We had some time to spend and decided to take a bus from Luang Prabang (excellent, if increasingly touristy) to somewhere between on the way to Vientiane. Vang Vieng seemed a good stop and the drive was supposed to be through beautiful mountains.
The drive is through spectacular mountains and allows you to see Laosian countryside and country rest stops/restaurants up close and personal. The downside was that our "air-conditioned minivan" wasn't really air-conditioned, was crammed full of people and luggage so mini was the operative word. Our fellow passengers were all in their late teens, early twenties. Great if you're that age. Way less great if you're not.
The hotel is only a couple years old so it's pristine. I'm not sure anyone had stayed in our room before. It was lovely and perfect. We paid a little more and stayed on the 4th floor with amazing views on both sides of the mountain-like things called karst. Gorgeous esp in the morning when hot air balloons drifted by.
Our room was huge with a sofa, coffee table & chairs and a giant bathroom. The shower head, mirrors, and door safety-eye were all at Asian heights, which means mid-chest on a tall American woman. My husband and I both had to kneel in the tub to wash our hair. Not exactly a negative and pretty much a given in Asia.
As long as you avoid the hotels & restaurants right on the river where all the teen-aged backpackers stay and eat you can have a nice, low-key, inexpensive stay in a very low-key town. There's not a lot to do but it won't cost you much.
I was especially intrigued by the swing/sofas in many local bars. The sofas are big enough to accommodate 2-4 people, and you can lounge while watching endless reruns of the American series Friends. Many of these bars advertise buckets for $3 USD - a small bottle of Mekong whisky, a couple local beers and a couple soft drinks - 7 UP is popular. Some bars offer 2-for-1 buckets parts of the day.
Most of the activity is aimed at very young, foreign, back-packers. We spent a pleasant and mindless 3 days there and didn't tube the river, drink in the bars, or buy a bucket.
Can't think of a single reason to ever return to Vang Vieng unless I turn into a 19-yr-old (god forbid).
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