If you are not in Vang Vieng to tube, you are most likely there to climb some of the highest and most challenging crags in the region. Having done a bit of indoor climbing last year I was keen to get out onto some real rock and see what I could do. Having done nothing physical since the trek in Chiang Mai, a bit of physical activity was also well overdue! Signs all throughout the town advertise climbing adventures ranging from half day to 3 day lead climbing courses. Not really looking into the different companies we just asked a travel agent for a day’s climbing the following day we ended up in a surprisingly excellent situation.
The size of the group as it turned out was just Trav, myself and an Australian teacher who had spent a year or so in the town and was climbing with us because he knew the guides and needed a belay partner. So really it turned out to be us and three guides (the teacher and two Laotians) The day started with being picked up in town and taken to the shop front where we had our gear fitted and bagged up for the journey. To be honest, I was a little bit worried about the quality of the gear being in country with no where near the same quality standards that we have back home. Luckily, besides a slight laceration in one of the shoes, it all seemed to be in good nick as far as my untrained eyes could tell. Following that the five of us climbed in the back of a tuk tuk heading for the mountains but not before stopping at a local market where our guides took us through and picked out various items for lunch. While they were choosing food I was lucky enough to walk around and get a taste of some of the different curry pastes and sweets that were for sale. None of which I could give you a name or describe for you now, except for two of the sweets: One was like a rice bubble biscuit (very tasty) and the other was described to me as a pork crackling crisp that I wasn’t to fond of.
Returning to the tuk tuk we headed for the river where we would disembark and carry our gear the rest of the way. It was about a 25 minute walk from where we were dropped at the river to the climbing area and navigated our way across rickety bridges and farms. The walk itself was even a highlight as we saw part of the countryside and village that escapes most tourists. Chickens and pigs were roaming free in the village and as we made it through those and into the rice fields, dry and waiting for the first rain of the season we were charged by some bulls! Getting charged by a bull is definitely enough to pull yourself out of a hangover and get the heart pumping for the day ahead. Finally we passed a few bamboo huts and banana plantations before we arrived at our destination.
Having arrived at the main climbing area we walked past far larger groups of 10 – 15 and ventured further through some tight crevices into a much more remote climbing area. It was here we spent the morning learning basic climbing knots and climbing cliffs up to 18m high. Forearms and fingers feeling tight we broke and had lunch by the river before spending another few hours scaling heights of up to 22m. Now I’m no lover of heights. At all. I wasn’t even game to swing off any of the bar swings irrespective of how drunk I was. However, there is just such an awesome feeling you get after reaching the top of the cliff that it takes any fear away. That is, until you look down and think ‘holy sh*t this is high’. Climbing in Vang Vieng was easily one of my favorite experiences so far on the trip and I’m definitely hoping to spend a few more days climbing elsewhere on this trip. The only question is.. where?
Returning back to the guest house in the evening we were met by a very inebriated Mitchy and Selke after spending a second day tubing. Needless to say, Trav and I went out and played catchup. Nightlife in a Vang Vieng varies depending on how early, (or late) it is into your drinking session. Restaurants are filled with tubers laughing and retelling their stories sitting alongside others who look like they are about to pass out watching episodes of ‘Friends’ and ‘Family Guy’. I was fortunate enough to play both of those roles on various occasions. These restaurants looping tv shows are so comfortable and easy to chill out in that you can so easily lose a day, or three just laying back with a fruit shake.
As for a club scene, there are only a few that line the main road. Q-Bar, in all its neon paint and black light craziness is usually where a big night will end but other bars such as ‘Bucket Bar’ provide some good times. Drugs are readily available for those so inclined and even a few bars have ‘Happy Menu’s’ containing marijuana through to opium even though drugs are illegal in Laos. Be warned however as we were told of backpackers who were caught and fined (blackmailed) by police for even smoking weed on their own balconies. That being said, a certain level of common sense should really be applied and if you think you think you’re hardcore enough to walk the streets with your mushy shake or huge joint then you cant be too upset if you get caught. Not having the standard late night fare of kebabs and pizza to indulge on, a late night in Vang Vieng will likely end hanging around a pancake or baguette stall – both of which are amazing. My personal favorite: BBQ chicken strips with salad, tomato sweet chili and mayonnaise.
From Vang Vieng we headed south to the capital of Vientiane as we worked out way to Phuket. Not the usual place to go after spending time in Laos I know, but there was good reason! Spending only a few days in Vientiane and my least favorite city (so far) Udon Thani, I’ll write about it in the coming days.