Party Time in Vang Vieng
American Friends at Sakura Bar in Vang Vieng
Laos was on my list of countries to visit while still being in Asia. One of my goals as a traveler is to visit every country in the world, and while I'm stuck in China, I may as well cover Asia first, right?
I had originally planned on going to Vientiane, because that was the capital city with an international airport and so I naturally started researching that. But when I started watching more videos and reading more articles, I noticed another Lao city that people seemed to be talking a great deal about. This place was called, Vang Vieng. It has a cool name, too. So, I figured I would explore Vang Vieng and see if it appealed to me in some way.
Map of Vang Vieng in Laos
I never knew much about Laos, other than the obvious Vietnam War history and of course the history of French Indochina. Both being topics that I've recently learned a great deal about through documentaries and online articles that I've shown an interest in. All this started with my first visit to Vietnam back in March, which was after my Europe trip.
Amari Hotel & Sakura Bar
So, I decided to go to Vang Vieng for about four days and the Amari hotel offered a shuttle from the Vientiane Wattay Airport to the hotel for $75, each way. It is about 4 hours or less, depending on the traffic. But the scenery makes it a very nice ride and it's a very relaxing trip.
Vientiane to Vang Vieng via Amari Hotel Shuttle
View of the Nam Song River & the Karst Hill Landscape in Vang Vieng
Southeast Asia is fascinating in so many ways, but it really is the beauty of the terrain and climate that make it unique with the the karst hill landscape and the vast number of rivers and lakes to enjoy. The people are friendly and the food is awesome. I stayed at the Amari hotel in Vang Vieng and I couldn't have stayed at a better place, all things considered. I stayed in one of their best rooms and I just couldn't get enough of it. I didn't wanna leave.
Deluxe River View Room at the Amari Vang Vieng Hotel
I didn't want to stay in a hostel because for one, I'm not a big fan of hostels. They tend to be cheap places with cheap people. But there are some nice hostels around the world, notably San Francisco and Chicago. For another, I knew from my research that Vang Vieng was a backpacker's paradise and wasn't going to stay in the same building with a bunch of party animal kids.
I would wait until I headed out to Sakura Bar and other venues to hang out with the party animals. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the wildlings. I was a big time party animal once upon a time. I have nothing against them and I actually prefer to hang out with the younger crowd. Life and society has yet to beat them down and so they are more lively and fun to be around.
Ice Cold Beerlao at the Amari Hotel in Vang Vieng
The first thing I did when I arrived at the hotel and entered my room was step out on the balcony and enjoy the immaculate view of the Nam Song River with the Karst-style mountains. The second thing I did was walk back inside and open the fridge and popped a top of Beerlao to see if it was as good as everyone was saying it was. I went back out to the balcony after my first drink and then took another. I can't tell you how good I felt at that moment. Here I was, in Vang Vieng, with a postcard view and warm weather and cold beer to go with it. It all reminded me of why I'm alive.
So, is Beerlao any good?
Yes, it is. Though I'm not the best judge of beers since the previous month in Bali was my first time consuming alcohol in over 11 years.
I had arrived at the hotel around 2pm and I wanted to spend a couple of hours getting settled in and planning the next few days. I did some research online, took some notes, ordered room service and before too long, I had a pretty good itinerary. Of course, I did plan before I arrived but actually being there in Vang Vieng helped because I could ask people there and see with my own eyes what there was to do and what was around.
I highly recommend to anyone coming to Vang Vieng, especially first-timers, to stay at the Amari hotel. It's not just a nice place with a great staff, but location-wise, it's probably the best place. One one side you have the view of the river and mountains and on the other side you have the bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and tour companies. It really does have it all.
No, they're not paying me to say all that. I really like the Amari hotel.
Amari Vang Vieng
As it got to be around 5pm, I decided that it was time to go out and do some exploring, and get to know the area better firsthand. I love riding scooters in southeast Asia because of the weather and scenery, except for when it's the rainy season. Speaking of which, I arrived in Laos during the height of the rainy season. I guess I didn't do enough research on the weather, but it was all good, since Vang Vieng is in the jungle it meant that it rained in increments on and off. Which further meant that there was a greater chance of seeing a rainbow in the sky. You will see it too in a video later in this article.
Local Lao Man on the Orange Bridge that Crosses the Nam Song River
I went out to find a place to rent a scooter. The policy in Vang Vieng is that you need to submit your passport to them. Though I understand this because they want to make sure they get their scooters back, I'm still not comfortable submitting my passport to random strangers. But if you want to rent a scooter or a buggy, you must submit your passport and give them the money. The first two places I stopped at were not very professional and I didn't trust them well enough to give them my passport. But the third place was different. They were nice folks and they seemed to be a bit more organized. So, I rolled with them. I rented the scooter for a couple of hours but only rode around for about an hour and a half. I got to get a feel for the area and also, I met a nice local Lao man on the river who took a picture with me. The river water was muddy because of the rainy season.
Speaking of the rainy season.....
Precipitation Chart for Vientiane, Laos (4 Hours South of Vang Vieng)
The best time to visit Laos is between November and February
(in my opinion).
Well, after riding around for about an hour and a half on the scooter and taking pictures and videos and mingling with the locals, I decided to head back toward the Amari hotel and get cleaned up. Night time was coming and the Amari is walking distance from all the best nightlife, including Sakura Bar.
Souvenir Shop in Vang Vieng
I'm not much of a fashion bug, but I've always liked my du-rags. So, I decided to grab one at a local souvenir shop after dropping off the scooter.
After showering and putting on my smell good stuff, I went out toward Main Street with a hungry stomach and a thirsty mouth. The first place I went to is Sakura Bar, while it was still early, and took a video tour of the place.
Video Tour of Sakura Bar
One thing that I immediately appreciated about Sakura Bar was the space that it had. It seemed like you could fit 5,000 people in there (not really). I also liked the fact that there was a live DJ booth with several bars and an outdoor area. The elevated stage dance platform was really cool, too.
Even the dogs who lived there seemed like they enjoyed it.
Gary's Irish Bar
I just wanted to get a feel for it while it was still early. I decided to go across the street and check out Gary's Irish Bar and get a beer and some food.
Pasta Dish at Gary's Irish Bar
Does that food look good?
Well, it was damn good!!
I enjoyed every bite and washed it down with a Heineken while watching World Cup soccer and staring at the pretty girls around the place.
It wasn't a bad venue. There was a pool table and a bar and they had a wide variety of drinks with a broad menu of food dishes to choose from.
It seemed to be a more laid back kind of place compared to Sakura Bar.
I didn't ask the guy whom I spoke to that took my order, but I wondered why it was not "Gary's Irish PUB" instead of "bar." My only guess is that the owner wanted to sound original, since there are probably a hundred million "Gary's Irish Pub" places around the world. "Pub" just sounds European to my American ears. But hey, it's a great place and I highly recommend the food.
Website Marketing Stickers
I have a Chinese friend in Wuhan who helps me with my marketing material, t-shirts, hats, stickers, etc. When I travel, I distribute my stickers. I had some 1 square inch black ones made, but these 1.5 square inch red ones are bigger, brighter, and better. I brought them to Vang Vieng and handed them out to people as I met them and also posted them in the bars, with permission of course. I believe that stickers are a great way to promote any business.
Daan, A Dutch Bartender at Sakura Bar
I went back across the street to Sakura Bar and I was ready for a good time.
I had a stomach full of food, ready to soak up all the alcohol that I was about to consume. Now, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not a big drinker. But I was gonna have a good time in Vang Vieng at Sakura Bar. I always seem to compromise with myself when I'm making decisions. I knew that it wouldn't be wise to drink just anything, so I decided to stick with the Heineken.
I had a Dutch bartender serving me Dutch beer (Heineken) in Vang Vieng. I don't know why I thought that was cool, but as a traveler, I'm always observing culture because as a white American from a small town in the Midwest, I get off on cheap thrills like this. I guess because most people I grew up around speak English, are Protestant, and are Conservative. But this makes world travel so much more fun for me. Every time I go somewhere I know that I'm going to see something that I couldn't see growing up, at least in real life, when I arrive at these new destinations.
The bartender's name was Daan, he was really cool. He told me his story and I told him mine. I knew from our conversation that it was going to be a really good night. More people were coming in and the music was getting louder. I could feel that Heineken inside of me and I was happy.
I had a guy from Belgium wave his arms at me and signaled me to join him and his friends on the elevated dance stage. You know I agreed to it.
Dropping it Like it's Hot at Sakura Bar
I was having so much fun and it was just the first day. What a great first impression I had of this "backpacker's paradise." There were Lao girls that would grab me by my arm as I walked by, but I knew better, at least until the end of the night when one decided to follow me to my hotel. I'll leave it at that. Also, If you're a straight guy, watch out for the ladyboys.
UTV Buggy to Blue Lagoon & Bar Hoppin'
I woke up the next morning with a hangover, but a good one because I knew that it was well worth it. Besides, waking up after a night like that and to a morning with the view that I had at the Amari hotel, there was nothing that could keep me from enjoying that. You're supposed to wake up with hangovers in Vang Vieng. If you don't, then you're not in Vang Vieng.
It was about 10am. I ordered room service, some pancakes with orange juice.
My company had left before morning. I took a shower before the food came.
I wanted to get out and explore more of the area. The place where I rented a scooter the day before also rented UTV buggies. I had watched a video from another blogger who filmed himself riding a UTV buggy out to Blue Lagoon.
I wanted to experience the same adventure. So off I went.
UTV Buggy for Rent
200,000 Kip ($24 USD) for a 1 Hour Rental of a UTV Buggy
Vang Vieng UTV Buggy Route Map
I rented a UTV buggy for two hours. I figured that two hours was enough time to go see Blue Lagoon. I was able to see a lot of great scenery on the way, but it started raining about half way through the trip. It had stopped by the time I had arrived at Blue Lagoon. It took about 45 minutes to get there.
Vang Vieng to Blue Lagoon UTV Buggy Excursion
Blue Lagoon During the Dry Season (Not When I Was There)
Once I arrived at Blue Lagoon, I was disappointed that the water wasn't blue due to all the rainfall. I had watched videos of other travelers and the water was a beautiful blue color. But it was not the "Blue" Lagoon that I'd hoped for. I still had a good time watching people jump off the branch into the water. Despite the rainy season, there were still a lot of people there.
Blue Lagoon Jumper
Blue Lagoon (Gallery)
I was able to capture some great drone footage while I was having a beer at one of the restaurants. It was my first Carlsberg beer and it tasted great!!
Drone Footage of the Blue Lagoon Area in Vang Vieng
I headed back after spending about an hour at Blue Lagoon. I met a lady from Portugal and told her that she should meet me at Sukura Bar later. I don't believe she ever showed up, but maybe she did. Sukura was packed later that night. I needed to get back and get ready for round two and another night of fun in Vang Vieng. It was party time in Vang Vieng.
I made it back to the Amari hotel after returning the UTV buggy.
I took care of some personal business and took a shower to get all the rain and mud off of me. I spent some time sending messages to people and planning my itinerary. I ordered some chicken wings from room service and they were damn good. Of course, I was gonna go back to Sakura Bar, but I was also gonna hit up some more places as well. I guess I was gonna go bar hoppin' as they say. There are a LOT of places in Vang Vieng to have a good time. And there is something for everyone, even drugs that are easily accessible. The easy drugs are what brings a lot of people to Vang Vieng, but that's not my thing. I was gonna stick to Heineken and Beerlao.
Drug Menu at a Local Bar in Vang Vieng
Sakura Bar offered what we used to call "whippits." For those who don't know, they are balloons filled with Nitrous Oxide, the same gas that is used in whip cream charging bottles. They called them something else at Sakura, but they were big sellers as so many people seemed to enjoy them.
Whippits at Sakura Bar
I had so much fun the first night in Vang Vieng spending most of my time at just one place, I was looking forward to the second night where I'd spend a little bit of time at many different places. It was gonna be a good night.
British Friends at Viva Pub
Vietnamese Friend at Vang Vieng Rock Backpackers Hostel
Whippit Girls at Sakura Bar
Laotian Friend at Viva Pub
Laotian Friends at Sakura Bar
Irish Friend at Sakura Bar
Chinese Friends at Sakura Bar
Thai Friends at Sakura Bar
Laotian Friends at Khuanchai Restaurant
British Friends at La La Land
Indian Friends near Viva Pub
I was surprised to see so many different kinds of people in Vang Vieng, but it just confirms that Vang Vieng is a great place to be to have a good time.
Vang Vieng Nightlife
I was smart about how I doctored my beers all night. I knew that I was a lightweight and that I shouldn't consume anything that didn't have a Beerlao or Heineken label on it. It was fun being able to walk around and enjoy the night, while distributing my promotional stickers and making new friends.
As I was leaving Sakura Bar, my first and last stop of the evening, a young Laotian girl come up from behind and grabbed me by my arm.
I had spoken to her earlier, briefly, as I was making my rounds.
We went to Viva Pub, since Sakura Bar had closed at midnight.
We sat down, had a drink together, got to know each other better, and then both headed back to my room at the Amari hotel. We watched Argentina beat Nigeria in round play in the World Cup, but we didn't spend too much time watching television. Day 2 in Vang Vieng was a definite winner.
Nam Song River Excursion
I woke up with another feel good hangover. Me and my guest had breakfast while enjoying the picturesque view from my 5th floor room balcony of the Amari hotel. I mean, I wanted to really capture that view. Not just in a picture or in a video, but in my mind so that I could dream about it.
5th Floor Balcony View of the Amari Hotel
Speaking of the Amari hotel in Vang Vieng, the staff was excellent and the facilities and amenities were top-notch. It was everything you would expect from a 5-star hotel. Next time I come to Vang Vieng, I'm going to stay for a week and I will most definitely stay at the Amari hotel.
Now, for you budget travelers, which are most travelers, there are plenty of budget hostels and hotels that are available. In fact, if you're 25 years old or younger, then I'd recommend you stay at one of these places because there are other younger people there and these places are set up for younger people. The more expensive places tend to have an older, more conservative-type of crowd. I'm not saying they are better or worse, but just different.
There are also plenty of middle-of-the-road types of accommodations.
All and all, it really depends on who you are and what you prefer.
Me, I book different types of places when I travel. It's never the same.
After me and my guest enjoyed breakfast on the balcony, she took off and I decided to spend the day relaxing and recovering from the last two days.
I organized my photos and videos and thought about what else to do.
I decided to film a drone video of this beautiful hotel and it's pristine location.
Vang Vieng Drone Footage at the Amari Hotel
After I shot the video, I went out and bought some souvenirs. I tried to get money out of the ATMs but there was something wrong with the telecom.
I believe it had something to do with the weather.
Luckily, I had enough Kip (cash) on me to get through until the next day.
I couldn't leave Vang Vieng without telling people that I went down the Nam Song River in either a tube or a kayak. So, I started searching for a reputable tour operator who could hook me up. I didn't bother asking the folks at the hotel, instead I just headed back to where I rented the UTV buggy the day before. They, themselves, did not offer river tours but their friends next door did. I told him just a short excursion will do. The manager quoted me 150,000 Kip (about $18 USD) and I talked him down to 100,000 (about $12 USD). Again, not a big discount but it IS a discount. Again, always try to negotiate in Asia because more than likely, you can talk vendors down and it all adds up.
Nam Song River Kayaking
As you can see from my pants, I got soaked, but it was worth it. I was able to capture a lot of great scenery on the Nam Song River and I traveled with a guide who knew the river. I actually saw a couple of people at a river bar that I had met at Sakura Bar the first night I was in Vang Vieng. He was from Belgium, I'm not sure where his girlfriend was from. They were really cool.
Adam's Climbing School offers rock climbing (obviously), kayaking, fishing, hot air ballooning, scooter rentals, and all sorts of other fun stuff.
Just check out their website: www.vangviengclimbing.com
I really wanna take a hot air balloon up and enjoy the Lao landscape.
Vang Vieng from a Hot Air Balloon
Vang Vieng from a Hot Air Balloon
There used to be quite a few river bars along the shores of the Nam Song River until later 2012, when due to an increasing number of deaths on the river, the Lao Government shut many of them down. There were 27 tourists who died in 2011 due to being intoxicated and high and trying to do crazy dives and flips into the water. Many died hitting unseen rocks with their heads. There are about 10 hospital visits a day due to tourist related injuries, still today. Nonetheless, Vang Vieng is still FUN and is a great place to party!!!
Vang Vieng Welcome Sign
There's a joke that goes something like this, "If teenagers ruled the world, it would be like Vang Vieng." I think that's funny and just a little accurate.
Tubers on the Nam Song River w/ River Bar in the Background
Nam Song River Jumper
Big Slide Bar (River Bar)
Nam Song River Jumper
Nam Song River Bar
Nam Song River Bar
Vang Vieng is not a place for everyone, especially people who refrain from the party life or those who are very religious and spiritual. But that's what makes Vang Vieng stand out from the rest of Laos and what makes it special.
One of my friends told me, after my trip, that he feels sorry for the Lao men who have to see their women being taken advantage of by foreign men. I responded by saying that I don't feel sorry for the Lao men who are making a bunch of money off of tourism from all the big spenders who come to Vang Vieng. And the Lao women who have sex with foreigners for money choose to do so, and some of them do it for a living and actually make good money.
It's not up to me to decide if it's all right or wrong. I just show up to have fun.
With all that said, I always respect the local culture and support the local businesses and only treat the local women the way they want to be treated.
Regardless, my tourism dollars are putting food on tables and clothes on backs and places like Vang Vieng would not be thriving without tourists.
Finally, I will say that I hate irresponsible, unrespectable tourists.
As I reflect on my Vang Vieng experience, I realize how I'm just getting started as a traveler and how much beauty there really is to see in this world, and just how many cool people there are to meet and have fun with.
Come see Vang Vieng, Laos, regardless of who you are. It's AWESOME!!!
Leaving the Amari Hotel in Vang Vieng on the Way to Wattay International Airport in Vientiane
Map of Laos
For Further Info on Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is located about 4 hours north (by road) from the capital city of Vientiane. It is a tourist-oriented town with a population of about 25,000.
Vang Vieng sits on the Nam Song River and is known for its karst hill landscape, which is common throughout southeast Asia.
Buddhism is the predominant religion in Vang Vieng.
Significant expansion of the town and its infrastructure occurred during the 1964-73 Vietnam War when the US constructed an air force base and runway that was used by Air America. The airstrip was then called "Lima site 6" and the remains of the airstrip are still seen in Vang Vieng.
In recent years, Vang Vieng has become a backpacker's paradise. Drugs and alcohol are easily accessible to all age groups. Tourism related activities include tubing, kayaking, rock climbing, fishing, hot air ballooning, UTV buggy & scooter excursions, along with caving and other activities.
The dry season in Vang Vieng is November to February.
Nightlife is abundant in Vang Vieng and drugs such as "whippits" (nitrous oxide balloons), marijuana, mushrooms, and opium are common drugs that are easily accessible at many venues around town. Many food items and drinks are also offered with these ingredients and more. Various types of alcoholic beverages are everywhere as almost every hotel, bar, and restaurant sells alcohol. River bars also offer much of this stuff.
River bars offer ziplining, slides, swings, and planks for jumping.
In 2011, 27 tourists were killed mostly from accidents along the Nam Song River, as many sharp objects and rocks are unnoticeable in many parts of the river. In late 2012, the Lao government responded to international pressure from humanitarian groups to crack down on the Vang Vieng party scene. Many river bars were shut down and more regulation was enforced to the venues that were allowed to remain.
The Vang Vieng hospital reports about 10 visits per day from tourists who are sick from partying or who are injured from tourist-related activities.
Nonetheless, Vang Vieng remains a major international tourist party destination and the locals thrive off of tourist-related businesses. Vang Vieng is on the "Banana Pancake Trail," a growing southeast Asia tourist route that is being popularized by Western tourists.
Vang Vieng, like most of Asia, is a very inexpensive destination.
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