Vang Vieng is a place of real contrasts: there is jaw-dropping natural beauty (the surrounding area is just about the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited), but the town itself is a mecca for trash-tourism.
We began our time here with a trip to the fabled blue lagoon – apparently a ‘must-see’ in Vang Vieng. We hired a scooter and headed out for the short, dusty ride to the lagoon. We should have guessed by the stream of quad bikes we encountered on our way, but the place was heaving, and our first sight of this natural wonder was the carpark…
We’d heard it was best to arrive in the morning, so god knows what it must be like in the afternoon. The place was overrun. A few days later, a conversation with a local guest-house owner told us that the lagoon had featured on a popular South Korean TV show and has been innundated by Korean tour parties ever since. One odd thing about this is that a good chunk of the visitors can’t swim, but pop on life jackets and leap in all the same. A more depressing thing that the guesthouse owner told us is that a few savvy Korean businessmen snapped up some hotels in town and all the groups we’d seen stay there, so very little of the extra income ends up in Laotian pockets.
The place itself must have been utterly gorgeous back in the day, but much of this has been lost due to the addition of plastic slides, dodgy-looking zipwires, tin-roofed shacks and more than a few truck loads of concrete.
We left pretty quickly, passing a completely bewildered-looking man who’d obviously been expecting something a little more peaceful…
Happily, over the next few days Vang Vieng began to show its best face, which I’ll talk about more soon – we explored deserted caves, swam in cooling rivers and secret lagoons and even had a completely relaxing time tubing (hint – go in the morning before the crowds get there and it’s sooooo peaceful and chilled).
But there is only one absolute and undisputed highlight of our stay in Vang Vieng – our sunrise balloon trip. I have to confess that we probably did this because it was relatively cheap – only $80 each, which would be a damn sight less than you’d pay pretty much anywhere else in the world. Now I’m not good with heights, so the idea of a money-saving balloon ride didn’t exactly leave me feeling relaxed, but you only live once as they say…
We were collected from our hotel at 6am and driven to the nearby launch site. There were three balloons flying in total, and ours was the second to be prepared. I have to say that the repair patches and small holes in the balloon didn’t exactly relax me, but it was too late to back out now.
Once the balloon was inflated, Lisa and I and six other passengers jumped aboard and waited… Then suddenly, gently, almost imperceptibly, we began to climb. It was a beautiful feeling rising silently (apart from the burners) above Vang Vieng. We were soon quite high up and the views of the town, the mountains and the sunrise were staggering – the pictures will describe it better than my words ever could:
In short: we loved it. If you’re in Vang Vieng and have a head for heights then DO IT! 🙂