Vang Vieng – is a place you’ll love or hate. But you’re likely to love it by getting away from the main street, and heading west over the river past the Malina Guest House and walk right inside a real life Chinese watercolour painting. The karst hills all around Vang Vieng are incredible, reminiscent of China’s Guilin or Vietnam’s Halong Bay, but as you head deeper into the Laotian countryside, despite the very real smiles from the village people you pass, one gets a sense this is a place that won’t remain ‘undiscovered’ for much longer.
It doesn’t help that it’s tough to get to – travel in Laos is not friendly and you’d expect an uncomfortable experience and very, very long bus rides over well dodgy roads. Getting into the capital Vietienne was a 27 hour torture sat in a tiny seat on a local bus, heading in via Danang in Vietnam.
The littering of UXO (unexploded ordinance) across the country, especially the north, by massive American bombing during the ‘Secret War’ in Laos in 1961-1975, has left the country almost completely undevelopable, and thus not able to move much further than the stone age in terms of infrastructure. The Laotian countryside therefore remains pristine, unpolluted by modern industries and dotted with traditional H’mong villages – but it’s not recommended to stray away from well-worn tracks of this idyllic scene, or you may risk becoming the next ‘bombie’ victim (one of the many types of highly volatile explosives littering the country).
At Vang Vieng, there is a great sense of relief and adventure as you’re able to safely explore. Hire yourself an ATV (at approx USD15 per day), head over the river and take the west loop – along the way you’ll find a multitude of caves, villages, the most awesome scenery and a spattering of stoned hippies as they make their way back from tubing (sitting in an old rubber tyre and floating down a river, while gulping beer at stations along the way).
Take a scarf against the dust and a camera for the views – and come back with stories of smiling H’mong children, ancient Buddha Caves and hidden Blue Lagoons.