I ❤️ Pai. That was how my original post started, but that was pre my love affair with Laos and now I also ❤️️ Vang Vieng.
My emotions have run wild. I have left my heart in both cities and have some wonderful memories to boot.
I kind of knew I would love Pai from what I had heard and read about it, and I wasn’t disappointed. Vang Vieng I wasn’t prepared for. In mind or in body.
Both Pai and Vang Vieng are free-spirited ‘hippie’ towns set among breath-taking scenery. Pai I already knew was considered a black hole for many travellers who arrived and then found themselves unable to leave. Little did I know this would also be the case in Vang Vieng, falling victim to it myself. I was practically dragged onto the bus when it was time to leave, sulking like a spoilt child.
In Pai, we stayed at the Circus School Hostel, whose carefree reputation proceeded it, along with the rumour of bedbugs. In the mornings yoga was taught under the awning overlooking the mountains and in the evenings the circus teachers would teach you to juggle or walk the tightrope with hardcore trance pumping out in the background. You can’t script this shit, honestly.
I caved and bought some tie dye in Pai – maybe I was method acting, getting fully into character with the fellow carefree hippies, completely intoxicated with the vibes. I got my first tattoo in Pai, as well, just to complete the cliché. Shout out to Jay at CROSS Tattoo Studio for my beautiful new ink. And I know what you’re thinking, I promise you I was sober.
Pai was stunning and there was no comparison between the scenery and that of Chiang Mai or Bangkok. I couldn’t get over the lush green mountains as I sped along the roads on my new scooter (and funky smelling helmet) to find a new waterfall, or hot spring, to while away my days. I also ate some of the best food in Pai – and my first avocado since travelling. I was falling head over heels, and fast.
During my whole time in Pai I felt a sense of freedom I hadn’t felt before in Thailand, or I suppose anywhere for a long time, and I was hooked.
Then I got to Vang Vieng. A near game changer.
Bar the struggle to communicate in basic English to anyone – I loved Laos. Having spent a few days in the cultural heritage city of Luang Prabang and seeing the Festival of Lights, the infamous party town of Vang Vieng was something else.
Tubing by day, partying by night. Smoking in cafes, watching FRIENDS in pavement lounge bars and just being so indulgently idle… It was addictive.
Life in Vang Vieng was slow but steady and picked up pace after sunset. It was no surprise people arrived and never left either. Everywhere advertised free accommodation for new staff and I can’t tell you how tempting it was.
I could have happily spent months floating down the river, staring at the stunning, ragged mountains contemplating life – aided by a bucket or five along the way. It was my new happy place and one filled with some more cracking memories and a few other firsts.
Vang Vieng encouraged and entertained the wilder, more irresponsible hippie. Whether it was a shake, a smoke, a balloon, a cup of tea, or a pizza, you could get anything you wanted. Despite the early curfews there was an overarching no-fucks-given attitude and I was seduced. Again. But after three extra unplanned nights it was time to go before we were ‘sucked into the whirlpool of self destruction,’ as my friend Nico so poetically put it.
Pai, Vang Vieng, I’ll be back. For sure. I wonder where else I’ll fall in love with along the way…
Next Up: Vietnam, baby!