to Vang Vieng

Phonsavan to Vang Vieng
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Riding through Laos (despite the terrible road conditions about 60% of the time) is peaceful and beautiful. The roads, roadside villages and green are a bit like parts of Central America, but bigger and easier. In CA you aways have that unknown factor, the potential for someone or something going wrong. Not here. The flip is that if you break down big here you have a big problem. If you can’t fix your bike yourself you’ll have to truck it to Thailand or go to my ’emergency plan’ (more on this soon too)
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The ridge villages you ride through
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Then something crazy happens. I round a corner and there’s this huge pack of big adventure bikes. The ones upstream of where we pull in
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And downstream
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They’re Thai, from Bangkok, on great bikes and bubbling with happy, lol. They’re celebrating the King’s birthday (seems everyone in Thailand does this) with a 5 day blast through a convenient section of Laos. They have not only a superb support vehicle with parts and mechanic, but a police escort. If you’re going to do it, do it big they think. Really fantastic.

They make me a coffee from the truck
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I would have loved to ride with them for a day, I think afterwards.

Then, after they ride off, an hour later the views are like nothing we’ve ever seen
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Sun in the wrong place for the pic, we ride through these abrupt huge limestone peaks
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There’s a surprising stop. Modern, two restaurants
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On a big glass plate wall there are ride stickers. No vanity stickers (a subject we’ll also be writing about soon) but SE Asian group/ride stickers from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and one from Laos. Almost better than anything else, they tell the story of the fun these local ride clubs have.

Just a bunch
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This club has been around
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The Laos club
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There’s no compromising or Mr Nice Guy. But they don’t mean it. They just pick up the flavour from bike clubs in the States and go with it
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My favorite. An ADV scooter club! Wish I’d seen them
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The dream-like views continue
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We ride through this valley
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And then the sun is a bit behind us
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The final 30 miles was all like this
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Into Vang Vieng, famous for the incredible situation
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Into the town proper.

It’s a complete dump. A backpacker destination, catering to that market niche and famous worldwide for it
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Not great
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This is the big thing. Or was the big thing. You rent a tube and get driven upstream a few miles
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Then you drift down, stopping to drink at the riverside bars.

They used to sell a drink here called Lao-Lao, 45% proof, at a price of $2 a litre. Seriously. Plus there’s pot everywhere but all kinds of mushroom drinks which need a ton of caution, not something backpackers are famous for.

In the worst year, 2011, 27 kids died. They drowned, dove off things onto rocks, did stupid things. According to a Guardian article, the hospital here gets around 10 injured backpackers a day.

So anyway there’s been a big clamp down in various ways to protect them against themselves and now it’s a bit quieter apparently, but is still a dump.

Here’s a riverside bar. You paddle up in your tire, grab a floating table and get drinks from behind
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Some very good bridges
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oops
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This is the common vehicle in the countryside. It’s used to plow fields and carry stuff around, everything. Here carrying a load of ladies across the bridge. The umbrellas? 2 reasons for that, one obvious, one surprising. Later
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There they go. Excellent sight
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Another bridge, to the floating bars. It’s early so the drinking hasn’t started
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A tight fit for 2 scooters
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A truck river crossing, excellent
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