74. Bumming Around Vang Vieng

Crum-Bumming Around Vang Vieng: Not only home to Smile Bar Island, this spot in Laos is a young backpacker’s dream. Cheap beer, river tubing, beds for $5 a night, abundant (still illegal) local marijuana, loads of restaurants serving Western food while showing Friends episodes and plenty of like-minded company to behave poorly with. The town itself has become the quintessential backpackers ghetto, with every business on main street providing pizza, internet services, bus tickets, souvenir t-shirts and Pringles. It’s exactly the kind of atmosphere that I loathe and that Amy is much better at making the best of, though in this case it was easy to make an exception. The location is stunning, jagged peaks of limestone framing a lush green river valley that’s dotted with untouched caves, bamboo footbridges and endless rice paddies. And despite the fact that most traces of local culture have been erased from the town center, the locals have managed to maintain their sense of humor about the young Western invasion. We shelved all of our aspirations for eco-cultural-sensitive-30something-liberal tourism and enjoyed four or five (can’t remember) days of:

Tubing – Reminiscent of our best days in Oregon, we crept for 4 hours along the Nam Song to the sounds of the Red Hot Chili Peppers(?), Pearl Jam(??) and Snoop Dog($) blaring from riverside bars that tempt drunken floaters with 2 for 1 Beerlao, zip lines and high jumps into the river. The cool water and hot sun felt like love, but we missed our Portland river rat friends something awful. The group of vacationing English teachers from Thailand and the Australian kid who called himself “King Dookie” were poor substitutes. On the lighter side, despite swimming fully clothed in her trademark Black on Black + Hat style, Amy still managed to sunburn her hands. Her hands.

General Sloth – See Smile Bar Island.

Caving – I won’t say it was spelunking, because that feels like the kind of thing you do with skill and advance planning. We just rented a motorcycle and asked around. The upshot of not knowing what you’re getting into is that you’re treated to frequent surprise, as was the case when we slipped and groped our way a couple kilometers into a very dark cave (with the help of a local guide/flashlight owner) to finally find a very fresh, very cold, very deep underground lake. We came prepared with bathing suits and our guide came prepared with underwear, so we all enjoyed one of the most amazing swimming experiences ever.


  1. Hi Sloan & Amy,

    We hope your travels are going well, and that you have not been in any more broken down busses.

    Thanks for the comment on our blog, and we will be keeping our eye out for you since our journeys are so near parallel.

    Be safe,
    Joey & Erin

  2. Anonymous says:

    Your river rat friends are gonna miss you this summer as well. We promise to drink a PBR for you and leave our keys in the car.

  3. Your river rat friend just bought some swim trunkz with a Velcro pocket so he doesn’t lose his keys again this summer!