I'm beginning to forget where I've been. Over two months in and someone will say to me, "Remember when we were in Vang Vieng and....." or "Remember that place we stayed in Don Det?" and it will take me a full minute to recall. Where I was, where I stayed, what it looked like. All these cities and countries blend together and become one big Asia, and I strain to recall each one.
It's really not the worst problem to have.
Vang Vieng, just south of Luang Prabang in Laos, is an.....interesting place. It's really famous for its tubing, which in recent years has been the site of multiple deaths. (Drunken tourists floating down a big river in a tube. Ahem.) There are bars to stop at along the way, they throw out a rope and pull you in, and it's truly just a big circus. There used to be many bars open along the river, but now only two are allowed to be open at a time. Which is plenty. It seemed apparent right from the start that the goal is just to get as day-drunk as possible, which wasn't really my thing. We did drink a bit and moved on, but the tubing itself was really disappointing.
I think the hardest part was watching the seven-ish year old Lao girls running around the bar, playing jokes on tourists and dumping water on their heads, setting up their own beer pong games with water and knowing exactly how to play. Drunk guys cheered them on and I just couldn't watch. They weren't in school, they weren't at home, their parents were nowhere to be seen -- it seemed very much like this was a typical day for them.
And that always makes me question -- who are we to come into these impoverished countries and trash their landscapes with filthy bars and drunken tourists and bad reputations? It made me a bit sad. That's really the highlight of Vang Vieng, and I was left wanting more.
Of course, there were still caves and lagoons and mountains to be explored. And a bustling nightlife (we avoided the one really crazy, awful bar) that includes "Friends bars" -- literally, bars that play episodes of Friends on repeat. In essence -- my dream bar. It was hilarious and familiar and so cool.
But beyond all that, Laos really is a beautiful country. And doing the loop south from the slow boat was so fun -- all the backpackers end up heading in the same direction on the same timeline, and so it's almost like traveling with a big group of friends all the time. Strangers became familiar faces and it's something I miss now.
One more stop in Laos, and then I headed to Cambodia! Coming soon!