On our way into town we passed a
huge paved area that we learned later had been built by the American CIA
during the Vietnam War. Approaching the Vilayvong Guest House we passed
a few very tall vacant concrete buildings. Apparently it was common for
some building projects to stay unfinished with construction to be resumed,
if ever, when finances improved. Since we arrived at the hotel in the morning
it was too early to check in but Beam persuaded the staff to give our group
a room to rest in and to store our luggage until our assigned rooms were
prepared. We did some computer catchup (laptop and iPad) and walked around
a bit while waiting for our room.
Our room was large with a balcony
overlooking the Nam Song river with karst landscape cliffs and mountains
beyond and was a short walk from downtown. There was no safe provided
in the room, but there were lockers available at the reception desk.
There were a number of fine restaurants
with open patios between the hotel and the river bank. One of the restaurants
was blaring very loud music all day as part of their rehearsal for the
evening's New Year celebration. The river was very busy with a variety
of boating activity. Many of the visitors to Vang Vien are lured here by
the inner tubing and kayaking on the Nam Song. The river waters in our
hotel area appeared to be quite shallow and we saw a number of locals wading
across from the opposite shore.
Vang Vieng has become a backpacker-oriented
town largely catering to Western tourists. During our strolls around the
main streets we saw many guest houses, bars, restaurants, strip clubs,
internet cafes, tour agencies, and throngs of people who were obviously
tourists. Even though Vang Vieng has a reputation as a wild party town
due to the influx of party-loving tubers and packpackers, we must have
been in the wrong places at the wrong times as the atmosphere seemed pretty
tame. Even the numerous massage parlors seemed to be wanting for business
-- the heavily-made-up girls seated on display at the entrances appeared
to be very lonely and bored.
During the Vietnam War the US
constructed a covert Air America base and runway here called Lima Site
6. The many helicopters and fixed wing aircraft based here flew civilians,
diplomats, spies, refugees, commandos, sabotage teams, doctors, war casualties,
drug enforcement officers, and even visiting VIPs like Richard Nixon all
over Southeast Asia. They also dropped countless tons of food and relief
supplies to the local tribes who were fighting the North Vietnamese.
This even included live chickens, pigs, and cattle. This large paved area
now features a sprawling tarp-covered market and other assorted vendors.
When we checked it out there was even a kick boxing ring set up for a tournament.
We could see the main highway to Vientiane on the far side of what used
to be the strip.
For our evening meal, Beam took
us to an interesting bar, Gary's Irish Bar, that served Western beer and
food. The excellent burgers and chips with Guinness were a nice change
from our daily noodles and Beerlao fare. As usual, Sue-On took some excellent
food and vegetation photos at our various stops - many are featured in
the accompanying outtakes sections. The pub advertised live music but we
missed it since we had to arise and leave early the next day.
On the way back to our hotel
Beam, our ever-thoughtful CEO, treated us to the famous banana pancakes
with a variety of toppings. These tasty delights are prepared and sold
at many of the carts parked along the streets.