Travel vs tourism

Vang Vieng Travel Blog

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My abiding memory of Vang Vieng. The episode is Homer's Phobia - a classic
Okay, here it is: anyone who makes the distinction is a wanker. Travel for pleasure is tourism and going on holiday to a place other than where you live is travel. Got that? Good.

There are an awful lot of snobs out there. Their experience was so much more valuable than yours. People who pay more than thirty pence for a room should have their passports revoked. Anyone who eats a burger while abroad is worthless and why would you want to meet any other westerners during the months and months of your trip? You can meet westerners at home.

These people don't like Vang Vieng. They think it's a waste of your time. Miserable bastards. Vang Vieng is great. If this is all you take away from Laos then you are missing out but I see no problem with a few days in the town: a holiday from a holiday, if you will. I spent five nights here. I loved it.

There's not much Lao culture there, admittedly. I think there's a wat somewhere around town; that's about it. There's a lot of westerners and a lot of guest houses and bars for them to stay and eat and drink in. Many of these bars have menus marked "Happy and special for you!" offering special lassi, special garlic bread or special tea for a couple of dollars. Apparently 'special' means your order comes with extra pineapple, though I never verified this myself.

Most of all, though, there's telly. Televisions on the walls of most of the bars and backpackers reclining on cushions beneath them, giggling. They're all watching Friends, and the Lonely Planet doesn't approve. "At the time of writing," they write (inviting you to share their horror) "it was possible to sit watching one episode of Friends while hearing another five (all different) episodes at the same time. A nightmare!" I shudder at the thought.

Me, I hate Friends. It's such lazy writing: there's the funny one who makes the jokes that the writers would like to think they'd make if they were in that situation themselves, the dorky one (it's okay though, cos he gets the girl) and the one all the men want to be; it's got the dumb attractive one, the kooky free spirit and the hi-larious neurotic type with side-splitting textbook OCD. Can you imagine having a pint with any of these people? Or even a cup of coffee in their trendy overpriced coffee house? Shudder.

But there are some TV bars that don't show Friends. They're in the minority but I can assure you, they do exist. There's one place that always shows The Simpsons and there's another that always shows Family Guy. I won't hear a word said against these places, other than that the Simpsons place needs to show more of series four to seven and less of the later stuff. Like I say, I liked Vang Vieng.

Besides, there's more to the town than just TV bars. It sits on a river in the middle of some of the most remarkable scenery I've ever seen, especially in the evenings: sheer limestone cliffs bursting out of lush green fields, sunset bruising the sky behind them. The cliffs are riddled with caves; the vast Tham Phu Kham is the best of them, a hot, sweaty four-mile walk from town (and a ten-minute tuk-tuk ride back again). Big enough to swallow any number of tourists and still leave you with no-one for fifty yards on all sides and nothing but the tiniest glimmer of daylight and the sound of your footsteps. As spooky as it sounds.

And there's tubing. Great fun, tubing, although ideally you'd want to do it a bit earlier in the dry season than this. You sit in a tractor inner tube and, over the course of an afternoon, float a few miles down the lazy river from the launch point back to the town. Periodically you paddle yourself to the banks to buy another bottle of Beerlao or to queue up for one of the rope swings that let you drop thirty feet into cool, deep pools. There can't be many better ways to spend a few hours under the south-east Asian sun.
Biedjee says:
I loved Vang Vieng. Got there towards the end of my trip, which made it a nice place to wind down after four weeks of being stressed by Asians.
A mate of mine hated it, but he visited it on his third day in Asia - obviously the experience is a bit different then.

Did you go to any beach parties while you were there?
Posted on: Mar 15, 2008
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My abiding memory of Vang Vieng. T…
My abiding memory of Vang Vieng. …
Vang Vieng
photo by: razorriome