Dodging The Tubing Crowds In Vang Vieng & A Giant Rocket Festival

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by Marc Valentine

Covered in Rocket Fuel

Covered in Rocket Fuel

With a few well spent days in Luang Prabang behind us, we headed off towards Vang Vieng…

The infamous party town in Laos is notorious with backpackers for it’s day long river tubing sessions accompanied by heavy drinking, swinging, partying, sliding, jumping (falling) into the river – the common injury, and even odd death.

After one of the most harrowing minibus rides we experienced in SE Asia, we unwittingly landed in Vang Vieng in the midst of a traditional ceremony… Bun Bang Fai otherwise known as the ‘Rocket Festival’.

And it was a festival to remember… home made sky rockets, cheap booze, loud music…

Sounds boring right?

Nope it was awesome.


Rockets in Ascent

A rocket during ascent

Bun Bang Fai 2012 (celebrated between May 11th and 15th) is as a symbolic call to the rain gods, a subtle way of letting them know the people of Laos are ready for the skies to open and for the rain to begin.

(it seems to work well – it poured for the next few days)

What better way to get the gods attention than by knocking on their front door with a huge sky rocket?

Basically the locals setup makeshift launching platforms on the banks of the river and launch enormous rockets made from Bamboo & nitrate into the sky…

… while the rest of the town watches from a not-so-safe distance, blasting loud music, drinking and pretty much going crazy.

Rocket Festival Vang Vieng

One of the bamboo rockets pre-launch

The rockets themselves don’t do anything spectacular post launch, from what I could gather it’s ‘bigger is better’ the aim is to get your rocket as high as possible into the atmosphere.

We did see one rocket take a left turn about 100 metres into its ascent, scream along horizontally for a short time before it’s flight ended rather suddenly, slamming into the side of the mountain across the river from Vang Vieng.

Another albeit strange custom we noticed, during the festival which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the tradition of attracting rain…

Blokes dressing up in women’s clothes.

Strange but true, the guys (some not all) get around in skirts, dress’s & bras drinking and partying.

Be warned, if your’e only interested in tubing in Vang Vieng, the rocket festival puts the entire town out of action for at least a day…

Groups were still tubing the day of the festival, but from what we heard the river was really quiet.

We wanted to head out the next day after the festival… baaad timing hombre.

… we had to make a super-human effort to track down a tour company who would rent us a tube for the day.


Tubing In Vang Vieng

As a result of the festival, the river was far from it’s usual intense party atmosphere… in fact, it was absolutely dead, there was us, and literally 4 other ‘tubers’ in the 3 + hours we spent drifting down the river in our rubber inner tubes.

We stopped at one bar where a few locals who refused to accept the festival was over, were still celebrating from the previous night, and happy to have company, they sprung into action helping us with the swings and firing up the waterside.

Vang Vieng’s Other Bizarre Tradition

There’s a decent variety of places to eat in Vang Vieng, though you have no choice in tv viewing inside the restaurants, If your’e not a fan of the tv series Friends, get your food to take away…

… almost every single restaurant plays Friends on repeat and if Friends isn’t playing – Family Guy is probably on repeat.


Food In Vang Vieng

When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year...

It’s the most bizarre thing as you walk down the main street scouting out restaurants and seeing episode after episode of friends playing wherever you stop to scan a menu.

If your’e planning on visiting Vang Vieng there’s a few things you should know to keep yourself out of trouble…

  1. Don’t be an idiot – people die in Vang Vieng when they get too smashed and do stupid things while tubing.
  2. Go with some pals who can stop you from doing the above mentioned stupid things if you do lose your inhibitions (it happens right)

Getting to Vang Vieng

Most people head to Vang Vieng after spending a few days in Luang Prabang. You can get to Vang Vieng via minibus & Bus. Minibus is faster… when you see the road you’ll know why.

The journey via minibus is about 6 bone rattling hours long – don’t expect to get much sleep 🙂

You can organise transport from any of the tour offices in Luang Prabang and many of the guest houses & hostels can arrange the tickets for you.

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