A street musician from Luang Prabang. He was playing his stringed instrument one night when I was wandering on the edge of the tourist night market.
Hello, Namaste, and welcome to Far East Adventure Travel-The Podcast brought to you by Far East Adventure Travel Magazine-Remote Northern Laos-Close Encounters With The Ahka-now on the iTunes Newstand-just go to the app store-search Far East Adventure Travel-download the app and subscribe today.
Hi there, I’m John Saboe the publisher of Far East Adventure Travel Magazine and in this week’s edition of the podcast a look at Vang Vieng, Laos-what could be the adventure capital of the country.
Vang Vieng is about a 3-4 hour bus ride north from the capital of Vientiane.
The town has a very colored past. It was once the center of operations in Laos for Air America-the C.I.A.’s cover airline that operated there from 1955-1974. Running everything from cargo, refugees, sabotage teams, and even Richard Nixon.
The Airstrip is still there but is basically agiant dead space between the town and the main highway that travels north and south. I had a lot of fun renting a motorbike and driving up and down the old runway. Imagining how much activity took place there and how crucial the area was for operations for the Vietnam conflict.
Today there’s a night market there and some couples have their wedding party there.
Vang Vieng used to be party central in this part of South East Asia. Backpackers made this place a destination for drugs, drinking, and tubing down the Nam Song River. The government cracked down in 2012 because there were so many of them drowning in the river after going overboard on the partying. I hired a guide for the day to take me kayaking down the river. We passed by some of the bars along the river that are all mostly closed down.
The town is trying to transition from a party town to more of a pure adventure center and it’s an awkward transition for them. They have been hurting as there are less backpackers visiting now and there’s not enough awareness for this place to be positioned as an adventure center. Appealing to a slightly older crowd that’s here to have a good time but more along the lines of like kayaking, exploring the many caves in the Karst topography of the area, rock climbing, mountain biking and motorbiking through the absolute beautiful dramatic landscape of the area. It really does look like an old asian master painting and the sunsets are glorious.
Comparing it to some of the more developed towns like Luang Prabang and of course Vientiane Vang Vieng has a more rural feel which is really quite refreshing-it’s very laid back but still has this backpacker atmosphere with bars and cafes playing reruns of Friends.
I liked some of the restaurants and cafes in the town, the people that run these places are so laid back and their energy seems to rub off on everyone. You can take your time, order a beer, no one is in a hurry, order some food, play some pool. There are several bar with huge decks that line the river and look out for the Karst hills, a great place to watch the sunset.
Back to the adventure sports-I did hire a guide for the day that took me on a 7 hour kayak ride down the Nam Song which included a couple of stops to walk through some of the caves in the area, and also a stop at a local organic farm. Which included some free entertainment complimentary of a group of college students with their upside down drinking challenges. There were some fairly fast running rapids we went down but if you really want a ride June and July-the wet season is the best time to go. I have got to say the ride down the river is breathtaking, these Karst hills carve these amazing dramatic shapes into the landscape-very Jurrasic Park.
Walking through the caves in these Karst mountains is a great experience. I was there during some of the hottest days of the year, in the upper 30’s celsius so a break in the caves helps to cool you down when you are walking.
I also took some rides on the backroads on a rented motorbike. I just loved the Karst hills and I wanted to get a closer look plus go through some of the villages in the area. There is a 26km loop you can do and anyplace that rents motorbikes will give you a map with directions and the stops in other caves along the way. Some of the caves have beautiful crystal clear swimming holes. I went through one called the Tiger Cave-most of the caves come under the territory of a village so there for 10,000 kip you can go inside, sometimes with a village boy as your guide. I went through the Tiger Cave without a guide and it wasn’t a complex cave but it could have been really easy to get lost for awhile and with only a headlamp it can get a little claustrophobic. My advice is maybe to avoid the caves that don’t supply a guide.
I loved this ride which took up most of the afternoon with a couple of stops. I travelled through the villages when kids were coming home from school on their bikes holding umbrellas over the head to shelter themselves from the intense tropical heat. Watch the line of bikes traveling toward me with the Karst hills as a backdrop was dream-like. One of my favorite memories of Vang Vieng.
Go to far east adventure travel.com search Laos and there are a couple of stories on Vang Vieng with a video tour of Lima Site 6 – Air America’s old airstrip.
That’s it for this weeks edition of Far East Adventure Travel-The Podcast-brought to you by Far East Adventure Travel Magazine The Podcast. Remote Northern Laos-close encounters with the Ahka now on the iTunes Newstand-go to the app store, search Far East Adventure Travel-download the app and subscribe today. Now available The Far East Adventure Travel Newsletter-5 great smartphone travel tips-5 things I wouldn’t do without when I travel with my smartphone now available-go to breezy-size.flywheelsites.com sign up for the free news letter today.
Thanks again for listening, til next time this is John Saboe, safe travels and Namaste!
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