I rode shotgun in the shuttle van that took us to Vang Vieng and sat beside a tall white girl. We hardly spoke, just smiled at each other, her companions, as mine are sitting on the back seats. It’s a shared ride, the driver picked up guests from different hotels. Among them is an old French woman and as soon as my friends learned her nationality, they told her that I can speak French. I cringed at the declaration the way a kid loathes her mother for telling everyone she could sing then forces her to perform in front of her guests. But I indulged and asked the woman, “Vous êtes seule ?” (you’re alone?), to which she confirmed yes, this was a trip that she and her husband had planned but he passed away. She said that she decided to continue the journey as her husband would have wanted. It was a 4-hour trip to Vang Vieng from Vientiane and while I tried to get some sleep, my friend had to talk with the French woman who never ran out of stories.
Getting to Vang Vieng from Vientiane
We each paid LAK 70,000 (USD 7.56) for the shuttle ride. We had one stopover for a bathroom break. I wasn’t hungry but I saw a vendor grilling something and I was so curious I convinced my friends that we go and get something to share. We didn’t know what it was until we took a bite and realized it’s sticky rice on a stick. It was a bit tough and bland that after that one bite, I let my friend Cai finish it.
Four hours into our journey, I opened my eyes and felt unprepared for the beauty that lay before us. The town is surrounded by limestone mountains and it was quite a sight. It heightened my excitement to see what Vang Vieng has in store for us.
The French woman joined us in a tuktuk ride to get to the hostel. The driver wanted us to pay 30,000 LAK per head to which my friends disagreed, telling him that it’s too expensive. I stood there wondering why they were making a big deal out of it until I converted it in my head and realized it’s around 150 pesos. Okay, that’s expensive when the hostel isn’t even that far. Thank god for friends because if it were me, I would just go ahead and pay it. You see, haggling is not among my best skills.
We dropped off the French woman first, she was carrying a couple of big suitcases and she struggled to carry them all. The driver just stopped on the side of the road and didn’t want to take her all the way to her hostel reasoning that his tuktuk wouldn’t fit into the narrow street. He was, of course, just trying to make excuses because he could definitely drive his tuktuk there if he wanted to, he just didn’t want to bother.
At first, the woman didn’t want to get off, then I heard my friends telling the driver to help her with her stuff. Either the driver didn’t understand what they were saying or he just lied about helping her because as soon as he dropped the last of her suitcase, he went back to his tuktuk and left her standing there on the side of the street. I saw a look of disbelief registered on the face of the French woman as she watched the tuktuk sped away. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
Where to stay in Vang Vieng
The driver took us to Magic Monkey Garden Bungalow and Dormitory. It’s in a good location that my friends and I had no trouble touring on foot for most of our stay in Vang Vieng. We stayed in a dorm room with over 10 beds with the rate per night of Php 868. While the hostel is generally okay, there are some things that they could improve on, which I talked about in my review linked below. [Check Magic Monkey room rates here]
Things to do in Vang Vieng
Lunch at Vieng Tara Villa
While searching for places to see in Vang Vieng on Instagram, I saw photos of this wooden bridge on a vast rice field. Immediately, I convinced my friends that we go looking for it first thing in the morning. Thanks to the geotag and google maps, we found the location; a resort called Vieng Tara Villa [Check room rates here].
We didn’t know at first that it’s a resort until we approached the front desk to ask if we could take photos. They said that it’s not open for tourists so as not to disturb their guests. We were disappointed but understood that the staff is only following their policy. However, we also went there to have lunch, thus they let us in. To our delight, the restaurant offers a perfect view of the rice field. At least from the resto we were free to take photos.
Then we sat at our table and checked their menu. They have set meals that are good for three people, and we ordered two of them. While waiting for our food, I filmed Cai’s dancing to the tune of Tala by Sarah Geronimo. He had been practicing and dancing the damn thing since we arrived, and he finally nailed it. Back then it was a Tiktok dance craze, with thousands of people filming themselves as they do the tribal-inspired movements of the dance. God only knows what the resort’s staff was thinking as they saw Cai’s random dancing.
Finally, it’s lunchtime and they started serving our food. When they kept coming back to serve more, my friends and I looked at each other wondering if they made a mistake. We didn’t anticipate that the serving is big and that one set meal would have been enough for the four of us. There’s fried rice, fried chicken, deep-fried fish, salad, and desserts, to say that we were overwhelmed would be an understatement. Hard as we tried, we couldn’t finish everything but nobody complained as the food was very delicious. I could have sworn I gained a few pounds by this lunch alone.
Not sure if it’s the fact that we had lunch at their restaurant that when we asked again, they allowed us to take photos in the rice field. They just asked us to keep it down because they have guests in the villas. We happily complied, making sure that we didn’t venture further than we’re supposed to.
Hang out at Inthira
We found Inthira as we were searching for a cafe and saw what seemed to be an underground entrance. Curious, we descended through the stairs that led to a posh restaurant and bar with a view of the river. The design of the building is something to be admired with windows that reminded me of a Rubix cube. Yes, that’s the best way I could describe, I really don’t know what else to tell you, but you can just look at the picture below.
Impressed, we decided to stay for some drinks, my friends opting for juices, while I ordered an iced coffee. It turns out that Inthira is a hotel we just discovered its in-house restaurant. We saw people kayaking on the river and I remember wondering how could they bear the heat of the sun. But I enjoyed watching them pass by the river, it was kinda therapeutic, to be honest. [Check Inthira room rates here]
Party at Sakura Bar
That night, I was supposed to wear the white top that I bought from Bangkok but it was too loose on the sides it looked weird on me. Good thing I got the pink satin top, so I put it on, paired it with my high-waist jeans, then I was ready to party.
We walked about 15 minutes from our hostel to Ban Savang. This street sits in an area where you can find a string of bars and restaurants as well as hostels. We didn’t know exactly where to go and decided to just play it by ear. We then spotted Sakura Bar, a bar filled with people, with KPop music blaring from the speakers. The majority of people inside were Korean tourists, that explains the kpop, I thought to myself. They were dressed in trendy clothes, singing along, having the time of their life dancing to the upbeat music. We entered and got a table at the end of the room where a bonfire was burning.
I saw many people in the bar with balloons and I didn’t know what they were until I saw Patit and Cai with a blue balloon, discussing how the damn thing works. Cai sucks a little bit of air from the balloon. I don’t remember now whether I volunteered or if my friends asked me to give it a try, but the next thing I knew, I was holding the balloon. I thought I was inhaling helium and that it would change my voice to a high cartoonish pitch, but they told me that this is a different balloon; this balloon will make me laugh. It’s called a happy balloon and it contains nitrous oxide (N2O) a.k.a laughing gas.
Thoughts were running through my head like, is this even legal? Am I going to get high? So at first, I took minimal sips as I was worried about the outcome. Nothing seemed to be happening so they advised me to inhale all of it and I was like, what? All of it?!
Suddenly it doesn’t seem so scary that I finished the entire thing as instructed. Patit acted surprised that I actually did it. I sat there waiting to feel something but nothing seemed to change. I told them that I didn’t feel like I’m having the urge to laugh but as soon as I said that, it suddenly hit me. It’s a weird tingling sensation like a million ants were crawling on my skin. It also made me a little bit lightheaded. While I was in the middle of articulating these to my friends, the sensation was gone. My mind is blown, it was something I’ve never felt before.
I’ve never taken drugs in my life so I don’t know what it feels like to be high. I’m not saying that the happy balloon made me high, but I’m wondering if I experienced something similar to it. Would I try it again? Definitely. Yes, I was taken aback but it wasn’t an unpleasant experience at all. I think it’s harmless if you only finish one balloon just like I did. But I’m not an expert so don’t take my word for it.
After that, we went to the dance floor to join the partying Koreans. And in our group, nobody else enjoyed all that dancing other than Cai. He even went up on the stage and danced to his heart’s content.
In the thick of all this happening, the music suddenly died that we thought it was a technical glitch. Turns out, that was it, the party was over. We found out that the bars follow an 11 pm curfew in Vang Vieng and Sakura Bar is obviously compliant. It was both weird and funny considering how abrupt they ended things.
Have drinks at Gary’s Irish Bar
We moved to Gary’s Irish Bar for more drinks; the place has billiard tables, a bar, and white people getting drunk. We shared a table with two German girls who were backpacking in Southeast Asia We ordered some cocktails and had fun sharing travel stories and plans with them. They’re both young, still in the early 20s. They said that their next destination in Myanmar, a country that I have yet to visit.
The German girls invited us to join them at another party somewhere (we don’t know where). Lots of people were heading there and we even saw them filling up several tuk-tuks. We thought about going but the auntie in us was strong that we decided to call it a night. And so we started the long walk back to our hostel, still laughing about how this night ended for us.
Have coffee at Champa Lao Bungalow
There are many cool cafes in Vang Vieng, and if only we stayed longer, I would have tried them all. One good example is the coffee shop of Champa Lao Bungalow. Not only does it have delicious coffee, but the place also offers an amazing view of the mountains. You can read my review of the cafe at the link below.
Watch the sunset at Smile Beach Bar
The German girls recommended this place, which they claim offers the best spot for watching the sunset. Getting there, we crossed a bridge and spotted two dogs that seemed to be leading the way. I kid you not they kept us company as we made our way to the bar. They would even stop and appeared like they were waiting for us whenever we halted to take photos. It is thanks to our furry friends that we found a clearing where the Smile Beach Bar is.
The bar has cottages with hammocks facing the river. I saw a sign that says, guests must order if they want to stay, or they will be asked to leave. They also charge a corkage fee for outside food or drinks. But the thing that really caught my attention is this line, “You come my country you should respect our rules. I go your country I respect your rules too.” I mean, they got a point.
On the menu, they offer alcohol, fruit juice, and snacks. We ordered some drinks and snacks, lazed in the hammocks, and watched the sun go down. They played electronic dance music, I even Shazamed a few for the title like These Days Are Ours by Emma Hewitt.
Cai and I only stayed for 3 days in Vang Vieng, something we both regretted as the place is too beautiful, we wished we could have stayed longer. Patit and Christine stayed behind and spent a few more days there before the former went to Luang Prabang, and the latter to Bangkok.
To this day, some of my most favorite travel memories happened in Laos. From the gentle people, rich culture, and stunning landscapes, everything about this trip lingers in my mind and in my heart. Laos reminded me, there’s still beauty to be seen in this world, in the time I have become less engaged in the trips I’d been taking.
Luang Prabang, Patit shared is even more beautiful. I am definitely not over Laos. And once we’re free to travel again, I shall return.