I strongly believe that every place we have visited on this trip has come with some kind of lesson attached to it. Whether it has been hard lessons like learning when to fold in China or positive ones like discovering just how good most people are, not a day—or destination—goes by on this trip where we don’t learn something about the world, or ourselves.

Sometimes the lessons are clear and fairly obvious (like not renting the cheapest motorbike on the block and then being surprised when things go pearshaped…), but other times they sneak up on us and it’s not until we’ve had time to reflect on our experiences that we can fully appreciate what the takeaway message from a place will be.

Our visit to Vang Vieng was a weird one, filled with mixed emotions. Strange though it may sound, I had really high hopes for Laos’ infamous little party town. It’s an odd destination for a non-wild child to latch on to, but even back when this tiny town was known for little more than debauchery and bad decisions, something about it intrigued me. I had no interest in drinking myself blind or painting rude slogans across my body, but I remember when things were particularly tough for me during my final semester of graduate school, my therapist asked me to close my eyes and think of a time in the future when I believed I would be happy. When I did as she asked, all I could think of was lying in an inner tube and slowly floating down the Nam Song river, the innocuous aspect of Vang Vieng’s claim to notoriety. The vision was like an oasis in the seemingly never-ending desert that was my dissertation, and I latched on to it like you might expect a wanderer who is lost and unsure of her course to do. Ever since then, it had been something of a totem for me.

I had read numerous accounts about Vang Vieng, spanning from its rowdy heydays when it was drug & debauchery central, to its more recent incarnation as a laidback enclave poised to reinvent itself as the adventure sports capital of the country, so I felt pretty confident that I knew what to expect. Whether travelers loved or hated Vang Vieng, it seemed like the one thing everyone could agree upon was that the surrounding countryside made up of limestone karsts was some of the prettiest they had ever seen. Even if some reports suggested recent crackdowns on the libidinous partying meant the town sometimes felt like it had been devastated by a zombie apocalypse, I figured that the scenery would surely make up for any dubious aspects of the town. Also, even though most of the riverside bars have now shut down, it is still possible to go tubing, and I wanted the chance to honor that dream that had given me such hope during trying times. Having gazed wistfully at other travelers’ beautiful photos of the area, I was secretly certain that we would love it there and would be able to enjoy the charming side to Vang Vieng.

The first lesson Vang Vieng taught me was not a new one, but immediate and swift in its delivery: sky high expectations built over years of dreaming and avid blog reading are rarely, if ever, born out. I had never stopped to consider that most of the photographs of Vang Vieng touting the beauty of the area rarely ever featured the town itself. It was immediately apparently why this was—low and scrubby, most of the buildings were non-descript cheap constructions with little personality or visual appeal, calling to mind the dingy buildings seen in old westerns. The town was drab with a side of bland, and the haze in the air from the slash-and-burn agriculture that pervades the country during dry season so thick we could just barely see the fuzzy outlines of the much-lauded mountainous terrain. As first impressions go, this one was fairly grim.

It was a sign of things to come. Time after time, all the things I optimistically anticipated, Vang Vieng under delivered or underwhelmed. Although there was plenty of lodging on offer, most of it had no character, no views, and was sorely overpriced. One promising place we tracked down about 5 km out of town was bright and airy and had a brilliant view of the river, but when we finally managed to find someone who worked there (a shockingly difficult task, I might add), she spoke no English and stonewalled all attempts to communicate; our interactions culminated in her simply walking off mid-conversation as we tried to figure out if the WiFi was working and we finally decided that it shouldn’t be so hard to convince a place that they wanted our business. It took us three hours of riding around on a motorbike, but we did finally find our paradise: d’Rose Resort. The bungalows are run by friendly staff, offer great off-season discounts, are located down by the river and have stunning views of the karsts. It was one of the few places in town where we felt like we could appreciate the beauty of the countryside.

[As an aside, if you’re ever wondering about where we stay in each city, check out our Lodgings by Country page, where we list everywhere we spend a night and also give costs and ratings!]

Finding good food in Vang Vieng was also frequently an exercise in frustration. Most eateries have clearly built their menus off the preferences of drug-addled backpackers, so while prices were cheap, selections tended to veer strongly towards international junk food—pizza, spaghetti, burgers, fries… essentially all the food you came to Laos not to eat. Seeing vacant-eyed, dreadlocked zombies shovel pancakes into their gaping maws while watching episodes of Friends (some traditions never die) didn’t whet our appetites and—much like the town itself—the food was bland and uninspiring. We worked really hard to find good food and I’d have to say the only places that were anything more than serviceable (and indeed, were actually very good) were Something Different and The Organic Farm.

Something Different is an Israeli joint run by a friendly expat who served us a veritable feast for about $7US, all of it healthy, fresh, homemade and SO DAMN GOOD. We went off menu and just asked the owner to make us something tasty, and he delivered. The food just kept coming, fresh as he made it, and we ate like kings.

The Organic Farm is about 7 km north of the main town.We weren’t sure whether the ride out there would be worth it, but… it was. Prices were a little bit higher, but everything we ordered—from the eggplant jeow (essentially baba ghanoush) to the amazing pork satay (so nutty! And with a delightful hint of mustard!) to the out-of-this-world mango sticky rice—was lick-the-plate good. If it weren’t so inconvenient to get to, we would have eaten there every day. It was one of the best meals that we had in Laos; if you rent a motorcycle while in Vang Vieng and care about food, a stop here is mandatory.

Even the one thing I was certain would not disappoint, Vang Vieng’s countryside, also managed to be something of a letdown. Maybe it’s because we had just come from doing The Loop in ThaKhek where the scenery was very similar, or maybe the smoggy haze cloaking everything affected us more than we realized, or maybe we’ve just become jaded after all this time in Asia and our standards for what constitutes “breathtaking” are now impossibly high, but we felt the only thing that risked taking our breath away during our jaunts through the countryside was the dust in the air. It’s not that the countryside was ugly, it just didn’t seem any lovelier or even as impressive as landscapes we had seen in other countries (or other parts of this country).

Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos

The first cave we unfortunately visited (tempted by the promises of a swimming hole) was also our last, as it wound up being nothing more than a sweaty squeeze through slippery passageways in the dark, only to be “rewarded” by a pool of milky water at the end that would best be described as a puddle. It was hot work whose unpleasantness was compounded when our unasked for guide demanded that we hand over 100,000LAK (~$12US) for his 20-minutes of assistance. We declined his offer and suggested 30,000 might be more in order, especially as we had already paid a 20,000 “preservation” fee when we arrived that we were certain was really just code for “beer money”. Eventually we settled on 50,000, both parties dissatisfied with the outcome. I understand that many of the locals are likely hurting financially as the drop off in visitors to Vang Vieng has been rather precipitous following the closure of the riverside bars (seriously, check out these before & after photos to see what a dramatic change there has been), but behavior like this hardly makes me inclined to encourage others to visit. In fact, we ran into a few other tourists as we made our way back to the main road and emphatically urged them not to even bother heading that way.

The Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng, Laos

We limited the rest of our explorations to the Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng’s famous swimming hole. As far as natural attractions in the area go, this was probably my favorite: the water was a stunning/slightly surreal shade of turquoise and bracingly brisk, perfect for a sweltering day (made all the worse by our unexpected cave crawl). Around us, plenty of pasty white people played Tarzan and hurtled themselves from the rope swing and jumped from vertigo-inducing heights from a large tree stretched out across the river, while fish nibbled on the toes of the less intrepid who were content to simply paddle about. It was one of those quintessential “banana pancake trail” backpacking moments, and the energy of it encouraged me to summon my inner adrenaline junkie and jump from the tree myself! Of course, the water was very, very cold and I wound up plunging far deeper than anticipated, a wicked combination on my sensitive ears; when I surfaced, my left ear was cracking with pain, which put an end to my dare devil ways.

Fun as all this was (minus the barotrauma), we never felt fully comfortable at the Blue Lagoon. All around us, conversation swirled as hung-over travelers recounted the previous evening’s debauchery, boasting of how wasted and trashed they had gotten, what an awesome time they had had tubing, not for its own merits, but because of how blotto they had been. The same kind of chatter followed us when we went and grabbed lunch at Gary’s Irish Bar (food was fine, if not remarkable in any way), where the discussion of rampant drug abuse and poor behavior from the group of young Brits at the table next to us was so obnoxious that it was this that put me off the idea of tubing altogether. It was clear from the snippets of talk that we overheard that the party may be tamed in Vang Vieng, but it has not vanished entirely and travelers still come (albeit in smaller numbers) to cut loose.

Vang Vieng at dusk
The streets feel a bit lonely, but you never have to look far to find someone in some sort of stupor

We decided that we would channel our funds towards a hot air balloon ride instead. Vang Vieng is one of the cheapest places there is to take a balloon ride (tickets go for about $78US) and I figured it would be a good “once-in-a-lifetime” substitute for my deceased tubing dreams. But even this was not meant to be—booking our ride for our last morning in town, rain pounded through the night, and we woke up to drizzling gray skies. Although the van came to pick us up, we made it not 10 minutes down the road before we were told that the weather was too poor and there would be no flights that morning. We were offered the chance to take a later flight, but the later in the day, the worse the haze tended to be, and we were already booked on a minibus up to Luang Prabang that afternoon anyway.

T4050235

As we stood on that street corner, the sun not yet risen and the streets completely silent, I thought about how Vang Vieng wasn’t anything like I had hoped. It wasn’t an idyllic paradise with a quiet, gentle charm. It was an unremarkable town, in a better-than-average location, where people went to behave badly. I had come in with a head full of dreams, and the town had stripped them away. Some of them I had been clinging to for years, but the city had shown me that it was time to let them go.

And that’s when Vang Vieng finally gave something back, now that I had finally ridden myself of preconceptions and desires. Trudging down the street toward the travel office where we had booked our tickets, we saw the first stirrings of life. Lined along the main river road where so many of the stultifying bars and cafés are located, a tiny morning market run by local women—many of them in traditional garb—was going in full force. The markets in Laos have been some of my favorites in Asia, filled with befuddling exotic ingredients, and this one was no different. The women smiled gleefully at us as we gasped over buckets filled with frogs and toads, cooed over beautiful verdant succulents, and peeked inside steaming cauldrons of aromatic soups and porridges. In a town that has been ravaged by tourism gone about as bad as it can, it was so refreshing and heartening to witness this mundane slice of life, to watch the locals take back their town in the early morning hours when the drunkards and druggies were still passed out in their beds. The normalcy of it all was stunningly beautiful. I felt I was bearing witness to a secret side of the city that most people never see.

Morning market, Vang Vieng, Laos
Morning market, Vang Vieng, Laos

Morning market, Vang Vieng, Laos
Morning market, Vang Vieng, Laos

Rounding the corner, we saw townspeople kneeling in the gutter, bowls of rice held high above their heads. A trio of saffron-robed monks came padding down the street, each one scooping up a bit of rice and placing it in their baskets, murmuring a blessing over the people supplicating before them. This daily alms-giving ceremony is known as tak bat, and is one of the proceedings for which Luang Prabang is most famous. There it is a dog & pony show largely put on for tourists, here we were the only ones around to watch in wonderment. It felt like such a privilege to watch such a sacred moment, even amongst the pancake carts and litter strewn about from a wild stag night out, and I silently thanked the town for showing a little bit more of itself—its true self—to us.

Remarkably, we were able to get a full refund on our hot air balloon tickets without any hassle, the shop owner going so far as to apologize to us for the fact that the flight had been canceled. Compared to our last harrowing experience with Lao customer service in Vientiane, this was a welcome surprise and Tony and I were both disappointed we didn’t get to give this guy our business. He was genuinely friendly and funny, and was certainly another point in Vang Vieng’s favor.

Wat That, Vang Vieng, Laos

The town wasn’t done with us quite yet—as we made our way back to our bungalow to get ready for our impending departure to Luang Prabang, the early morning rays of sun beginning to snake across the sky dancing off the bright colors of a nearby wat caught our eye, so we wandered into the courtyard. As we drew closer, the gentle dulcet chanting of a chorus of voices floated out to greet us, and as we turned the corner, we watched as a group of monks and devotees—adorned with sashes across their chests—lay prostrate before several gleaming buddhas, beginning their day on the right karmic foot. The melody of their voices united was soothing and provided a moment of zen in the heart of a place that is more often known for oblivion than enlightenment. I finally felt the lightness, the happiness, I had hoped Vang Vieng would bring me. It wasn’t in the places I had been looking, but if the town had not stripped me of all those illusions, I never would have found myself here, watching in quiet wonderment.

Back at our bungalow, I gazed out one last time over the karsts and watched as wisps of cloud swirled in the cold limestone basins, a thick fog slowly unfurling across the valley and thought about how it’s funny how things work out. And if we had gone tubing, we probably wouldn’t have bothered with a balloon ride… and if we had been all the way up in the clouds that morning, we would have missed out on all the great things going on down below. I let go of things I thought I wanted, of dreams that were from another time, and I got something much better in return.

Vang Vieng, Laos

As the soft blanket of white slowly rolled in, I finally got the references to fairytales and the mystic orient that more fanciful guidebooks have attributed to the place; in that moment, Vang Vieng did feel otherworldly and just slightly out of step with time and the rest of the world. I understood what must have brought the first travelers to this place, unaware of the havoc they would leave in their wake. I knew too that this magical moment of quiet and calm, like the town itself, would not last. The day was in transition, on the cusp of becoming something different, something new. I hoped then, as I do now, that this hidden side I so nearly missed will become a little less hidden and Vang Vieng can get back in touch with itself. For the bulk of our visit, we did not see much beauty and we felt that the town was played out and used up, but in those last moments, I found myself wondering whether Vang Vieng might yet have some tricks up its sleeve. Perhaps if, like I did, it can learn to let go of the old things that it thinks travelers want, it will find a way to not just survive, but thrive once more.

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

We want to hear from you!

Required fields are marked with red.
Anything you share with us will not be published, traded, sold or otherwise used outside this site in any way, ever. We will not spam you.

We moderate comments, so if you haven't posted with us before and your comment doesn't show up right away, we will get to it, no need to post it twice. Thanks for your patience!

A comment is required.

Name is required. You can only use alphanumeric characters (a-z, A-Z).

CommentLuv badge

Read comments (32)

  1. April 21, 2014 at 12:36 pm
    Apr. 21, '14

    Sorry you didn’t get your balloon ride or your tubing dreams fulfilled… Funny that tubing down the Nam Song would’ve been your go-to fantasy (!) Had you not HEARD of how crazy the tubing scene was in Vang Vieng?

    When I can’t get to sleep, I envision myself swimming underwater in a sea of crystalline blue water. Works every time!
    James recently posted..Confessions of a Luggage Shopaholic

    • April 22, 2014 at 3:09 am
      Apr. 22, '14

      I had heard that the tubing scene was crazy, but I had also heard it was possible to avoid the madness and just tube while in one’s sober state of mind… Looking at those pictures from 2011, however, I’m not sure I ever would have really enjoyed the experience. Once again, I think I just liked the IDEA of it…

      When I can’t get to sleep, I… can’t get to sleep. I am well versed in the ways of insomnia.

  2. April 21, 2014 at 1:15 pm
    Apr. 21, '14

    I feel like we might have eaten at Something Different…

    Maybe it was because we stayed a little bit out of the main hotel/tourist area, but we really enjoyed the quiet solitude of Vang Vieng. The most noise we had around us were of roosters (grr), cows, and children. It was really pleasant. I think we were lucky with the weather too – never rained and it was only mildly hazy. I had no preconceived notions of it and, for that, I’m glad. I think Vang Vieng ended up being one of our most pleasant experiences in Laos. Just goes to show what kind of havoc expectations can wreak.
    Carmel recently posted..GHOSTS OF HISTORY IN HO CHI MINH CITY

    • April 22, 2014 at 3:13 am
      Apr. 22, '14

      There are at least two Israeli places offering falafel and the like in Vang Vieng. This one wasn’t on the riverside road, but on the one once removed from the river. If you did eat here, you are lucky because: a) it was delicious; and b) it was only ever open that one time we dined there and then was shuttered forevermore afterwards.

      You know, we did check out the place that you stayed in VV and we very nearly stayed there as well… I just really wanted something with a bit more of a view if possible. Our little bungalow at d’Rose wound up being exactly what we wanted and was very peaceful and quiet too—we were a close enough walk to the main strip so as to be convenient, but far enough away (about a 7 minute walk) as to be serene.

      It’s not that we hated Vang Vieng or anything like that—I can see why people have enjoyed it, I just had such crazy pie-in-the-sky hopes for it that it was pretty much bound to disappoint, I think.

  3. April 21, 2014 at 2:42 pm
    Apr. 21, '14

    We spent far too little time in Vang Vieng, but I think one of the memories from our visit ages ago was Friends being shown all over town! What is with that??
    Emily recently posted..How We Spent Our Easter: La Paz

    • April 22, 2014 at 3:16 am
      Apr. 22, '14

      I don’t know, man. I mean, I like Friends well enough, but that’s not really why I’m visiting Laos, right? If it wasn’t Friends, it was episodes of Family Guy, so I guess that was the lesser of two evils…

  4. April 21, 2014 at 2:57 pm
    Apr. 21, '14

    Interesting to hear how the town has changed, and not, since we were there. We did discover some areas that made us understand the magic of the area (and had fantastic weather to spot those limestone cliffs), including a multi-day hiking trip in the Secret Eden, etc., but your story reminded me of the movie Shirley Valentine when, after she has finally made it to Greece and was having her glass of wine by the sea, realized it wasn’t anything like what she had dreamed of and reflected that ‘Dreams are never in the place we expect them”. I think she had it figured out.
    Rhonda recently posted..My Fascination with Doors

    • April 22, 2014 at 3:18 am
      Apr. 22, '14

      Love that Shirley Valentine line! It’s SO TRUE.

      I’m glad to hear that you guys had a better go of it in Vang Vieng than we did. Our time there wasn’t awful by any means, it just kept being slightly disappointing until those final hours. I think if the weather had been a little nicer, we would have enjoyed ourselves a bit more.

  5. April 21, 2014 at 3:46 pm
    Apr. 21, '14

    I’m actually glad to hear the tubing scene has died down a lot in Vang Vieng. It sounded insane, before it started getting cleared up.

    What an emotional roller coaster for you, though! I feel like it has been just constant ups and downs for you guys since you came to Laos.
    Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..Should You Get Your Photo Taken With A Baby Gibbon In Thailand?

    • April 22, 2014 at 3:24 am
      Apr. 22, '14

      I think that the tubing could be a lot of fun if managed right, but… clearly that is not going to happen any time soon. I’m glad that Vang Vieng has changed since its heydays as well—it looks like it was hell on earth when it was at its backpacker peak. But I do feel bad for many of the locals as it’s definitely a case over oversupply for not that much demand any more. Many people have made their living off the poor choices of dumb travelers and while I think there is certainly a lesson in this about promoting responsible and sustainable tourism, I also think it must be very hard for people who were probably living quite well and now most of their sources of income have dried up.

      And yes, Laos has been something of a rollercoaster for us! But… that’s life!

      • April 22, 2014 at 4:42 am
        Apr. 22, '14

        Gosh, you’re right…you know, it hadn’t really sunk in about how hard it must be for the locals, even though you mentioned it in your post. Damn. I do feel sorry for them. Although I can imagine how the backpacker behaviour was horrifying to them, hopefully the tourists will come back, just in a more well behaved way. 🙂
        Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..Should You Get Your Photo Taken With A Baby Gibbon In Thailand?

        • April 22, 2014 at 11:09 pm
          Apr. 22, '14

          It’s not the first time on our trip that we’ve wound up somewhere that was once a lot more popular than it is today, so I think we were primed to notice the effect this change has on the locals. Everyone always talked about how the locals in VV were shocked and appalled by the bad backpacker behavior, but… may of them made a LOT of money off it too, so I think it was a case of wanting it both ways. If only, as you say, people could visit but just act like civilized creatures!

  6. April 21, 2014 at 7:24 pm
    Apr. 21, '14

    Damn those expectations. Its hard to let go of when you’ve built something up. I’m glad you managed to find it in the places you weren’t looking.

    We feel exactly the same about the food though, when it plays such a big part in your travelling experience it’s really annoying when can’t find good food to eat.
    Kellie recently posted..Palenque ruins – not just some falling down buildings…

    • April 22, 2014 at 3:27 am
      Apr. 22, '14

      I think when expectations are really built up, the only way to overcome them is to look in unexpected places. The things you have really been anticipating are generally a surefire way to be disappointed. I should know this by now, and yet, I still can’t help but plan and get excited for those plans!

      It’s really hard to love food only to wind up somewhere where the cuisine is a bit of a dud. Although we had a few good meals in Vang Vieng, I would say that on the whole, it was our worst food city in Laos.

  7. April 21, 2014 at 11:17 pm
    Apr. 21, '14

    Sometimes learning how to understand a place can be just as rewarding as understanding the place itself. I experienced that in my own city of Sydney, a place which I had fairly negative feelings towards for such a long time. Sometimes, we forget that everywhere has its own beauty, but occasionally we need to dig harder than usual to find it.
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted..Sushi-ya: Sydney’s Deliciously Special Sushi

    • April 22, 2014 at 3:31 am
      Apr. 22, '14

      Not every place can be approached in the same way, and I think our time in Vang Vieng was also a good reminder not to overschedule ourselves and get too caught up in “shoulds” and “musts”. Invariably, the things for which Vang Vieng is most famous are the things that we found most disappointing… it was only by simply wandering around and just letting the city show itself for what it really is (not what we thought it would be) that we really were able to enjoy it.

  8. April 22, 2014 at 2:29 am
    Apr. 22, '14

    What a great lesson to learn! Steph, I think it’s very similar to hearing about this great movie that you just have to see. Ranting and raving your friends won’t let you not see it, you do, and it’s mediocre at best. Is it because nothing can live up to that much hype? Whatever it is, disappointment sets in. I’m glad that Vang Vieng came through for you in the end!
    Corinne recently posted..R is for Russia (A-Z Blogging Challenge)

    • April 22, 2014 at 3:34 am
      Apr. 22, '14

      Yup, time and again the things that get hyped wind up getting overhyped and I end up disappointed. I can’t help being excited about places, but this was a good reminder that I need to be realistic about my expectations. Sad though it is to say, most of my favorite places on this trip have been the ones where I went in with low/no expectations!

  9. April 22, 2014 at 5:12 am
    Apr. 22, '14

    It’s always so heartbreaking to see how tourism, esp this kind, can adversely affect an area. Thanks for sharing such honest thoughts!
    Talon recently posted..Fav photos of London

    • April 22, 2014 at 11:11 pm
      Apr. 22, '14

      Glad you enjoyed this one, Talon. It really is hard to see how destructive tourism can be, both during and afterwards. Though the party has largely dried up in VV for nearly a year, it’s still very clearly dealing with the aftershock of it all. I’d make a joke about it going through withdrawal, but I think you get my point without it! 🙂

  10. April 22, 2014 at 8:17 am
    Apr. 22, '14

    Yes, Vang Vieng is a really strange place. Ppl bus in from Thailand, abuse themselves stupid for a week and then go back to Thailand where they presumably head for a full moon party. I just wish the authorities would put a proper stop to the out of control behaviour. Because as long as it’s there, you’ll still have restaurants showing Friends and serving absolutely rubbish food. But it does have much potential in my view.
    Adam @ SitDownDisco recently posted..New Cafes in Bandung, Indonesia

    • April 22, 2014 at 11:13 pm
      Apr. 22, '14

      There really isn’t too much out-of-control stuff happening any more (or if it is, we didn’t see it). People still clearly drink and take drugs, but I think it must be on a much smaller scale than it once was. I think it will take a few years before VV can really put this behind it (if it even really wants to, which I am not 100% convinced that it does… they surely made a good deal of money off of stupid backpackers doing stupid things.). I think that the town as it is, is not quite ready to appeal to a much more mature & affluent traveler set at the moment, and (as you point out) as long as it clings to crap restaurants with Family guy reruns it won’t gain very much traction either. Clearly the place has changed quite a bit in 2 years, so it will be interesting to see what it does with the next 2.

  11. April 23, 2014 at 5:53 am
    Apr. 23, '14

    When I have high expectation of a place I often end up disappointed. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence but I enjoy myself and the place I visit more when I know nothing about it and it surprises me instead with something completely unexpected. While we were in Laos, we decided not to stop in Vang Vieng because of its reputation, probably a mistake because I learnt that it’s better to see, experience by yourself and formulate your own opinion like you did Steph.
    Franca recently posted..Space Invaders and The Worldwide Street Art Invasion

    • April 27, 2014 at 11:21 am
      Apr. 27, '14

      It’s been pretty much the same for us too—the places we have been the MOST excited for are inevitably the places I wind up the MOST disappointed with. I think the only exception to this rule has been Sri Lanka—I was so excited to get here that I was actually scared I was jinxing us! 🙂

      I think I had read enough prior to visiting VV that I did honestly believe there was another side to it, not just its party scene. If all it was was a big bender (like Khao San Rd in Bangkok), I don’t think I would have any interest in it at all. I generally think that if we have any curiosity about a place, we owe it to ourselves to visit it and see what it’s like. I don’t think we should go places just because other people have gone or they are the popular places to see in a country, but if we have some interest, I think it’s worth pursuing it!

  12. April 24, 2014 at 9:55 am
    Apr. 24, '14

    We steered well clear of Vang Vieng when we were in Laos because that kind of debauched partying is definitely not our scene. I had hope for the town when I read about the bars closing, but it sounds like it’s still attracting the wrong element. I’m glad you were able to find some pockets of charm and enjoy your final moments there, though. It can be hard to let go of high expectations and the resulting disappointment.
    Heather recently posted..The Big Reveal: We’re Moving to LATVIA!

    • April 27, 2014 at 11:26 am
      Apr. 27, '14

      It definitely still has some shady characters coming to party, but it’s clearly vastly tamed compared to what it was before. Looking at those party pictures of how it once was, I’m pretty sure I would have hated VV during its heyday. I may have found it a bit disappointing due to my unrealistic expectations, but our stay wasn’t unpleasant… I just didn’t feel wowed by it until those last few hours.

  13. April 24, 2014 at 7:54 pm
    Apr. 24, '14

    I felt so disappointed for you when it seemed like this town was nothing other than a place where drunk frat boys went on holidays….I would have nothing in common with that, either! I mean, I don’t mind a party, but that whole scene is something that just isn’t for me. I love experiencing the beauty of places, which it seems like you do as well. But, as I read on, I’m glad you were able to find a few redeeming aspects of Vang Vieng, and in the end, the visit to this town seemed worthwhile! I feel bad that you weren’t able to go on your hot balloon ride, but it seems like maybe it all happened for a good reason.
    Lauren recently posted..Travel Blogger Thursday: Sam & Zab of Indefinite Adventure

    • April 27, 2014 at 11:33 am
      Apr. 27, '14

      I’m not sure that I would be in a rush to return to Vang Vieng, but I am really glad that I got to spend some nice final moments with it. I do wish the hot air ballooning had panned out as that would have been awesome (unless it would have been disappointing… which, maybe it would have been), but I have to believe I’ll get that chance again some day; if it’s something I really want to make happen, I’ll certainly find a way!

  14. May 5, 2014 at 3:34 am
    May. 5, '14

    A truthful (at least in my opinion) depiction of what Vang Vieng is like at the moment. We didn’t have very high hopes for the town to begin with and although we did enjoy our peaceful tubing experience there we found the remnants of the old partying culture made for a strange atmosphere. We were put off by the bars playing repeats of Friends and the overpriced accommodation too and spent just a couple of nights there before heading onwards. I’m glad that you managed to get something good out of the experience though.
    Amy recently posted..The True Heart of Cambodia

    • May 5, 2014 at 9:26 pm
      May. 5, '14

      I think Vang Vieng is in that transition stage where it’s neither fish nor fowl, or rather, neither party town nor relaxing retreat. Perhaps in a year or two it will have fully cleaned up its act (or backslid into notoriety), but for now, I think it still clings a bit to what it was and so can’t yet become something new. I definitely think it has potential, however, and I’m also glad we had a few nice moments there before we left. Maybe if we had gone tubing on our first day it would have been pleasant, but the more drunk gap year kids we ran into, the less appealing it became…

  15. May 11, 2014 at 11:51 am
    May. 11, '14

    Sorry that Van Vieng didn’t live up to expectations for you 🙁 I think because I had such incredibly low expectations that it was actually a really pleasant surprise when we got there. We were there in the middle of the low season so it was incredibly quiet and the weather was clear every day but I genuinely liked it. Just goes to show how different people’s perceptions can be.
    Maddie recently posted..New York City the second time around

    • May 12, 2014 at 1:53 am
      May. 12, '14

      I think it was a combination of too-high expectations and also poor timing—the weather just really didn’t cooperate with us while we were there, as it both rained when we needed it not to and was just so hazy from the slash & burn farming that we rarely got nice views of the famous limestone peaks. For the most part the town was very quiet as we were there in shoulder season, but I have to say, the kind of quiet we experienced was a bit eerie rather than peaceful! I’m glad you enjoyed it, but I think for this kind of lazing about, we’ll stick to Pai in Thailand! 😀

Leave a comment!