Monday, March 28, 2011

Backpacker's Haven

Vang Vieng. What can I say about the place? A friend back home was doing some reading about the place I was in and read "If the world was ruled by teenagers, it would look something like Vang Vieng." Well, can't argue with that. A town where a bottle of Tiger whiskey is cheaper than either a bottle of water or Coke, and drugs like opium, marijuana and mushrooms are easily obtained at any bar, is just what party goers wish for. Not only does the town never sleep, it seems the whole place is set up just for the crazy westerners, wanting to go on the binge, all the way from bars on every corner with no drinking age, year round river tubing, with bars lining the river that you float up to, cheap mix drinks that can be bought by the bucket, and even the sandwich makers on every sidewalk, every street, ready to feed the drunks. Whiskey is so cheap that at any bar on either the streets or the river will have a platter of free shots waiting for you as you step in, usually with a cute girl there assuring you that you need yet another shot. At what some of us came to call the "pshycadelic" bars, signs advertising happy shakes, weed pizzas, and hash brownies are intermittent with the drinking bars. You walk in, order your poison, and they roll a joint for you and your friends on the spot. These are usually the quiet bars, where the pot heads can regularly be seen sitting on the big pillow lounge platforms, maybe chatting, maybe just staring at the crazy graffiti walls, lights low, Jimmi Hendrix music soft. It seems the town has something for everyone. I haven't even mentioned the hookers, pool tournaments, shopping or any of those kinds of things.

Vang Vieng is great, everyday like an intensified spring break in Cancun, but five days there is definitely enough. Take it from someone that was there 13 days, and not only seen a lot of bad things, but felt like I needed a detox session after day 4. Every morning I would wake up shaky and swearing I would never drink again, but night comes around, and your worries are forgotten. It wasn't only the great amounts of vodka or whiskey buckets, free shots and Beer Lao I managed to consumed, it was also the M-150 they mix into the bucket drinks. M-150 is what I would call Red bull's evil little brother. It is illegal in the States, as it is more potent and unhealthy than red bull. One guy even told me it had some of the same ingredients as speed. When ever you ordered a vodka/red bull bucket, they would give you a half bottle of cheap vodka, and two or three bottles of M-150. It tastes really good actually, but after about three or four buckets, it takes it's toll. Do that everyday for a week, and that's just asking for a heart attack. I added up the drinks and came up with something like 80 bottles of M-150 in 13 days. That's bad, but I was a relatively moderate drinker compared to a lot of the people I met. At the time I figured, Eh, it's a vacation from my vacation, a break from constant travel, time to let loose. Well I'm glad it's over.
After a while I started seeing a dark side to Vang; the crooked cops. The first incident was when a friend of mine was handed a joint by a "undercover" cop, while walking from bar to bar. When he took a puff, cops walked up and arrested him. They took him to jail and beat the hell out of him, billy clubs and all. Then they took him to his guesthouse and forced him to get his credit card, then took him to the ATM and with threats of imprisonment and more beatings, made him withdrawal five million kip, about $600. I figured this was an isolated incident, but then people started showing up with very similar stories.

Then one night, a guy from our guest house overdosed on heroin and died. A friend of mine and another guy tried reviving him for 45 minutes to no avail, after hearing screams from the guys girlfriend. The owner had called an ambulance, and even though the town is tiny, it took an hour to get there. Then when they did get there, they would do nothing. The two guys carried the body them selves, army style, down the stairs and to the ambulance. Still no one would help, and they had to open the doors them selves and get him in. By this time, the police showed up and search the guys pockets, where they found some pills and a needle. Then they went to the guys room and found huge quantities of drug. They went back down, arrested the two guys that tried saving him, figuring it was their drugs too, even though they weren't even staying with him or anything. The dead guy's girlfriend had long ago taken her stuff and ditched, never to return to pay the room bill. There was a general outcry going on right about then, needless to say. Later, I saw the guys, a little bruised, and very run down and depressed looking, and they said they had to come up with around $2500 each, or were spending life in prison. That's a big leap, but all the cops care about is money. A collection was made, and eventually money was sent from home, and they were "pardoned", but by then we were all sick of the place, and about six of us took the bus to Vientiane the next day.
To the non-partyer, Vang Vieng is actually a huge recreational area. The surrounding cliffs have enough rock climbing areas to keep a climber busy for months. There is lots of opportunities for kayaking and canoeing, and there's even some fishing going on. Down the road some, there is the blue lagoon, with a small waterfall, that people can rope swing into, and swim in. Mountain bikes can be rented, and trips made to the mountains or river. Tour operators even offer hot-air balloon rides, offering some of the best photography I'm sure, as the area is immensely beautiful. So all in all, I had a great time here, albeit a crazy one. It is definitely the place to see in Laos, and I even heard it described as the party town of Asia, something I can definitely attest to.



  1. How very sad! Shows how very quick things can go wrong, no matter where you are. You just never know.

  2. I like the looks of that menu!

    I'm guessing if you just ordered your drugs from bars with menus like that, you'd be safe from trouble? It's when you shoot up in your hotel room, or accept drugs from a stranger that danger strikes right?

    I wanna check out this town!

  3. Looks like a Fun time though with that menu. Makes me not want to go back to my job as a replacement windows specialist.
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