Mar 21 2008

So no one told you life was gonna be this way…

Published by at 5:59 am under Laos

Rental river tubes in Vang Vieng, LaosA “rite of passage” on the IndoChinese backpacker circuit. That’s how our latest Lonely Planet guide (we’d have quite a collection if we didn’t always trade them in at used bookstores) describes tubing down the Nam Song river in Vang Vieng, Laos. Since “rite of passage” is a sufficiently epic description for my taste (somewhere between “trial by fire” and anything involving “ancient runes”), we caught a mountain-scaling, nausea-inducing bus from Luang Prabang. Several hours later, we found ourselves at an abandoned WWII airplane landing strip that the Lao have dubbed the Vang Vieng bus station.

Because Vang Vieng’s founding fathers were savvy enough to set up shop right on the bus line that would one day connect Luang Prabang and Vientiane, there’s a good chance you will find yourself passing through Vang Vieng if you ever visit Laos. With only your personal happiness in mind, we have compiled the following Do’s and Dont’s for your future visit…

  • DO eat at the Organic Mulberry Farm restaurant for creative meals with fresh vegetables. Try a mulberry shake or mulberry pancake! The rooms upstairs are a good place to sleep as well. Meaning they’re far enough away from the riverside hovels full of seedy backpackers that you probably won’t get robbed. We didn’t!

  • DON’T patronize Babylon Restaurant and Guesthouse (it’s two doors down from Mulberry on the main road). When we visited, the owner had posted a sign reading: “Due to unfortunate circumstances, ISRAELIS are not welcome at Babylon.”

    I had to read this twice to convince myself I wasn’t seeing things. By the time you arrive, the sign will probably have evolved into “WHITES ONLY.” Don’t join the crowds in the cafe who apparently have no problem with this sort of bigotry.

  • Nam Song river in Vang Vieng, LaosDO get to the river with a rental tube early in the day. The trip down the river is several hours long, even if you don’t stop at any of the makeshift Beer Lao bars lining the river shore. And surprisingly, it can actually get chilly on the river by mid-afternoon.

  • DO stop at the makeshift Beerlao bars lining the river shore!

  • But DON’T patronize the first bar on the river circuit. You’ll know which one I mean, because all the enthusiastic Lao children who swarm onto your tube at the river launch point will be sure to guide you right into this bar. As a result, it’s the most crowded on the river. But leading tourists into bars is not an appropriate way for children to be spending their afternoons. Discourage this bar owner’s evil, child-exploiting tactics by taking your business to any one of the MANY, MANY competing bars.

  • DO take a flight on some of the zip-line or swing systems that some bars have set up over the water. Marvel at the fact that you’d have your doubts about climbing a twenty-foot STEEL tower built into the riverbank at home, but here, it’s somehow not disconcerting that the tower is built of BAMBOO. And if you take in a mouthful of Nam Song river during splashdown (like I did), make sure to quickly chase it with some Beerlao to kill all the bacteria with alcohol. Hey, it SOUNDS medically legit, doesn’t it?

And most importantly…

  • DON’T lose track of days while lounging on a couch in one of the many identical bars that, for some reason, air episodes of “Friends’ ALL DAY LONG. What inspired this strange phenomenon, and who are all these glassy-eyed people staring unblinkingly at the TV screens day and night? I’m sure it all has something to do with the guy who stands out front, displaying the fashion sense of Captain Jack Sparrow, and whispering “hashish!” to passers-by. But instead of investigating further, I’ll just take a picture to celebrate the idea of spending thousands or dollars to travel half-way around the world… to watch re-runs of Friends.
"Friends" hypnotizes the masses in Vang Vieng, Laos
Cuz you’re there for me too!

P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad!

NEXT: And now for something completely different… »



2 responses so far

2 Responses to “So no one told you life was gonna be this way…”

  1. Lindsayon 21 Mar 2008 at 4:53 pm

    BEWARE OF THE RATS!!!!!!!!!

  2. Sciencemelon 23 Mar 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Love the list! Although, as a microbiologist, I’m not sure that alcohol beats river bugs… =)

    On the topic of “Friends.” It seems quite a few Americans have picked up on this lately. I offer the following explanation (in addition to your hashish reference). When ex-pats travel, doesn’t matter where they are in the world, it is hard work. You are always on your toes, navigating, interacting, learning, and stretching your comfort zone. When you arrive at a hostel or bar, you are there for functional reasons – sleep, laundry, information, and alcohol. These are all ‘comforts’ from the road. So, the blaring of a TV in English (regardless of the show) is a welcome sight. A bit of home in the wilderness, if you will. It used to be they aired “Mash” and “Cheers.” It is just whatever happens to be in syndication because no one wants to watch the news. And, as bizarre as this sounds, the locals like the comedy and are actually learning English through the syndication. Who knew, TV might not actually rot your brain?

    I for one have always found a bit of comfort in catching a few minutes rest with a glass of wine and a spot of US comedy. Then again, that’s just this solo gal traveler for you.

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