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Vang Vieng

We arrive in Vang Vieng a little bit ahead of schedule but find we're quite far out from the centre of town where all the guest houses are located - so we share a tuc-tuc with Masuk and Jonathan with whom we'd had the pleasurable company of travelling with on the last two journeys from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan, and then from Phonsavan to Vang Vieng. More people in the tuc-tuc means we can get a little bit cheaper deal, so that's good. After a bit of walking about searching for a place we finally settle on Phoubane Guest House were we get a small bungalow for a good rate. Hannah came here several years ago and is shocked to see how it's changed - the town has expanded drastically, due to the tourist boom here over the past few years. We soon start to notice the behaviour of some of tourists here is very loutish and not in any way respective towards the locals and their culture. There are many signposts in town explaining quite clearly that certain dress-codes are not tolerated, such as guys not wearing tops and women in their bikinis. We still see guys parading around shirtless and women in skimpy bikinis wielding their bottles and cans of beer and generally being loud with vulgar language. You can see the reactions on the faces of people in the shops and stalls, and they're not positively loaded. We also have a chat with a guide from Green Discovery on our way to a bit of cave-trekking about 30 minutes drive north of Vang Vieng, and he's got some pretty shocking tales to tell about some of the extreme behaviour of tourists here in the past. It's like hearing a tale about completely brain dead Neanderthals on steroids. I think it's a blessing for the local population that the government finally intervened after many years of this awful behaviour that turned this town into a deadly circus - but it has also put many bars, restaurants and guest houses out of business. The government basically shut all the bars down along the river where people would be stopping off on the way down the river on their rubber inner-tires (tubing). They would get absolutely wasted and this resulted in the unprecedented lewd behaviour and also in many deaths by drowning, or people jumping into the river where it's not safe - with the obvious consequences that can bring. In 2012 29 people died while tubing in this river and in the late summer all the bars were closed down by the government, many by force - or by being torched - apparently. It could possibly been a better tactic to punish the unruly tourists rather than the local businesses - this could have cleaned up the dangerous and disrespectful behaviour while keeping some of the businesses running. The tubing still carries on in Vang Vieng but has now a much more relaxing atmosphere about it. Some people are still behaving badly and don't respect the laws, regulations and culture, so there is still a very present problem here, despite the closure of all the bars. In my opinion Vang vieng need to shift their focus on a different type of tourism, although the tubing can be a part of the experience they can rather emphasise on the wealth of the beautiful nature in the area, with lots of mountains and countless caves it would be perfect for adventure trekking, caving, canoeing and more. They should definitely clamp down on the behaviour of the troublemakers and fine them if they break the rules - this would discourage future troublemakers and maybe restore the relations between the local people and the people visiting the town. It's a beautiful place and I'm sure it could again be a thriving destination, but with a better type of tourism that would not upset the people living there. We're taking it a bit easy in Vang Vieng and start off with a half day trekking and caving. It's not too strenuous a hike and we get to see a few caves and I get the pleasure of a dip in the Tham Nam Water Cave - it comes at a cost though, as I manage to lose my lovely torch - c'est la vie. We also have a day of cycling around and exploring the area, and in the evening go to the Tham Poukham Cave and Blue Lagoon - about 45 minutes (if you know the way, which we didn't) cycle on the most bumpy road I've ever cycled along, and not with large bumps that you can avoid by going round, but small bumps EVERYWHERE that makes your bones ache... It's fun at the same time as it's a bit painful, and talking to each other along the road becomes comical as our vocal chords are obviously affected by the rough ride. The cave is pretty impressive, but the climb up to it is pretty steep and it really get the heart pumping. A refreshing dip in the Blue Lagoon and some sticky rice and barbecued chicken after the cave is very refreshing and prepares us well for the journey back to our guest house. The last day we test out the tubing down the river - we get dropped off four kilometres upstream from the town and slowly drift the way back to town with one stop half way at a bar (probably illegal) at a resort. The gathering at the half-way-bar was a very pleasant collection of people from around the world, so we had a good old chinwag over a couple of beers before continuing down the river. It was a very relaxing experience and we didn't see any reckless behaviour at all. There was a party by the river close to the start where some brainless kids were trying to entice us up to, but this didn't appeal to us at all - we like a good party now and then, but prefer the crowd to be a bit more mature than topless rat-arsed teenagers... [caption id="attachment_1512" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1511" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1510" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1509" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1508" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1507" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng. Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1506" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Trekking, Vang Vieng. Trekking, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1505" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Trekking, Vang Vieng. Trekking, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1504" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Hoi Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Hoi Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1513" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Lovely Barbecue, Vang Vieng. Lovely Barbecue, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1531" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1530" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1529" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1528" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1527" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1526" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1525" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1524" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Poukham Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1523" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1522" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1521" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1520" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1519" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1518" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1517" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1516" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1515" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1514" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng. Tham Chang Cave, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1532" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1541" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1540" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1539" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Some local kids enjoying their food on some rocks in the middle of the river,Vang Vieng. Some local kids enjoying their food on some rocks in the middle of the river,Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1538" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1537" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1536" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1535" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1534" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Canoeing on the river, Vang Vieng. Canoeing on the river, Vang Vieng.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1533" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng. Tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.[/caption] All in all our visit to Vang Vieng was a mixed bag of relaxing, and of annoyance with drunk and lary twats, plus the lack of sleep at times due to our neighbours staying up all night talking drug-hazed bullshit and coughing their lungs out due to smoking - not a good sign when you're only about twenty years old... We really enjoyed the nature and the caves, and wish we could have had an extra day with canoeing and even a hot air balloon trip, although the latter was very expensive. From Vang Vieng we move on towards Savannakhet, a small town close to the border with Thailand. We book a ticket with a seemingly reputable travel agency for a deluxe sleeper bus in the belief it will be a direct bus and a pleasant journey. The journey doesn’t exactly go to plan... First leg of the journey is to Vientiane on a bus that is about to fall apart LITERALLY! It's a fairly short journey so it's not too bad, but we had paid good money for these tickets and deserved a better standard. When arriving in Vientiane we’re left to wait without any instructions for what seems like ages, and when a van finally arrive to pick us up there seems to be some problems with our booking... lots of back and forth and we’re allowed onto the van to take us to the bus depot for our onward journey. Once at the depot we learn that the agency had only booked us to go to Paksan... More back and forth and we suddenly hold in our hands tickets to Savannakhet, but these as it turns out are only by local bus, and not the deluxe sleeper bus that we paid for. The driver of the van disappears and we can’t go back to him to complain. Not too impressed we just have to settle with what we got and be content with the fact that at least we’ll get there.