The minibus to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang was six hours of increasingly windy roads. I don't get as travel sick as I used to when I was younger but this trip still took it out of us and by the time we rocked up to the main strip at almost 5pm we were ready to drop. Central Backpackers had been recommended to us by other travellers but was full. Our fallback, Pan's Place, was uncomfortable and expensive for what you got - certainly not deserving of the number one spot on tripadvisor. We wandered across the road to Khamphone and stayed there for two nights, until this morning when we noticed the whole room was infested with tiny ants which got into literally everything. Clothes, bags, you name it. We left sharpish and are now in Central Backpackers as a room opened up. It is luxury in comparison.
Vang Vieng is a fabricated tourist hole, purpose built to appeal to westerners who want to get pissed, stay in bars late drinking cheap buckets of mixed spirits (weak by western standards) and wander around half naked. However, the main draw of the town is tubing. This involves hiring a rubber ring, sitting in a river and floating down past rows of bars built on the banks at either side, pumping out identikit playlists of music which I hate and Gilly loves. The general route would be thus: get in the ring, float past a bar, get a rope chucked to you by the bar staff who drag you and your tube in, get given a free shot, buy a drink if you are so inclined, do an activity (beer pong, huge swing over the water, huge slide into the water, etc), get back into the ring, float past aother bar, rinse and repeat.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, but as a social event it takes some beating. Mutual inebriation leads to meeting some interesting people and we formed a group of about 7 from the start who floated down together. None of us got too drunk (not a good idea to be wasted in a moving river) and we had a great time. Things started getting cold from about 4:30 when the sun went behind the mountain, and it became clear we weren't going to reach the end of the 4km stretch to get our tubes back to the tubing centre in order to get our deposit back by 6pm so we jumped in a sawngthaew and managed to get there for 6:05 and luckily no questions were asked. I would definitely recommend the experience, if not the town itself. Gilly managed to continue her trend of losing sunglasses in rivers by promptly dropping her new pair in the water after the second bar. That's two countries for two so far. I hope the eyewear gods are well pleased with her offerings. Can't wait to see what she does with her yet-to-be-purchased replacement shades in Vietnam.
The first night we ate at a western restaurant which did a surprisngly good pizza. Last night we ate at the Aussie Bar which did a cracking burger - the first I'd eaten since leaving the UK - and tonight we went to Peeping Som's where we had some Lao food. It was the most disappointing meal since arriving in the town. It had a "buffet" of three different Lao plates, none of which were terribly exciting, especially as two of them appeared to be vegetable only - contrary to the menu. I need meat, dammit. Vang Vieng is definitely geared towards western cuisine, which is a shame. On the plus side I haven't had any issues eating since the last hiccup.
We've booked a day's rock climbing tomorrow. It was so cheap as to make us wonder if we may actually end up cracking our skulls open after our equipment fails, but I guess we will see if it turns out to be OK. The day after we are likely to take a tour out to see a few caves in the area, and the day after that we are going to kayak all the way from Vang Vieng to Vientiane. Well, it beats being stuck in a minibus, right?
I think we are going to try and buy a netbook in Vientiane. The Kindle is great but there are so many free wi-fi places around that it would be more convenient and cost effective, especially for uploading photos. We would probably spend the price of a netbook in the various internet cafes over a year so we may as well get one and make the most of it. There's a very real risk of ending up with a hooky rig or one that has an operating system which is entirely in Laotian but I know enough about computers to hopefully know what to look for and then the rest is about haggling on price.
I need a haircut. The afro is growing at a dramatic rate and the weather is just too damn hot to put up with so much hair. I may wait until we get to the capital though, I've only seen one place in Vang Ving and they had a sign saying "Baber". With that level of Engrish I'm not entirely sure whether they are a hairdresser or an enthusiastic Justin Bieber fan.
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