On The Nam Song; or Fear and Loathing in Laos Vagus.

If you’ve done any travelling in South East Asia then you almost certainly have heard of, if not actually experienced for yourself, the mayhem of Laos’ hedonistic capital, Vang Vieng.

Once a quiet riverside village, as the story goes, Vang Vieng is now big business: big, underdressed, intoxicated Western business. While easily the most touristy place I have been in Asia, the village still attracts thousands of visitors every year; backpackers coming for the joys of getting loose in a rubber tube along the banks of the Nam Song river.  A ramshackle collection of bars line the edges of the brown river, and the same blaring electronic pop that plagued us over New Year’s reverberates in the shade of the vast karst mountains looming in the background.

The town itself is small and almost completely full of Westerners. There are a plethora of restaurants serving banana pancake trail staples, with the main difference whether Friends or Family Guy is playing above the raised platforms and low tables. Many restaurants offer the addition of a “Happy Menu,” covering everything from mushroom shakes and weed pizza to speed. Despite the ubiquity of such contraband, Brother Barefoot and Phantom are caught smoking a joint in their room, and told to find replacement accommodation; a strange paradox in a town of arbitrary lines.

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On Vientiane; or A Brief Brush with the Midnight Oil.

Having survived the island jungle our entourage headed north, bound for Laos. Returning to Vientiane was largely uneventful. The Laotian capital is a sleepy riverside town in comparison to the bustle of touristed Thailand and not much had changed since I was there last. We feasted on the excellent Indian cuisine, sipping Beer Laos in the afternoon sun, and wandered along the river’s edge trying in vain to get a game of Frisbee going, with the wind strongly in opposition.

At the insistence of Tijo, Redbeard and I were cajoled into heading out for a few beers. It was a quiet evening and the curfews in Laos make for some fairly tepid nightlife. Vientiane is not a party town but none the less we persisted, Tijo obviously gravitating towards the one ex-pat girl in the quiet bar. A few brews later and we were reluctantly accompanying an increasingly drunk Tijo to go get a sandwich on the other side of town, the new girl fallaciously assuring us that it was just around the corner. And then around another corner. And another.

The streets are deserted so it is with some surprise that we round one final corner and are finally presented with the promised vision. Tijo munches on the first of what will be many late night baguettes, and we hop in a tuk-tuk to head home. The tuk-tuk driver, however, has another suggestion.

“hello my friends, you like opium?”

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