Northern Laos

Our stay in Luang Prabang led us to Tat Kuang Si which is a multi-tiered waterfall with numerous turquoise colored pools fit for swimming and rope jumping (swinging from a rope and jumping from the highest point). Beautiful and fun. We stayed in Luang Prabang at Chittana Guest House for 60000 kip (42 DKK, $7) for an additional 4 nights, along with some huge cockroaches, before we decided to move a bit on southwards.

Surviving an interesting 6 hour bus ride through the green mountainous landscape we finally arrived at the infamous Vang Vieng, which is the craziest place on earth so far. The city is famous for it’s “tubing”, which is an activity where you sit in a inflated tube as the current takes you down the river (in this case Nam Song) while randomly stopping at makeshift bars on the river side selling beer and handing out free whiskey shots.

Most of the bars provide several lame ways for you to toss yourself into the river as they’ve built towers, slides or swings which all look pretty lethal but super fun. Despite the rocky river bottom sticking out of the water everywhere we didn’t see anyone get hurt, although one girl did get the air knocked out of her when doing a belly flop from a 6 meter swing. We only did a 5 meter water slide after having our share of the famous Beerlao (and a bit of whiskey). When we weren’t stopping at bars, we floated gently down the river and the scenery is indescribable when you float in a tube looking up at the limestone mountains surrounded by jungle. The entire day we hung out with two really nice British couples we met on the bus. That was a good day.

Next day was even crazier than the previous. The entire town had been preparing for the annual Rocket Festival, which meant that everybody capable of building a rocket had done so and prepared their launch on the riverside. The riverside, however, had been turned into a market place / fun fare along with several huge bamboo launch ramps pointing in a 70 degree angle towards the limestone mountains surrounding the area. Apparently this was a competition of who had the best rocket and there was prize money for the makers of the rockets going furthest, highest, etc. The makers of the worst rockets were thrown into the river. The rockets were divided into size classes ranging from the “tiny” one meter ones to the truck transported 7 meter rockets. We enjoyed the show with a cold Beerlao from a reasonably safe distance while some rockets went kilometers into the air and others exploded meters from the launch ramp raining fire into the cheering crowd underneath. No such thing as safety regulations there! As the biggest rockets went off the sound was absolutely deafening, not unlike a commercial airliner when taking off. Seconds later the watching crowd had disappeared into the huge white smoke cloud from the rocket’s exhaust. All in all it was super fun being there with the town people drinking and dancing to the sound of a local band with unreasonably large amplifiers.

Because of the tubing this place is littered with backpackers and many of the restaurants have arranged their furniture so that you can lie down and see endless reruns of Friends, The Simpsons or Family Guy. This is fun for a few days but seems quite decadent and tasteless and causes the town to have lost whatever original charm it had. Now it’s just a mecca for partying backpackers with a taste for alcohol and drugs, as every restaurant with self respect has a “Happy and funny for you!” menu with opium tea, mushroom shakes and happy weed pancakes. But it still is very laid back and relaxing so we’ll probably stay here a few days as well before going further south.

Pictures from Vang Vieng

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