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Vang Vieng

We got off the bus not knowing whether we were in Vang Vieng or just on a dirt road. Guesthouses and bars lined the muddy street but there didn't seem to be anything else to the place - it just appeared to be another ghetto of scruffy, pissed, and wasted backpackers. The mountains, however, on the other side of the river, towered above us, and although we were fairly appalled by the town and it's travelling occupants, we reminded ourselves that we came here to do some hiking, not to make friends.

Everyone travelling in south-east Asia these days seems to carry a Lonely Planet, treating it as their bible, and following the suggested highlights exactly. So you find the vast majority of people going to exactly the same places, travelling on the same buses, and staying in the very same guesthouses like herds of sheep. Lonely Planet Laos refers to Vang Vieng as a 'stop on the Indo-China backpacking circuit' and notes that 'almost everyone' rents an inner tube and floats down the river. By helping to create this backpacker package tour culture, ordinary villages like Vang Vieng, which were probably once quite pleasant, have seen a ten-fold increase in visitors and have now become overcrowded, ruined tourist towns that anyone travelling around Asia with a Lonely Planet heads straight for. The book even goes so far as to criticise the culture they've created, crying foul of all the restaurants and bars in Vang Vieng continually running episodes of 'Friends' and playing loud music to entertain their new found foreign market. Simply reading a Rough Guide description of a town and comparing it to Lonely Planet's opinion can give you a whole different perspective of a place.

After finding a hotel and dumping our bags we set off in search of some food. The town has long been famous for it's happy pizzas and opium dens and everywhere we tried was full of arrogant backpackers getting pissed and stoned, and rude staff. In the end we found a beautiful restaurant down by the river, which was deserted and strangely happened to be cheaper than the backpacker places on the main road, and we sat down to some lovely steaks away from the mayhem of the town.

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