Vang Vieng, Laos

I arrived in Vang Vieng after a bumpy six-hour minivan ride from Luang Prabang.  A motley group of older ex-pats were sitting on the patio of the first hotel I approached.  “Where are you from?” one of them asked.  I said I was from California.

“Where in California?” asked someone else.  He had his back to me and didn’t bother turning all the way around, but his partial profile bore a striking resemblance to Dr. Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinnati.

“San Francisco,” I told him.

“I used to live in the Bay Area,” he said.  “But mostly Mendocino.  You know Mendocino?”  He didn’t wait for me to answer.  “Beautiful country.  Also lived in San Francisco, Richmond district.  And Oregon.  Seattle.  Montana.  My name is Jason but my friends call me Jay.  Moved to Laos about 10 years ago and never looked back.  I bought property out in the country, that way.”  He waved his hand.  “I love it here.  Hardly ever talk to anyone back home…  Maybe once every three months.  Just talked to my mother, though.”  Jay laughed and shook his head.  “Didn’t talk long, you can bet on that.  Can’t handle all her BS.  My son is Lao.  I have all the property in his name.”

Jay kept rambling.  When he finally paused to take a breath I slipped in a “Nice to meet you” and made my escape.  Jay happened to be American, but he reminded me that across all cultures there is a universal truth of human nature:  people love to talk (or blog) about themselves.  We are each our own favorite topic.

Vang Vieng is usually portrayed as a party town.  The most popular attraction is drunken tubing.  You rent an inner tube, take a tuk-tuk a few kilometers up the Nam Song river and then float back to town, stopping frequently along the way for cheap shots at riverside bars.  Unsurprisingly, drowning is a problem.

Back in the day I would have been fired up for the tubing, but now, not so much.  I only stopped for one night to take photos.  Vang Vieng’s setting is beautiful – the winding river is framed by a chain of steep mountains rising abruptly from the plains to the west, and the town itself belongs on the set of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  The word “ramshackle” could be used to describe almost every building in town.  The bridges look like they were thrown together with whatever driftwood happened to float by that day.

At sunset a couple of drunken Australian tubers walked up while I was taking photos of the crescent moon over the river.  They stared glassy-eyed at the scene before one of them said, “No matter how nice your camera is or how great a photo you take, it will never come close to capturing this, will it?”  Nope.  Well said, sir.  But it’s fun to try.

 

Moon Over the Nam Song River

 
Waking up to take photos before sunrise the next morning earned me entertaining looks from locals who seemed shocked to see a falang doing anything other than wobble home at that hour.

 

Dawn in Vang Vieng

 

Nam Song River at Dawn