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Vang Vieng, Laos

Adventure Playground

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Mist-covered crags and gently winding streams in a pastoral landscape of rice paddies and bamboo woods. Jagged edges of sun-streaked limestone. Vang Vieng has a gentle magic; an attraction that makes people spend more time here than planned and leave reluctantly. Half way between Vientiane, the modern capital and Luang Prabang, the old royal capital of Laos, Vang Vieng is set on the banks of the Nam Song River in the kind of landscape that brings joy to your eyes and peace to your soul.

Until recently the town was nothing much more than an American-built landing strip from the Secret War and a few rows of wooden houses albeit set in some of the most beautiful scenery in Southeast Asia. Today it is a traveler’Äôs centre; three busy-streets full of backpackers and adventure tourists doing the Southeast Asia loop. It’Äôs not a pretty place and comes as quite a shock after 7 or 8 hours of traveling the empty roads of rural Laos. The dusty, broken streets seem to be all guesthouses and open-air restaurants decorated as opium dens and showing endless "Friends" reruns or playing Bob Marley tapes. Shop houses with stacked kayaks and inflated inner tubes advertise local tours and water activities, and everyone around seems to be a visitor.

Not that it really matters of course, as everyone is here for the scenery and the adventure it provides, treating Vang Vieng itself as a base camp for exploration, a sort of necessary evil.

At night it’s a party town. What the restaurants and bars lack in variety they make up for in volume and for those looking for a quieter time it would be better to stay as far away from the centre as possible. Many travellers take advantage of the more exotic forms of eastern promise in spite of the risks to health and freedom. By day the town is decidedly low key as everyone deals with their hangover or worse. There are plenty of easy walks and chances to play in the river and generally recover and prepare yourself for the next night’s revelries.


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