A backpackers paradise for hedonistic fun and partying, or so it used to be. But if you ask me, it still is a pretty crazy place. Where else are you going to go to eat happy shakes, watch Seinfeld while sitting on Bean Bags, float down a river full of karsts, and even rappel down some of them.
We arrived with a surprisingly filled bus with young 20 somethings, itching for a crazy party. We now were firmly on the spring break trail, and hell, it was about the right time for it too now that I think about it. We wandered down dusty streets, where the dress code was bikinis and swim suites, looking for a place to call home. Our extended stay in Vientiane really put a rush on us, so we only had one day to enjoy this party haven. But I was still determined to find a bungalow over looking the river with a nice hammock. What can I say, I love lazing around in a hammock, watching the world go by on the river. We settled for a spot on the other side of the river, and I could not be more excited that we did. The town is just one giant party, with late night festivities going on endlessly. But the other side of the river over a rickety bamboo bridge is relaxing.
The scenery is beyond stunning here, with fields stretching out to the horizon, with karsts jutting up. There are all kinds of rickety old shacks on stilts that add to the mystique. The quality of food here is pretty standard tourist fare, with a few gems from westerners who decided this is where they would stay, forever. One shining example was a French Restaurant, Le Café De Paris, with really delicious food. Like most places out here, the front was wide open to the elements, no air-conditioning or windows. We stopped there and the owner gave us free wine and chatted away with us even though his spot was filled to the brim. It was casual yet divine. Le Cafe De Paris
Our morning there, after a lovely run, was to meet some rock-climbing folks and hit the karsts. A group of us were picked up in some jeeps and driven to be outfitted at Adam’s Rock Climbing. Adams Climbing School Then we were off down the road to an abandoned luxury suburban style neighborhood, with concrete buildings through out. All construction had stopped a few years ago, so most were barely shells. Another dream project gone bust. To say that these style houses were not fitting with the natural beauty would be an understatement. All we would need next is the golden arches selling McDoubles and Laotian Iced Mocha Tea.
We crossed the river in a dug out with a small motor. It was splendid here, with karst jutting out of the river, and all the surrounding countryside. The walls we climbed were really just a tight crevasse going through a large Karst. There’s about three feet wide, with the wall jutting up about 50 or 60 feet. There are wonderful twisted trees growing out of any little fissure or crack, and their roots snake their way down the cliff in the endless search of water.
Pretty scenic stuff. We climbed about 6 different runs, going from easy to moderate. There were more difficult runs, with guys doing some hanging at the bottoms of overhangs, but a bit beyond my level. There are also much more difficult spots that we did not see. I guess when the countryside is filled with Karsts; there are plenty of untapped rocks climbing spots.
After a half-day of climbing we were back on the bouncy jeep heading back to town. It was time to enjoy the day, sit on a tube, and relax. This town has a horrible reputation throughout Asia as being incredibly dangerous. Now I thought it had something to do with rapids, dangerous currents, white water, waterfalls, alligators, something. But no, it’s all about the fact that people get so shitfaced here that they dive in, zip-line, or simply slip off their tube in to oblivion. One person a month would die here. The problem got so bad that the Australian government threatened to cut off Aid to Laos if they did not do something about the problem. This caused the government to close a lot of the riverside bars, cut the drugs down to a minimum, and get rid of some of the deadly zip lines. Plus removing signs to DIVE everywhere, deep or shallow.
Like most mountainous rivers, there are sharp rocks and boulders under the surface, which most people never see. It might be a deep pool in one area, but 6 inches to the left and right had jagged boulders only 2 feet under the surface. At this point in my life, I know and have heard of way too many people, friends included, nearly loosing their life to head injuries by diving into unfamiliar waters. So I won’t be taking a chance. I have included a U-tube video about a guy whose friend had a nasty accident when they were partying there.Dangers Of Tubing
With the reputation, we were a bit apprehensive about doing the trip. While trying to decide a Russian couple climbed out of the river, swearing up and down that the tubing was the worst thing in the world, dirty water, complete waste of time, and not to do it. After this we were pretty sure that it was going to be a lame experience. No party, no insanity, nothing of interest. How stupid was that, but it was hot, and the river is absolutely gorgeous, a perfect place to float.
Turns out they were so wrong, it was cool and refreshing. There are still plenty of ways to buy beer on the river, and even a few bars. The water is cool and refreshing, moving along at a nice relaxed pace, and the air extremely hot. Large rocks jut out of the river, but at this pace you gently bump into them, or paddle away, and you go spinning down the river. Cliffs and mountains surround you, so the scenery never gets boring.
We stopped at one of the bars up a muddy hill with wooden stairs. We played volleyball with a bunch of American kids, got really drunk, and then went back to floating. The bartender/owner complained about the government closing everything down, but clearly he had some political clout to be one of three bars left. Police chief’s brother, I don’t know. He handed us a shot of the local stuff, a strong whiskey that clearly was not aged in a barrel.
By this time our group expanded to 7 or 8 tubes, being joined by some girls that we did shots with at the last bar. At one point Yvonne insisted I search for one of the girls sunglasses in the water. Not wanting to disappoint my girlfriend I swam around looking, loosing my own glasses in the search. Brilliant.
Because we rock climbed in the morning, we got a late start, so it was dark by time we were getting close to town. The tubing company had ridiculous fines for getting in after a certain time, nearly as expensive as an average Laotian makes in a week. So we were paddling with a bit of pressure, when three castaways jump on to our tubes. Explaining that we needed their services or surely we would get lost and loose the deposit. They just wanted to practice English with the pretty girls, and me of course. They were a running comedy group as far as I could see; flirting, entertaining, doing flips off the tubes. They really earned whatever money the girls gave them in the end.
We ended our night drinking at one of the many TV bars, watching episodes of Friends, lounging on beanbags, and eating really bad food that the Laotian thought was what westerners wanted. The bar scene was just revving up, with giant games of Jenga, fire shows, dancing, and more drinking. But for us, we were exhausted and completely happy, so we wandered back to our quiet bungalow, away from the madness, and watched a million stars with the silhouette of mountains around us. Truly mind-blowing.
All I can say about this trip was that it was the best tubing trip I had done. It was exactly what tubing should be, fun, relaxed, and drunk. I wish I could have kayaked it. So I have no idea what the Russian guy was complaining about, except maybe he just wanted to get whacked on drugs and maybe hit his head. Either way, this is a must do stop on the long road from Vientiane to Luang Prabang.