Sal’s Travelogue #7 -High Up North

July 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Exotic South East

Following Viantiane’s urban landscape, our writer Sal heads towards Vang Vieng, a mountain village up north famed for its wild late night partying. Come night fall, the village transformed into a wild hub of nightlife and blaring music.

We arrived at dusk to a mountainside village that welcomed us with its calm afterglow of evening lights. The mountains loomed over the village, while the setting sun painted the sky in a surreal mix of lilac and lavender. Valerie and I had finally reached the mountain village of Vang Vieng, a welcoming hideout in stark contrast to Vientiane’s urban landscape.


Finding a room was a little trickier this time round, especially with prices adjusted to capitalise on the droves of tourists arriving every day. After a bit of walking, we settled at the Nanthaphone Guesthouse, which let rooms at 40,000 a night. It was late, and there was no word from Antoine, who decided to cycle all the way from Vientiane. After dropping a message off via one of the internet kiosks in the village, we decided to hit the bars with our new friends from Israel, whom we had met on the bus ride into town. I was a little worried about our cyclist friend, but Valerie seemed to share no such concern, so we brushed that matter aside and set out to find a good watering hole to spend the evening.


Come nightfall, we bore witness to the town’s transformation from humble village into a wild hub of nightlife and blaring music. We settled at the Rock Bar, which interestingly enough, played a large collection of international hits that were deposited over time by patrons from far and wide. “Sabaidee!” yelled a voice, hearty and boisterous, while we made our way through the bar’s courtyard and straight to the counter. Apart from the empty dance floor and many unfilled straw booths and platforms, the first thing that caught my eye was a large jar that contained a murky liquid, and what seemed to be a preserved cobra and centipede. Out of nowhere, the owner of the Rock Bar, Lae, had already began pouring four shots for us right out of that very same jar!


“You first time come here, my friend, free drink,” explained Lae, as we braced our guts to take our first shot of the night. Rancid, poisonous and horrid. Even these words somehow failed to fully describe the taste of our first drink.

As if the drink wasn’t enough to widen our eyes, a quick glance through the Rock Bar’s menu served to remind me of how many have touted these parts as Asia’s very own Wild, Wild West. Apart from various unorthodox combinations of alcohol, it was apparently common practice to blend narcotics along with staple drinks like beer, vodka and whiskey. My companions seemed none the more surprised than I was, and it was clear that everyone was in for a long night and plenty of fun to go with it.


While the bar started to fill with a crowd, many conversations were had, with casual mentions of the many attractions that comprised Vang Vieng. Apart from mountain treks and cave exploring, tubing was all the rage with anyone paying a visit to the town.

At one point of the night, the sweet smell of fried desserts led us away from the Rock Bar. Perhaps the sudden craving for banana pancakes was a timely one, for no sooner had we placed our order that we noticed a familiar red bicycle zip past us, with Antoine in hot pursuit of the Rock Bar.

Fate, as it seemed, had a funny way of placing good desserts with good timing. Getting Antoine settled in was a seamless affair, and just as soon as we had finished our desserts, we were back at the Rock Bar, reliving the splendorous electricity that the night was so charged with.

“You got ipod?” Lae asked.

All he wanted was for the music I had to be played on the bar’s speakers – yet all I wanted past that point, was to flee from the bar. Perhaps it was the wiring, or it might have been the brand-less, run down compo Lae was using to churn out his tracks – but what I do know is removing the input cable from his speakers was about to set me back by 4,000,000 kip (500 USD), or so he claimed.

I didn’t know what to believe. There I was, high as a kite, and at the same time, trying to regain control of the situation. The next hour or so of my life was spent trying to reason with two or three of Lae’s friends, who did a pretty good job of putting me on the spot. Though they were threatening to bring the matter up to the authorities, perhaps it was grateful irony that none were subscribing to violence as a solution.

With the only two ATM’s down in the village, and no way to leave the bar without handing them my passport as collateral, I didn’t know whether to laugh or fume at something I had said earlier on – this was going to be a long night indeed.

Sal’s Travelogue:
#1: Solo#2: Saigon Green#3: Detours#4: All Road Leads North#5: Saibadee Pakse#6: Far Yet Familiar

About the Author. Sal S-S. A writer by profession, a free spirit by nature – Sal believes that his life’s one purpose is to see it all, learn it all and do it all. Currently based as a freelance copywriter in Singapore, it is for life’s many unknowns and uncertainties that he sets his sights beyond borders and into new discoveries. Living and working for the journey itself and nothing less, it is with pen in hand and passion at heart that he contributes to Unearthing Asia.