation has been put to a stop.
Yet at the same time I feel a stinge that what I widenssed, where I was, what found a place in my heart, is gone for good.
I’m glad tourism hasn’t suddenly died and I would still encourage everyone to go there and support my local heroes at Easy Go. There’s still plenty to see and do!
Another thing Vang Vieng is famous for, for example, is rockclimbing, something I’m defenitely going to explore next time around!
surrounding vv

Advertisements

How to make the most out of your one-day-stay in Hue

onthewaytohue1Day XXIX – April 16

I wake up at 6am to the enthusiastic honking of the driver, the guy next to him chatting away in the same frantic manner.

And this is what I see:
To the left there are little brick and concrete cots shattered between the bright green fields that are still covered in the veil of morningmist, now turning yellow and orange with that big burning ball rising far behind the horizon, as the kids are rushing by in their school uniforms on their bicycles.

onthewaytohueTo the right is where the mountains are, vaguely scribbled grim line after line.

And before that lies another deep strip of those greenest fields, most of them rice, long straws standing fiercely straight in a basin that every now and then gets a chance to show it’s reflection like a sparkling gem. Some are different crops; variations of lettuces and cabbages, a banana tree here and there, some cornfields.
It’s weird how I still see dry riverbanks from time to time; with the amounts of water in the fields you wouldn’t expect this country to suffer any drought.
Supposedly we’re driving down highway #1. It’s possibly in worse shape than the highways of Laos. Or it just seems like that, because this driver doesn’t slow down one bit for bumps or when taking over. I conclude once more Vietnamese drive like crazy.

I delight myself over an oreo breakfast, and even more so about the locals on the bus doing the same. They are the ultimate bus-snack.

Once arrived in town, Tomas [GER] the other westerner who also gets off the bus here, and I look for a hostel together. The first decent one we find is the same chain I was in that first night in Hanoi, which I decided to ban. He settles.
I decide to look around some more. An hour later I have to admit with a sigh, they have the monopoly on dorm rooms. I go back to book one night; I’ve already confirmed my bus to Hoi An tomorrow morning.

How to make the most out of your one-day-stay in Hue:

You come in with the sleeperbus from Hanoi – perfectly comfortable to catch a few hours of sleep.
You’ll come in around 9am, so once you’ve fought off the motortaxies who all want to give you and that one other non-Vietnamese passenger a ride to a hotel, you’ve got plenty of time before check-in at 11am. If you’re looking for a dorm just go to Hue Backpacker Hostel.
bike hueFind a local market for some breakfast at a normal price; 10.000d a pineapple.
After you’ve got all your stuff sorted out and had a refreshing shower, go around the corner to rent a bicycle from Ms. Nam Thanh at 30.000d. Don’t forget to bring a map from the hostel.

Take a little tour through the citadel to begin with. It’ll give you a nice view on local life in this otherwise pretty crowded city.

And continue west over the Kin Long road. At the end a man will ask you to park your bike for 5.000d, some women will try to sell you overpriced water or a tour to the tombs. Ignore them and just walk up and wander around the pagoda. It’s up a hill so you’ll get a nice view and the garden is lovely quiet.
pagoda
Make sure you’re wearing your swimminggear ’cause on the way back the river will most likely tempt you for a dive.

This time cross the bridge right after the railwaytracks and take another right at the second bridge on your left hand. Take a right at the junction and follow the road for another 5 minutes.
I was looking for this pagoda Lonely Planet was elated about, but even the locals couldn’t point me to it. Instead I found this place that might have been a graveyard of some sort? Anyway, you’ll find this deserted looking place with many cool shrinelike structures covered by flowers and plants. Have fun discovering!
garden
After this you could follow the road some more, eventually you’ll drive into a belvedere, ‘s got some nice views. I wouldn’t recommand it necessarily though…
hue view
You might be craving for some cooled sugary drink after all that cycling. You’re not going to find it though. However you might find a stand where they sell cooled water, if you’re lucky.

hue mapOh and make sure you’ve got your sunlotion on. Otherwise the sun might carry an evil grin.
I’d forgotten mine in Vang Vieng, which wasn’t a problem in Vientiane, Hanoi or Halong Bay. But of course today I couldn’t find any. And I got burned good!

And the beach that the hostels map speaks of; it’s a fraud, there’s no such thing. So just go back to the other side of the track and hope you find a quiet spot. And that the sun hasn’t just finally been conquered by some clouds. Like the big ones.
Well at least it’s cooling down.
I’d better get my clothes back on and make my way back before the rains come pouring down…
Ooh, lightning! Hurry now.

Still. A good day in Hue! =)

Lesson learned: Asian business mentality means getting the best deal for everyone – yes they want to sell you something; they need to make a living, but they also want to make you a happy customer.

Vang Vieng recommended

Another town you can’t miss when backpacking Laos. Be prepared though, party hardy is nothing compared to the way they roll over here.
vanviengvalley
Another warning:
With all the crazy partying and getting fucked up, keep in mind there is no hospital, not in this town, or in the next. And when you do reach a hospital, doctors aren’t as motivated to save your life as they might be in the Chigago or Seattle ER, besides lacking knowledge. 2011 counted 27 deaths, not to speak of all the injuries.
The booze flows faster than the Nam Song, and the many swings and ziplines invite the drunken crowd to get crazy around this sometimes deceitful shallow, sometimes strong flowing river.
Then there is the infested water; no doubt you’ll catch something, ranging from an eye infection to a bad poisoning.
The many temping mushroom shakes or happy pizzas aren’t without risk. You might have a fun few hours, if you do well on drugs. You might also get set up by the bartender who sold you the stuff, and then sold you out to a cop, out to bust your high balls and throw you in jail for who knows how long, or fine you with a sum you could never pay.

So much for scaring you into sanity.

Vang Vieng, tubing capital, where the fun never ends

– Transportation:
You’ll walk the distance of this town in 20 minutes, with your backpack on, this is.
To get out to the river you take a tuktuk at 25.000 kip per per person.
To go to Blue Lagoon or just to explore the beautiful landscape, rent a bicycle.

Think twice before renting a bike: you’ll get yourself injured or damage the vehicle, and that’ll cost you!
It’s a well known scam put on tourist: to damage or steal the vehicle they just rented out to you, and demand a raging high compensation.
Or to just say those scratches that were already there, are new. Take pictues of those before you agree to the rent.

– Tubing:
You could rent a tire for 60.000 kip, take it to the river in a tuktuk and float down until you have to return it at 6pm, or otherwise have to pay that 50.000 kip late-fine.
I was there in dry season, I didn’t bother. I swam the river that one time when I wanted to cross it to go as far as bar 3. I saw about 5 tubes going by the whole time I was there.

– Do:
Just go to the river, have drinks, play games, dance, and have fun. Like everybody else does, all day, every day.

Do, absolutely, rent a bicycle to drive the 7 kilometers to the beautiful waters of Blue Lagoon.
And take the detour across the fields to that little hill.
The cave up at Blue Lagoon is a good adventure on it’s own.

Climb the little hill with the yellow flag atop it. The climb is so worth the view!
vv map

If you’re into serious climbing, there should be numerous rock-climbing options around here.

– Eat:
There are countless joints where you can sit down in your own little heightened cube cross legged around a low table, enjoying the many tasty local dishes.

– Drink:
Easy: river at day, island at night.

– Sleep:
Easy Go Hostel is ran by the friendliest of local dudes, hosts many cute rooms in their bamboo house, supporting you you with complementairy coffee, tea and bananas every day for just 30.000 kip a night.

Spicy Laos Hostel is right next to it, and should make for a good second and pleanty of compny. Also 30.000 kip a night.

 

I personally wouldn’t spend more than a few days here; too little local culture and too much party to stand for any longer.
But good fun for the time being! Just let go off all your mum taught you and enjoy =)

Luang Prabang recommended

If this town is not on your list yet: put it on there NOW!
It’s friendly, cute, sweet, just homely atmosphere draws in many backpackers, yet it doesn’t feel touristy.

Luang Prabang Unesco World Herritage, Laos

That should say enough. You’ll love this place from the moment you arrive and it will capture an eternal spot in your heart as it did in mine.

– Transportation:
In the city you won’t need more than your two feet to carry you.
To go out of town just take a tuktuk. Renting a bike would be another option.
– Do:
Kuang Si waterfalls: the most beautiful water you’ll ever see! Though the main pool might be crowded, take a hike off the beaten path and find a universe all to yourself in no time. There is no end to the explorings you can do in this huge playground of falls.
It’s a 45 minute tuktukdrive out of the city, which will cost you, and the five others it takes to fill up the ride, just 30.000 kip each. The entrance fee is 20.000 kip. Rounds up to a $5 well spend.
Right before the gate you’ll find a market where you can get your cooled beers and snacks to take up into the park.

Alms giving is another big thing in LPB. I didn’t go to see it; I never pulled an all nighter or got up at 6am.
That’s as early as it happens. Locals line up along the main road with a prepared dish to hand out to the monks that parade with big bowls to collect food for their community.

Big Brother Mouse is a book club, teaching English and inviting foreigners to help in doing so. Class starts at 9am. It’s a great way to give back to your hosts.
To find a volunteering job you could also raid the schools and hostels for adds or just ask around. Plenty of help wanted anywhere and plenty to do!

The Doughnut Factory, in the alley between the nightmarket and Daramarket, likes to show you around in their making of sweet treats in the homelike ‘factory’. At the end of their day they take their goods to Kitsalat Road to have the young ones sell from their little cart.

Go down to the river at the end of Sakkaline Road to swim in the Nam Khan with the local kids and enjoy a beautiful sunset, finding utter inner peace at the beach.
Girls: be sure to wear your sarongs, or be stared at in a not-too-friendly manner. Buddhist culture prescribes women to dress shoulders to knees at all times.
(Wearing just a bikini is accepted at Kuang Si though.)

Climb up to the temples is another I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, but didn’t. They’re hard to miss, making up the center of town upon Mount Phu Si.

– Eat:
In the late morning, have breakfast on the market where those sweet ladies will make you any kind of sandwich -5.000 to 10.000 kip- and all kinds of delicious shakes -5.000 kip- Be sure to try an oreo- and a lemon-mint shake!

For breaky or an afternoon bagel go to Joma’s Bakery. Good sweets too. More expensive though, as might be expected of this more western orrientated chain, also housing a branch in Vientiane (Laos) and Hanoi (Vietnam).

For dinner, take the first alley on you left, coming from the square where the market starts. Too much choice, all the tastiest food and just for 10.000 kip a plate; unbelievable!
The way you’re put at a table is the best way to meet new friends to spend the rest of your night with – or have a great conversation and then to never meet again.

The Lao Garden has a nice terras. Their prices were a bit of a shocker to a budget traveler like me. But if you like to really go out for dinner it’s a fine place to do so.
They offer a free welcome shot of laolao to all their guests.
And that I got a foodpoisoning after eating there doesn’t mean this was the place I got it.

– Drink:
Utopia was where I spend my nights, as do many of the backpackers that wash up in this town. Their drinks are priced reasonably, their service is great, and the volleyball court gives opportunity to meet and play with some locals.
It’s ran by a friendly Aussie dude who likes to come over and check if his guests are enjoying themselves.

The beach just down the left of Kingkitsarath Road is a good hangout any night. Be a good guest though; don’t disturb the locals, keep it down, and clean up your mess.

Bowling Alley is the one place open after midnight. I haven’t been though and would imagine it to be a bit of a part-party place with lots of drunk folks.
Outside of any bar you’ll find tuktuks more than willing to take you there.

– Sleep:
I wouldn’t send you anywhere else than Spicy Laos Hostel! The friendly family running it, the homely vibe, the cozy balcony, the comfortable hammocks, the roomy dorms; it’s all great! Plus there’s grandma’s stand to fix you up with any meal or drink at any time of day, there’s a good laundry service, a movie room, free wifi and a computer at your disposal.
A night won’t cost you more than 30.000 kip. It’ll be a fanned night, but who wants AC anyway? That’ll just get you a cold.

[Here are a few shots I took when in April 2012]

Nong Khiaw recommended

As usual when I look up one of the incredible places I got a glimps of, now just in mind, a torn Lonlely Planet and online, I want to go back SO bad. With all the great impressions I got in those few months, and all my many adventures; there is so much I missed, due to time or budget.
Please make sure you wont make that mistake!

It was coincidental that I got to see this town. But I must recommend anyone who goes to Laos to at least spend a few days here!
I surely will go back to bring a longer visit!

Along the 1C you’ll find it, a small settlement named

Nong Khiaw, Luang Prabang Province, Laos


– Transportation:
I came in and left with an organisation I booked with from back home. Don’t do that.
The town itself small enough to walk.
It should be easy to rent or hire a boat, a bicycle or a bike, with which you can explore neighboring villages.

– Do:
Services to go out trekking, rafting and rockclimbing shouldn’t be hard to find. I even saw something about tubing
Here’s something I wish I’d done: playing a game of petanque (the traditional and still popular French ball game that excites even those who can hardly walk anymore) with the locals. Across from the post office you should find a playing court.
Going to the cinema is another one I’m adding to my list.

– Sleep:
Sunrise Guesthouse (cross the bridge then take a left – twin at 80.000 kip) has the sweetest bamboo huts, with balconies -and hammocks- to the riverside. A great place to watch sunset from!
There’s a diner where you can order your breakfast and have kittens playing all over your backpack.

[Take another look at this stunning town and how it’s revealed in the morning]

Chiang Mai recommended

I fell behind on my recommendations.
Sorry there. They seem to take much longer than you, or I at least, would expect to put together. I also find they will be works in progress, as sometimes, suddenly, I remember this great little place I was in that one time. Or at the time of writing I just can’t remember it all. So keep checking back.
And sorry I’m going to leave you hanging at that very good day in Laung Prabang for the time being. It’s for a good cause.
Time to catch up where I left it:

Chiang Mai

– Transportation:
You’ll see them riding around everywhere: the red taxis, the rebuild pickup trucks with the cozy benches in their roofed-in backs. They should take you anywhere in the city for just 20 baht (about half a buck)

– Do:
Trekking. You’ll find adds for it on any hostel- or café wall. Or ask around with the locals. There’s great opportunity and beautiful nature surrounding Chiang Mai that will give you an experience you won’t forget easily. Rafting is definitely something to add to your trip!

Go to Buak Hat Park in the afternoon and find yourself a bench around the fountain just before 6pm to enjoy the daily fitness flashmob.

Don’t visit Tigerkingdom. It’s a popular touristic attraction, but made me sick to the stomach.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the only way to keep these majestic animals behave in this easygoing manner around their pray, is drugging them, heavily. They lay around half asleep, having their ‘guards’ hitting them on the head to get them to move at all.
Please do them a favor and BAN THIS SHITHOLE!

Do, however, take a good long stroll over the nightmarket (Wichayanon Rd) outside of the center quarter. Maybe spread it over more evenings even, as it is BIG. Which brings me to the next item:

– Eat:
At that nightmarket is an excelent foodcourt! They work with a coupon system and are crazy cheap but even more crazy good.
My favorites were fresh springrolls and fried vegetables who make up a fine plate together.

– Drink:
I really enjoyed Freedom bar (Rachapakinai Rd) and the whole vibe that hangs around their shack.

Another place you have to at least take a look at, is the place known as backpacker center. Ask any red-taxi driver and they’ll know where to take you.
It’s a crazy-crazy party-packer place, but on a weekday you might find some live music. And when you’ve been backpacking SEA for a little longer, you won’t even mind the choice of music and rowdy crowds.

– Sleep:
I had a great stay with Peaceful (Rachapakinai Rd), a friendly, rather quiet hostel within walking distance of anything you might need.

[Paint yourself a picture and check out the photos I took when I was there in March 2012]

Do you have anything to add to this list? Please let me know!