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Old 10-02-2008, 06:35 AM   #1
jikgoe
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Thumbs up Vivid Vang Vieng

Vivid Vang Vieng
Story & Photos: Gaid P.Kornsilp

A few hours out of Vientiane, Vang Vieng, a small town en route to the World Heritage City of Luang Prabang, is a worthwhile vacation stop to take a deep breath of immaculate air and sip a cup of tea beside the Nam Song River while overlooking picturesque limestone mountain scenes. Since a huge mass of backpackers now flows over Vang Vieng, the infrastructure of the small town has changed considerably. Yet, the simple Laotian way of life and the beautiful natural scenery is still its strong salespoint.

It was about ten years ago; I can remember I was traveling to Luang Prabang from Vientiane in Laos in a well worn old public conveyance that was adapted from a ten-wheel truck. That bus was not only overloaded with passengers – adults, children, and Buddhist monks -- but also had a herd of livestock – pigs, chicken and ducks -- carried on its rooftop. It was a funny trip as I could hear the animal making rowdy noises along the bumpy way. Since I had left Vientiane, poor me, I had to wobble around to dodge drops of fermented bamboo shoot water from the leaking roof while all the time. Three hours passed as I was sitting in a narrow seat with fear of the rancid-smelling droppings. The best I could do was to look out the window and try to forget about the on-board mess. After the sharp curves and steep road, we arrived at a plains area of rice fields with karstic mountains erected at the horizon. It was a picturesque scene engraved in my reminiscences.

Several passengers, mostly backpackers, got off the bus there. During those previous days, Vang Vieng had just started to become popular among backpacking nature lovers who fancied the simple beauty of life one could enjoy staying at a small thatch-roofed hut next to the river. For at least another six hours I had to be tortured inside the bus before arriving at Luang Prabang. Those who just disembarked the Noah's Ark made me envious as I watched them walking to the fields happily while the truck slowly moved off the scene. The image of the beautiful mountains followed me in my head during the rest of the journey.

Ten years passed by, and I had a chance recently to visit Vang Vieng again, this time spending a few days to explore this lovely small town. After the Laos government opened the country to tourism, tourists are more welcome and more convenient facilities are available. A large comfortable van from a local Laos tour operator arrived and picked me up from the border at Nong Khai in Thailand before we crossed the Mekong River over the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge to Vientiane and contiued the trip to Vang Vieng on the same old road I had travelled ten years ago. On the way to Vang Vieng, I tried to look for that same old bus I had ridden on but I never saw it again. Possibly, it might have been decomissioned. At the moment I was thinking about it, a brand new VIP passenger bus labeled on its large windscreen "Vientiane-Luang Prabang" ran into my view.

Since the government of Laos announced the "Visit Laos Year" in 1999, one of the world's poorest countries has since then been confronted with economic, social, and cultural changes. Taking neighboring Thailand as a role model, Laos has a governmental tourism organization for promoting tourism in the country but with much less money than the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which spends a huge budget on tourism advertising each year. Although Laos is slow-going, some obvious changes can be seen. At least I experienced much better transportation. It is the outcome of development as a village turns to be a town, a small town is expanded to a big city, and people from less developed areas usually migrate in, flocking to the better developed city in hopes of better income.

After a few hours on the road, which was in fair condition, I found myself standing in the heart of the country town of Vang Vieng trying to recollect my last-time memory. It has become a tourist tradition to stop over in Vang Vieng for a few days before continuing one's trip to Luang Prabang in the north of Laos. The townscape of Vang Vieng has already changed as many concrete buildings have been erected among the traditional old houses, but what has never changed is the beautiful mountainous backdrop of the town and the simple way of life along the slow flow of the Song River. I can't imagine what the scenery will look like if one day Laos has sufficient finances to promote tourism in this area and investors begin to build high-rise hotels or shopping malls competing with the mountain complex. The vision in my head was enough to destroy the town so I stopped thinking about it.

The Song River of Vang Vieng has long been an essential artery for local people as well as being the key magnet that always attracts visitors to this charming town. One of the most popular activities is tubing on the river. Every tour agent always adds it on the itinerary. The Song River is usually dotted by groups of tourists lying on inner tubes floating downriver. It is one of the clever ways to get up close to nature without toil. Along the waterway are several places to stop, mostly family-owned bars that offer ice-cold bottles of Beerlaos to chill out along the route.

Normally, the Song River is shallow. During the dry season the water level drops and small islets and stones appear in the middle of the river, creating stunning scenes. Many parts of the river are so shallow that people can wade on foot to the other side. Although there are a few bridges crossing the river, I often saw local people hitching up their tube skirts and walking across the water without making use of the bridge. Why? I got this answer after I went to the river and waded to the other side myself, then on the way back to the hotel, I decided to walk across the bridge. Unexpectedly, when arriving at the other end of the bridge there was a toll that I had to pay to use the bridge. Otherwise, I would have to walk back to the opposite side and start again going through the water underneath. I didn't have any money with me but the Laotain officer was kind enough to let me owe her. The fee is less than the cost of a small piece of candy but worth it for the convenience. Still, most locals prefer not to pay.

In Vang Vieng, to be laid-back on a deckchair in front of your hotel room overlooking the river and the breathtaking scene of the misty mountains is more than enough to satisfy your need for relaxation and enjoyment on your holiday. If not, taking a walk or bicycle ride to the opposite side of the river to the small local village to witness people's way of living and enjoy the beautiful scene of the paddy fields is another interesting option that is worth a try.

I spent the first night at Vang Vieng walking from my hotel to the downtown area, curious to see the nightlife of this small town. During the evening, most of the shops, restaurants and bars turn on glittering lights to welcome visitors. Almost all restaurants have big-screen televisions playing American movies while guests sit or lie on the floor, lounging on big pillows, having drinks and dinner during the show. This kind of sit-back restaurant with movies is quite popular among backpackers and most of them are packed full with tourists. I didn't spend much time strolling around the town because the nightlife activities are grouped in a small area. Nonetheless, Vang Vieng still maintains its reputation as a captivating destination in Lao P.D.R.

The falling rain the next morning prevented me from going out. What I could do to enjoy myself was to watch the billows of mist slowly moving around the mountains in front of the hotel's terrace. The limestone mountains and the mist have become the symbol of Vang Vieng since they create a stunning view over the town. Late in the morning when the rain had stopped, I left the hotel to visit an organic farm located 3 kilometers from town.

Vang Vieng Organic Farm is a private non-profit organization founded in 1996 to support local farmers to use the method of pesticide-free cultivation. Like in other agricultural countries, most Laotian farmers normally use pesticide to protect their agricultural products. In an attempt to decrease dependency on chemicals, Vang Vieng Organic Farm has introduced organic methods with a demonstration of mulberry plantations as a sample showing that natural ways of farming can be also profitable and healthy. The profits from the product sale after the harvest will be allocated to several useful projects for the local community, such as school buses, a community center building, and an English classroom for kids taught by foreign volunteers. Apart from mulberry and vegetable farming, Vang Vieng Organic Farm also provides tourists the opportunity to experience the organic method of farming up-close by offering inexpensive accommodation and serving healthy food from the farm's own organic vegetables at the restaurant. During the visit to the farm, I tried a cup of mulberry tea with a special snack – crispy fried mulberry leaves. Wow, incredible tasty! Besides mulberry tea, the organic farm also produces mulberry wine for alcohol lovers who shouldn't miss trying some. Although mulberry leaf can be utilized to make various products, it is mainly used to feed silk worms that produce silk fibers for making silk. Vang Vieng Organic Farm's effort to encourage people to apply natural ways of cultivation is admirable. It is a clever way to save natural resources for later generations, while consumption of organic products also provides a healthier and longer life (for more information visit www.laofarm.org).

Because of various karstic landforms that created many beautiful caves, a visit to some caves in Vang Vieng shouldn't be missed. Just 7 kilometers from downtown, if you cross the bridge to the other side, following the dirt road across the vast areas of paddy fields, either by a bicycle or hired vehicle, you will arrive at the famous Phou Kham Cave, one of the most visited places in Vang Vieng. The cave is beautiful but you have to be very careful climbing up the almost vertical and slippery rocks to the mouth of the cave on the hilltop. From the entrance to the cave, it takes a little while to climb down to the main hall inside the cave where a reclining Buddha image is situated. Another highlight of Phou Kham Cave most tourists talk about is an emerald-color pond located nearby. Many tourists take it as a swimming pool to wash away the dirt and sweat from the climb.

Another well-known cave located within walking distance from town is Jung Cave. For the sake of tourism, the cave has been developed to provide visitors a more convenient way to explore the place with a sling bridge from the town side, a 150-step staircase to the mouth of the cave and a concrete walkway and lighting system inside the cave. Decorated by tapering structures of stalactites and stalagmites, Jung Cave is one of the most beautiful caves in Laos most visited by tourists. The whole panoramic scene of the town of Vang Vieng and the beautiful curves of the Song River can be seen at the viewpoint near the mouth of the cave.

From when Vang Vieng was first exposed to tourism decades ago up until today, the town's alluring nature still captivates flocks of strangers who drop by. It is a fast developing town without any red light to stop it. The last vivid light of sunset in Vang Vieng emitting behind the limestone mountain peaks persuaded me to think of the future of this lovely town when capitalism takes control over pristine nature and the innocent friendship of local people. Hopefully, it's not going to happen soon.

Getting to Vang Vieng

From Vientiane
Public buses are available daily at 07:00,10:30, and 13:30 at the bus station in Morning Market located in downtown Vientiane. Vang Vieng is 160 km from Vientiane and it takes about 3-4 hours. Fares vary depending on the type of bus, ranging from 25,000 kip for a normal bus to 60,000 kip for a VIP coach.

From Luang Prabang
Public VIP buses are available daily at 10:00 and 15:00, costing 65,000 kip for one-way fare. It takes about 7 hours to Vang Vieng.

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Old 11-20-2008, 03:05 AM   #2
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how beautiful there is!but I think it is about Guilin, china in the first sight,very familiar,





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Old 10-27-2009, 02:59 AM   #3
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The small, laid back town of Vang Vieng is spectacularly situated on a bend of the Nam Song river, surrounded by green agricultural fields, friendly Hmong and Yao ethnic minority villages and mountains that hold fascinating limestone caves. The caves are the main attraction and several guesthouses organism guides to explore them, some combining caving with a meal in a local village, and a float down the river on huge tractor tubes. It is also possible to hire bicycles to explore the area and surrounding villages. The cave of Tham Phou Kham, set in the limestone cliff, contains a bronze Buddha inside the main cavern. To get there is part of the enjoyment, with river crossings on precarious bamboo footbridges, past rural villages and between shimmering rice fields, surrounded by exquisite scenery of fresh and vivid colors. The cave of Tham Pha Thao is for the more adventurous and involves wading through a deep subterranean stream past enormous stalactites and stalagmites. Vang Vieng is an ideal stop off point on the Vientiane-Luang Prabang route, combining shy but friendly people, a beautiful rural setting and enjoyable activities.
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Old 03-19-2010, 04:04 AM   #4
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Thank you! Great article. So much good information. I had never been in China because it's not safe there. This place sound like there is no place for non-adventure travelers. Also in Laos is cheap and good places to stay for night.
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Old 04-20-2010, 06:11 AM   #5
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It’s very amazing adventurous sites on the earth. These pictures are stunning and I would like say thank you because these pictures you captured are looking superb. And my wish I could visit once in my life.
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