With thoughts of liver-pounding river parties swirling around my head, I get off of the mini-bus in Vang Vieng, Laos with nothing on the agenda. It doesn’t seem like there is anything on anyone’s agenda in this town. A quick glimpse around the muddy streets confirms that it is a dumpy little city. After being in the religious, artistic, and beautiful areas of Luang Prabang, the handful of blocks full of convenience stores, tourist shops, westernized bars/restaurants, and crappy hostels in Vang Vieng do not impress. But I don’t think that is why people come to Vang Vieng.
It sits right on the Nam Song river with a backdrop of limestone mountains and forest. Even though it is advertised as a party area, it really seems to be transitioning more to outdoor activities like kayaking, trekking, and visiting caves.
Vang Vieng Before 2012 vs. Vang Vieng Today
Once the location for unspeakable river-ragers and partying so hard that over 30 tourists died in 2011, it is actually very quiet and almost peaceful today. After the government crack down due to so many deaths, less than 100 people were on the river with me and only two river bars are open. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is still partying, but it is much more mellow and relaxing. Maybe it is artificially empty because it is the low season for tourism and the rain keeps some people away. Maybe not.
I catch a glimpse of that epic era from the past when 15-20 of the local ex-pats who work in the hostels and bars in town waltz into the same river bar as me. It is one of their birthdays. By the looks of it, most of them have been in Vang Vieng, or somewhere in Asia, for multiple years. They live in a loop, constantly floating, partying, drinking, inhaling laughing gas, rinsing and repeating.
In the middle of the river bar on the dance floor, one guy lays down on his back and proceeds to beer bong a Beer Lao, not out of a tube or a funnel, but off of another man’s ass crack and grundle. A man in his late twenties squats over the face of the guy laying down and a girl slowly pours a beer onto his lower back. Good old gravity takes the beer down his back and through the devil’s playground until it trickles off into the not so eager mouth of the poor bastard. It takes me a few glances, maybe three, to register in my brain what I’m seeing. At first, I think one guy is diarrheaing into the other guy’s mouth. So, realizing it is beer is a relief. Disgusting, tainted beer (pun intended).
Now, in the man’s defense, my brain automatically starts searching for reasons this ungodly act is happening. The first guess is that he lost a bet. Around 10 hours later at 1 AM, the beer-bonger is the bartender in the crappy bar Stu and I end up at. I receive verbal confirmation from Stu that he did indeed lose a bet. A true man of honor and integrity.
Vang Vieng Nightlife = Sakura Bar
At night, there is really only one thing to do in Vang Vieng – go to Sakura Bar. The shirts from this bar are all over Southeast Asia and for good reason. Free unlimited whiskey covers the bar top from 8-9 pm every night. Dancing and music start around the same time and go until close at midnight. It seems like every tourist and local in the whole town are at this bar every night. I don’t know what the other bars in town do or why they exist, but they are as empty inside as Vlad the Impaler’s heart.
Thoughts on Vang Vieng
If you are looking to drink and meet other travelers, a few nights in Vang Vieng is a fun time. You can float the river, go to Sakura Bar, and maybe go on a trek during another day. If your traveling goals are geared towards culture, local cuisine, and nature, you won’t find much here. It does have some nice outdoor options that are worth a pit stop on your way to or from Luang Prabang; however, if you are at the point in your life where shitty, free whiskey for one hour doesn’t excite you, you might want to keep on movin’.
If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to my blog here and be sure to follow me on social media