Vang Vieng, Laos : Same Same, No Difference

I was in Vang Vieng, Laos, in 2012 for 12 days and left just few days before the tubing activity was forced to shut down by the government of Laos PDR. There was number of death and injuries from the past years but what I heard is the tubing was shut down not because of “that” more than 20 young soul (mainly Australians) died on Nam Song (Song river) but just because one of Australian minister’s son died, the Australian government put on pressure towards the local government and … no more tubing for few months.
When I was there 2012, I felt sorry for the locals that their beautiful town was like being rape by drunk zombies, culture insensitive people and well, annoying youngster who acted like they own that place. Although there was (and still) a sign of no bikinis for woman, no spedo for man but these unculture people seems like blind and illiterate – ignorance to the max. Of course the locals not saying anything because they need money from the backpackers/tourists but that should not be a license for one (in this case, many) to act like a douchebag.
It even kindda annoyed me too that to learn that these youngsters came to Vang Vieng just to get drunk, to get high and tubing. Vang Vieng is more that that. Vang Vieng is not just about tubing along Nam Song. In Vang Vieng you can go cave tubing, swim in a chill Blue Lagoon, rock climbing, kayaking, enjoy the scenery with hot-air balloon and well, eat lots of delicious baguette sandwiches or pancakes!
So, I came again to Vang Vieng in December 2013, March 2014  for visa run from Hanoi, Vietnam.  And again in April 2015 (stayed there for a month) before going to Hanoi again for a month – just to kill some “time” before going off, back to Europe.
The town was not as busy as back in 2012 but still I’d still able to see few drunk zombies walking back to their hostel/hotel when the sun already rised. Just few, very few compare to 2012 butincreasing. But still many still on the road with their bikinis, as well on the river side. Well, can’t they just wear shorts and singlet or t-shirt for tubing rather than showing their boobs, bums to the local that definitely not gonna say a shit about it but for sure they not gonna like it? Mehhhh…
On the other note, tubing at Nam Song seems kinda boring after the “shut down” as the river is not as deep as back in 2012 although it wasn’t dry season. The water also pretty cold that make everyone shivering when they off to the land. And instead of line of bars on the left and right of the river, there were only 3 tubing bars open. Maybe more now. The crazy first bar (Q Bar) and second bar (Star Bar) that on-business in 2012 wasn’t there anymore. People will start at the first bar (Mama’s Bar) and 100 meters down to the right is second bar (Kangaroo Sunset) and another 100 meters down to the left after second bar is the third bar (Last Bar). That’s about it. And from my observation, not many people tubing all the way down to the town like last year. They’ll stop at the Last Bar, party until sunset and then go back to the town by tuktuk.
Tubing still charged at the same renting price of 55,000LOK and deposit of 60,000LOK. If you rent the tube, you get to the Nam Song for free but you still have to pay 10,000LOK if you decide to go back by tuktuk. If you are not rent the tube, you still can go to the Nam Song and pay the tuktuk 10,000LOK per person (min. 5 people or else they’ll charge you more).
To go to Blue Lagoon, I suggest to rent a semi-auto scooter at 30,000LOK up to 8pm. But in order to go to Blue Lagoon, you gotta pass through a bridge where the local charge you a passing toll for 5,000LOK return and then you need to pay another 10,000LOK per person in order to enter to the Blue Lagoon. I am not sure how much you have to pay if you want to go to the Blue Lagoon by tuktuk.
Hot Air Baloon or “Vang Vieng From The Sky” available at few tour office around the town and the price is between USD$75 – USD$80. I didn’t do that because I am running out of money. LOL!
For rock climbing, there’s a few climbing school/center around Vang Vieng. For courses, the fees are varies from USD$25 per half a day to USD$165 for 3 days course. Not sure about “fun” climbing fees for those who already have experience in rock climbing though.
**Sorry, I don’t have the picture of rock climbing in Vang Vieng as I am not a rock climber nor did I go to the rock climbing location.
Well, for any other activities like kayaking all the way down to Vientiane (yeap! they have it!), cave tubing and others… I suggest you to check with your hostel/guesthouse or any other tour office and pick the best and the cheapest one 🙂 And if you just too lazy to do anything, get your bum off to Smiley Beach and chill in a hammock or beach bed or tube without moving anywhere. You just need to buy a drink or two and maybe some sandwich or pancake? Or maybe rent a mopet and drive around and visit the quite (and dry) waterfall?
As for night life, this year, during happy hour you have 3 options which is Gary’s The Irish Bar for marvelous western food and live music (this place is have good number of patrons), Kangaroo Sunset for a fish pumping top remix top 40 music from yesteryears to current, so-so food, disgusting cocktails, sleazy ambiance for youngster who looking for horny backpackers (sorry for being judgmental here but that’s how it looks like) and third one is Sakura Cafe/Bar for much chill-out ambiance, decent local and western foods, good music and also pool table, table tennis, beer pong (looks like an empty bar but it is not as the place is pretty big and dark and most people hang out a bit on the inside area). All these 3 bars situated on the same road. After midnight you may go to Room 101 or Viva Vang Vieng which was not my favorite at all. Just my personal taste not quite match it.
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 (Oskar, Alex (now one of the owner), Nikos, Me, Nico & Simon. I am one of pioneers of Sakura Bar in Vang Vieng (2013) before it turned into ou-of-control party place that offers patrons cheap boozes, laughing gas and all sort of “fun”).
I hope any of you that plan to go to Vang Vieng in a near future or anytime, please respect the local. Please be sensitive with their culture. Please put on your clothes. Please don’t act like a scumbags. Please don’t be a zombies. Please stop acting to the level people call you a train wreck, a white trash and such. Most important, becareful when you do weed or mushroom… plain clothes police officers, honest and dishonest, are everywhere in Vang Vieng. And one of my friend gotta pay hefty amount of USD$600 fine after get caught smoking weed in the middle of the night near the river where he thought safe.
Enjoy Vang Vieng. You’ll love it!
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Da Lat, Vietnam : Little Paris (well, not really)

If not because of Hannah & Thomas, I probably will never make a way to Da Lat and many other places before reached Da Lat. For that, thank you for Hannah & Thomas for invited me to join them for a road trip to Da Lat. Love it.
Starting from busy bustling crazy chaotic HCMC a.k.a Saigon, it took us 3 days 2 nights before reached Da Lat which only 310km from Saigon. It was not about the distance, it was about the attractive distractions, rains and crazy unbelievable bumpy road conditions that took us that long to be in Da Lat which normally it only gonna take 8 hours if you take a bus from Saigon. Hehehe…
On the way to Da Lat, not only we were distracted by the panoramic view but also waterfalls. Yeap! Waterfalls! We went to 3 waterfalls – Dasara, Dambri & Pongour. They were amazingly beautifully stunning waterfalls I ever been in my life. Alright, sound a lil bit exaggerating heh? LOL. But yeah, they were really interesting.

dalat

Dasara Waterfall – in order to get in/out from that waterfall, you have an option either to walk through a jungle or be like us – drove our own self-controlled roller coaster 460m through the jungle, scream and shout and let it out loud while the roller coaster stroll down the rails. Crazy!
Dambri Waterfall – This one is insane. A visitor gotta take an elevator down to the waterfall. Once you get out from the elevator, hahaha, you’ll get wet and soak from the powerful mists from the about-8-stories-building waterfall. No one swim there. tho. I guess because of the strong streams that stopped people from swimming. But it was really spectacular.
Pongour Waterfall – Normal waterfall compare to Dasara or Dambri. No fancy roller coaster or elevator. But the waterfalls itself is amazingly gorgeous. From the picture, it look like a man-made waterfall untill you see someone in the picture and realize how big the waterfall is. Crazy! Oh and the grilled corn served with chives oil… Haha!
So on the way to Da Lat, we also went to eat at quite few places and I am really fall in love with Banh Beo, a traditional Hue’s recipe of steamed tapioca cake served with croutons or crackers, shrimp, friend onion, minced meat and eat with sweet sauce which I believe made from fish sauce.
Also when almost reaching Da Lat, we stopped by and had an amazing home-made Vietnamese yogurts and artichoke tea. Really really good. Simple and healthy. No one should miss the yogurt!
Hannah also introduce me to this snack where beaten eggs spread on top of rice paper that still grill above the charcoal oven; mix with shrimps, onion, chives and chili sauce. Was simple but yeah, nice.
Da Lat itself is a very unique place. Cold, chill and rainy. I felt like “dude! I’m in Scotland!!!”. Hahaha! It was beautiful tho although it always rains. And in my opinion, there are so much to see and so much to do in Da Lat compare to Saigon. And the traffic less crazy, too. We also picked up a personal tour the last day we were in Da Lat. And before we went back to Saigon, we went to the “longest distance” cable car journey, overview Da Lat.
Note: In Da Lat, we stayed in this cute modern hotel named Tri Giao. For USD$25 a night consisted of 1 queen bed, 1 single bed, mini bar (fridge), LCD tv, wardrobe cabinet,  make-up desk, coffee table and chairs, shower/toilet with hot/cold shower.

Hanoi, Vietnam : City With Character

What I can say about this capital city of Vietnam? It’s busy, dusty, hectic, chaotic… it’s mental. Well, the traffic is a little bit less scary and crazy than Ho Chi Minh City but nevertheless, still dangerous.
The locals wakes up as early as 5am and start their daily routines or activities as soon after that. You can see people jogging, walking, around Hoan Kiem Lake even before sun rise. Street paddlers selling stuffs on the street. Small traders get ready to open their shops.
At night, backpackers, flashpackers, tourists, locals will crash bia hoi area @ Ta Hien St. They will sit arms-to-arms, butts-to-butts next to each other on kiddie chairs drinking cheap beers, enjoy snacks like deep-fried cheese sticks, sausages, fries, etc. and talking to each other. This is also the time where traders become pretty aggressive and some overly friendly just to get you to sit down and drink at their place. Remember, you are walking ATM machine for them!
hanoi-street
Everything, every business in Hanoi will, well… compulsory to shut down at midnight. The police will come to every single business premises (restaurants, bars, clubs, etc) and order all the patrons to go home and close. Anyway… for vampires, batman, draculas, owls, insomniacs or party people… worried not! There are few illegal, underground place that still open after midnight. I am not gonna tell you where and what is the place ( I am sure the business owners appreciates my move here) that still operating after the legal hours. Go and find ‘em yourselves 🙂 Sure you can!

Hanoi, Vietnam : Water Puppets

Water puppets is a tradition that dates back as far as the 11th century when it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta area of northern Vietnam. Today’s Vietnamese water puppetry is a unique variation on the ancient Asian puppet tradition.
water-puppet
Here at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, these water puppetry is performed in a pool of water 4 meters square with the water surface being the stage.
A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides background music accompaniment. The instrumentation includes vocals, drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, Đàn bầu, gongs, and bamboo flutes.
Singers of Chèo sing songs which tell the story being acted out by the puppets. The musicians and the puppets interact during performance; the musicians may yell a word of warning to a puppet in danger or a word of encouragement to a puppet in need. The puppets enter from either side of the stage, or emerge from the murky depths of the water.
Check the website for ticket price, show schedules and other information on the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater.

Hanoi, Vietnam : Hoa Lo Prison

I am not a fan of museum but this one definitely worth my USD0.50cents (it supposed to be USD$1.00 but I got 50% after using my fake student ID that I got in Bangkok last year). Hahaha! What a cheapskate.
This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US POWs during the American War. Those incarcerated at Hoa Lo included Pete Peterson, who later became the first US Ambassador to a unified Vietnam in 1995, and Senator John McCain (the Republican nominee for the US presidency in 2008).
hanoi-prison
When other people (visitors) really “into” all the details in this prison, I giggled my life out on certain finds especially when President Ho Chi Minh called those American prisoners “Yanks” in his Spring 1969 New Year’s message. Am I insensitive?
Also, this visit force me to label France as “pot calling kettle black” to America. Seriously, during the colonial time, they torture the Vietnamese, beheaded them and all, but during the Vietnam War, who the hell are they to call American as inhumane? Heh! Same same but different.
Also learning that actually American war prisoners being treated kindda well in Hoa Lo Prison compare to what they did to Vietnam and it’s people; if I am a Vietnamese, I’ll hate those Yanks (well, according to Ho Chi Minh) forever.

Hue, Vietnam : The Royal City & Banh Beo

When so many backpackers told me 1 night gonna be enough in Hue, I spent 3 nights there and I pretty much understand why they not really into Hue – because they are young drunkard backpackers who travel half the world just to drink and get drunk, get lucky with local or another backpacker. Most of them told me “Hue is beautiful bla bla bla but yeah, 1 night is enough, nothing much there. No party. Boring…” But, nah… I like Hue. In fact, I love Hue the moment I stepped my foot there.
In Hue, I stayed in Hue Backpackers Hostel, the chain hostel of very popular Vietnam Backpacker Hostels. I stayed in 6-beds dormitory on the 1st floor, right above the reception, common area and the bar.
I remember back in (on the way to) Da Lat, Hannah told me that Bánh Bèo is originally from Hue. So the moment after I put my backpack in my room and I came to the reception counter and ask the receptionist on Bánh Bèo. She was so surprise because normally people ask her about tours, buses and such but I am the first person asking her about Bánh Bèo. LOL! So, she took a map, and direct me to the local Bánh Bèo place which is just less-than-5-minutes walk from the hostel. I was so happy! And it was so cheap as this restaurant is very old, no one speaks English (they have 6 items menu in English on the wall which you just need to point out what would you like to have), very “Vietnamese” rather than cosy stylish with for-tourists ambiance. You know what I mean?
hue
For a tray of 15s Bánh Bèo, it only cost 25,000 VND. That is like what? USD$1.20? They also have another type of foods that also base on the Bánh Bèo batter which I couldn’t remember the name. All items cost only 12,000 VND each except for Bánh Bèo. Cheap and yummy! I kept coming back to them every day!
Since I am also very careful with the money that I have, I never really get around that much. On my 1st night in Hue, I didn’t really go anywhere. I just hang out with my new dorm mates – 3 young English guys – and went out for dinner with them in a restaurant about 100m from our hostel. Went to bed pretty early too.
All 4 of us woke up pretty early for breakfast as 3 of them left for Hoi An early in the morning and I gonna do some touring. For 200,000VND (USD$10), Mr. Hai, a motorcycle tour operator, brought me on back of his nice motorcycle around Hue for good 4 hours. He brought me to places like few pagodas, a local village, a hill where located bunkers during Vietnam-America war that facing the river, tombs and of course Citadel. I took lots of pictures, too! One of it exactly the same like John Joyce’s (my travel buddy back in Siem Reap & Thailand last year). We laugh at it.
2nd night, I just walked down the street by the river to the night market. Looking at people eating, drinking, haggling and all. It was a fun view.
On my 3rd day, nothing much. Just walk around the town. Took a cyclo in the afternoon to the Dong Ba market and well, guess what, I got harassed by the shoes/slippers vendor lady! I really wanna get myself a flip-flops but I am on budget so I ask her if she have anything cheap? She keep pointing at so-called expensive ones. Not only she tried to rip me off at point blank but worst, she has no size for me. I’m wearing size 45-46 and the biggest she has is 43. Of course I don’t wanna buy smaller flip-flops or sandals. Then she went all nuts, screaming, cursing and swearing at me. I just left and after few steps, I turned around and shouted back at her “you fucking stupid moron Vietnamese. Next time you wanna rip people off, at least make sure you have the thing that they want! Bloody hell motherfucker!”. And then one young boy hold my arm tightly and brought me away and he asked me to calm down. He brought me to another stall which finally I’d get a traditional beautiful bamboo flip-flops for only 60,000VND.
At night I went to a simple Japanese restaurant called “Japanese Restaurant”. The food was pretty alright although the restaurant doesn’t really have that normal or typical Japanese ambiance/vibe. Since it was raining, I call it a night early, again.
4th day, nothing much. Just walk on the other side of the town. Came back for my Bánh Bèo fix right before lunch time. And getting ready to continue my motorbike journey to the north. Gotta be in Hanoi soon!

Nha Trang, Vietnam : Little Russia

After spend 12 days in Ho Chi Minh City @ Saigon, Dalat and few other suburbs, finally I made a move to another city – a beach city – Nha Trang.
Check-in in a very nice hostel – Mojzo Inn – just about 2 minutes walk from the main streets full of cafe and restaurants and just 5 minutes walk to the beach area. Had 2 amazing room mates – Jack and Tom. Nice young English guys, even an old English teacher in Hoi An second that.
nha-trang
I didn’t spend much time under the sun or on the beach this time around as my skin was burning and blistered all over my arms, back and legs. Was really ugly skin conditions. It was from the motorbike trip to/from Da Lat and had it on my last 2 days in Saigon and worsen in Nha Trang. Tsk…
But yeah, Nha Trang has it own charms. I like the vibe there although too many Russians and also everything in Russians and Vietnamese instead of English and Vietnamese. The beach is beautiful and clear. The park nearby is really pretty. And the town itself pretty much relax and not too busy like in Saigon.
I will probably come back to Nha Trang. Someday, somehow.