19 February 2015

Vang Vieng, the backpacker frontier town

Today I left Luang Prabang and rode 189 km to Vang Vieng. Here you can see the bag I bought to carry my newly-acquired artwork/treasures...

Thanks to the recently-paved road connecting Highway 4 to 13 at Kasi that I mentioned in a previous post, there are two options for LP-VV. The first stretch is the same, and then 13 bears left while 4 goes right. I took 4 because I wanted to try the new part and (mostly) because it is ~4 hours vs. the ~6 hours on Highway 13.

Early in the ride I was passed by a Vietnamese-licensed SUV with "QT" in red as part of the otherwise black license number. With # standing in for whatever the numbers were, it read ##-QT-###-##. I have no idea what that signifies, though I definitely never noticed one like it in all my months in VN.

The Reise map shows the shorter route, indicating the first 10% and the final 60% as "Other" with the 30% between as "Track/trail". I can assure you that except for a few hundred meters, it's now a "Secondary" road. Once the map is updated, it will most likely show the entire 68 km as "Scenic" as well.

Total travel time from Luang Prabang was about 4.5 hours including a number of stops for photos and one for nectarines.

A few kilometers in from Highway 4, there was a tour bus broken down and blocking the opposite lane of traffic. A tow truck was backed up to it and in the process of removing the engine. My guess Is that's because they don't have a truck powerful enough to tow the bus over the hills, so they remove the engine, take it somewhere for repair/rebuild, then reinstall it. I've certainly never seen a tow truck even as big as the one pulling the engine. It was definitely too small to haul the bus up these hills.

Speaking of kilometers... why to some people (like me) say, "kil-ah-mit-r" and others say, "kee-low-me-ter"? Is is accent? Or is it, as I have convinced myself, that we who use the first pronunciation think of it as one unit, a "kil-ah-mit-r" and those who use the second think of it as 1,000 meters... a kilo of meters?

Another question I've had time to ponder... At what AGL (Above Ground Level) do hills become mountains?

Is it a "mountain" if it has sheer cliffs on the side?
Does haze make them seem more like mountains?The protrusions here look like what I would call steep and craggy hills, though they could also be described as small mountains.

As you can see from the above photos, the ride was picturesque. What I am unable to show you with photos is how technically challenging some of the curves were. More than once I entered a decreasing radius curve a little too fast and got to use a little engine braking and a little braking to realign myself. After a while I realized that I was riding maybe 20% slower than I could in subconscious anticipation that every curve was such. They weren't, of course, though it did allow me to enjoy the scenery a bit more.

As I wrote in a recent post, the straight stretches sometimes give my mind a bit of freedom to wander. Today I suddenly wondered, "What happened to the sleazy little guy in District 1 (Ho Chi Minh City) who sold watches and sunglasses one-by-one? I wonder if he's in jail 'cause they finally caught him sourcing his inventory? Or did they just give him a beating and run him out of town?" I enjoyed watching him ply his trade...

There are a couple spots in the road close to Van Vieng where the locals sell various items from crudely-made stands. The item that caught my eye was nectarines and after passing a LOT of stands, I promised myself that I would stop at the next one. Fortunately, there was a next one... and I pulled over. The second thing I noticed (after the fruit) was a little girl (maybe 2) wrapped up in a quite intense crying jag. As one of the women weighed my kilo of oranges, I pulled a bag of peanut M&M's out of my jacket pocket and offered one to the little girl. She stopped crying and looked at me as if to ask, "WTF is THAT?"

So I popped another out of the bag and into my mouth. She stared at me for a few seconds... "He's not keeling over, so it might be safe" before putting her's into her mouth. I'm guessing it's the first M&M she's ever seen, so I poured out three more and held them in my open palm. She grabbed them without hesitation. Her Mom tried to get her to say "Kop chai", but she wasn't talking so Mom said it for her. There were smiles all around as I remounted and rode away.

Funny that. Today was the first day I had chocolate with me on the road and it came in handy. I've not seen it outside tourist zones, except on a croissant, and the Lao people probably don't see it very much. When you see it here, stock up, 'cause it may be a few more days 'til you see it again. I hope the little girl gets more M&M's some day...

According to an overheard conversation my first morning here, 10 years ago there were only two guest houses here in Vang Vieng. Now, they are omnipresent. The place I landed is one you would almost certainly never see if you just started walking the strrets and looking for a room. I'm very glad I did a bit of searching on-line a few days ago.

Jammee's Guesthouse (found on is on the edge of town and very quiet. I booked triple 'cause it's all they had available on-line. At first he put me in a double on the ground floor near the entrance because he thought that I would not want to be above a room with children who wake up at 6 a.m. Since I was paying more for the triple, I asked to see it—and immediately decided that the nice balcony overlooking nature and a lightly-traveled gravel road to the river would more than make up for the possible early wake-up call. Rooms 7, 8 (mine), 9, and 10 are the only ones here with a balcony.

Note: If you are okay with a 1 km or so walk to "the action" in VV, stay at Jammee's. The place is quiet, the staff very accomodating, and the included Western breakfast is quite good.

After a short nap to help compensate for only five hours' sleep last night, I took a walk in search of a very late lunch/early dinner. This is DEFINITELY a backpacker town! A 21st century dusty, dirty, frontier town for The Entitled Generation. Despite the numerous signs asking visitors to wear proper clothing on the street (more than bathing suits) as a sign of respect for the locals who put thought into how they dress, fat-assed young women in bikini bottoms and clueless stud wannabes with bad tattoos so numerous they apparently take the place of the requested shirt are everywhere.

The sign says nothing about the spliff, so is that okay? ;-)

And what's with the too-small fedoras? They can look almost cute on some women,

but they look ridiculous on guys.

Especially old guys!

To the guys who think you look cool... you do NOT. They're almost as stupid as a backward baseball caps when you're not looking through a camera viewfinder or playing catcher in baseball. Someone needs to tell you that the girls you're trying to impress will be too busy laughing AT you to ever get nekkid with you.

With the omnipresent dust, Vang Vieng is grungier than Bùi Vien on its worst early morning, though it does lack the piles of litter and trash. It has tons of bars, including side-by-side backpacker bars with double HUGE screen TV's playing "Friends" at one and "American Dad" or something like it at the other. Lots of mom-and-pop places with NO customers. I wandered until I saw a sign saying, "Amigo's Mexican Food, 50m —>" at which point I strode purposefully. I haven't had Mexican food since October and hoped it would be authentic.

Amigo's Mexican Food restaurant is on a side street about halfway between the main drag and the backpacker street. It was empty, save for two 20-somethings at the bar, so I asked the very personable bartender/server/bus person if they had Beerlao Gold or Beerlao Dark?

"No, sorry, limited cooler space gives us room for only Beerlao." (Beerlao is WAY TOO LIGHT for me.)

Do you have Wi-Fi?

"No, sorry."

Do you have sangria?

"Yes, I can make it."

Okay, I'd like one, please.

She brought my very good scratch-made sangria and I ordered. My appetizer was Vegetarian Nachos and they were VERY good! They were also the first nachos I ever had that were sprinkled liberally with black pepper. WOW! My entre was a chicken-mango burrito that would've been just as good with black or pinto beans in place of the chicken. That may've been the vegetarian version that I passed on because it didn't have mango salsa listed. I would order that next time and ask for the salsa...

Click here for my route from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng... EXCEPT that I went across the Old Bridge and turned left at the T-intersection, then right to pick up the route shown.

Google Maps does not allow for driving over the Old Bridge and they're right if you're on anything wider than a motorcycle.


  1. Amazing stuff and beautifully written. Only wish I could be there!

    1. You've heard of flying machines, right? LOL