Doing G's Birthday Tubing Style - Vang Vieng

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December 1st 2009
Published: December 11th 2009
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Vang Vieng

We arrived in Vang Vieng after dark at around 6pm and proceed to find a bed for the night, having discovered that our recommended accommodation was fully booked we ended up in the Vang Vieng Orchid which was perfectly fine, had a nice clean, spacious room with a balcony overlooking Don Khang and the Karsts behind, there were a couple of bars across the river but as most things close around 23:30 - 00:00, it was not a problem. Our room cost us 100,000kip which was pretty much the going rate around the riverside area.

Vang Vieng is a strange place, being in Laos it is very laid-back, and there are a plethora of friends bars at every turn and every other bar appears to a be showing Family Guy - something T hadn’t realised was popular, these bars are filled with very hungover travellers recovering from previous days antics. Incidentally, the bars that were not showing any sort of show where by and large empty, and systematic to South-East Asia there appears more bars than people, posing the continual question - how do they stay afloat? Vang Vieng has positioned itself as the activities centre of the South East Asia backpacker circuit, with such pursuits as Kayaking, rock-climbing, mountain biking and its headliner -tubing!

This was what we did for G’s birthday! Tubing is by far the most popular activity and it consists of ‘hiring’ a tractor inner tube and basically floating down the river Nam Song. During the dry season the river drops and it takes between 2-3.5 hours to float down, and during the wet season, the river is naturally higher and faster and takes reportedly one hour to complete. There is another dimension to this - bars! These line the banks of the Nam Song, predominantly within the first section of the river.

We were dropped off at the beginning of the tubing route where there was a large bar pumping out music, we had our obligatory beer (for the boys) and buckets (for the girls). While enjoying our yummy pre noon drinks our attention was drawn to a loud splash behind us, where we noticed a swing about 50 foot up, there was a makeshift ladder up the trunk of the tree to reach the launch pad, participants would hold onto the swing and off they go out into the river, with a mixture of landing styles, T begun to understand why the Vang Vieng hospital is probably the most visited in the region.

After a couple of beers (and buckets) Matt and Serena, the Aussie dudes (Steve and Josh), the Swedish contingent, and of course us, hopped into our tubes and off we went down the river, we didn’t make it far before a half filled water bottle hit T’s tube, this bottle was attached to a rope which the bar people use to pull you into their bar, sometimes it’s a stick, it’s an effective method and works a treat! Our second bar of the day was called the Mojito bar and sells Lao mojito’s substituting rum with Lao Lao (Lao whiskey) or Lao Vodka, these along with pretty much any other cocktail are served in a bucket - similar to those used to make sandcastles on the beach. In additional to these alcoholic treats, a Scottish dude working at this bar was handing out shots of Lao Lao free if you wore a blue band thing, naturally T indulged while G’s aversion to whiskey kepts her the other side of the bar. Incidentally, the Scottish chap informed T that the bars are pretty much rebuilt every year as the river rises higher than the platform at peak wet season. Every bar has a water swing or slide for shits and giggles, this particular establishment sported a zip line into the water, having avoided the first swing T gots up to have a go, off he went down the zip line, halfway down the zip line is a stopper, T didn’t spot this in time and he hit it at full swing which in turn sent him spinning through the air before smashing neck first into the river to the audience cries of oomph!!! Having witnessed her wimpish boyfriend have a go, the pressure was on and G plucked up the courage to have a go which she did with more elegance than T but lost a bikini top pad thing in the process. A few more buckets, beers and it was time to move on, into the tubes we piled and off we went down the river.

We only got as far as the next bar on the opposite bank of the river, the bar staff threw the bottles and sticks aimed at us like missiles, to help us beat the current before climbing out at their bar. More buckets and beers and we engaged in the swing put on by this bar, everyone was up on this swing, Matt powered into the river like a bomb, next up was T, having missed the ‘let go point’ he swung back a tad before dropping into the river inches from the rocky floor - slightly worrying! Incidentally Serena went on every swing, brave girl, G missed her chance on the first big swing so it turned out the Birthday girl had the least swings, which she wasn’t too fussed about considering you swallowed far too much river water on each landing…dodgy tummies to be had all around for the next day!!!

After a while at our third bar it was time to head off downstream to the next bar, this one was a bit further down so we had some good floating time, we headed to the one with the big slide, this was a massive tiled slide with water running down, T was up there straight away and down he went. It was a fairly long slide and you spent most of your time trying to keep straight, then the edge approaches…boom, you’re thrown into the air with plenty of airtime before crashing into the river. T’s legs opened slightly and the smash onto the water brought a few expletives to the air as he emerged up the ladder holding the delicate area. A few more beers then we realised it was 17:30 and darkness was soon approaching. The team split into two, some opting for a return in a awaiting tuk tuk, leaving us with a welsh dude, his English girlfriend to continue down the river for about 25 minutes until we reached the last bar where the owner offered to take the four of us in his boat to where the tuk tuk’s were waiting for 10,000 kip each, it was now dark and chilly so we agreed and climbed out of the river.

After warming up in our lukewarm shower we headed out and enjoyed a pizza and a couple of episodes of Friends for G’s birthday before meeting up with the other guys for some drinks.

The next day was spent relaxing as we where both aching from the numerous slides and had sore necks, so we wandered around town before venturing out onto the island, where you cross on some precarious bamboo bridges, and spent the remainder of the afternoon in hammocks drinking beer. This particular riverside bar had an interesting menu in addition to the normal food and drink version - you can see the photo of it. It was called the ‘special menu’ which sold bags of weed, opium various opium teas and ‘happy’ pizza’s and shakes and ironically it came with a health warning “notice: after having opium avoid lemon, 7-up, Sprite or something sour” if anyone knows why, answers on a postcard! We thought it was a rather bizarre menu hence the mention.

We decided on having another go at tubing on our last day in Vang Vieng, but this time we left earlier and we were not going to stop at any of the bars apart from maybe one!!! Our aim was to finish the 3.5km route, as you travel through some spectacular scenery. After 30 minutes or so we passed point we reached the other day and realised it was a pathetic attempt. With only one stop for a beer we reached the end in about 3.5 hours and returned our tube, this time getting our deposit back, which is something that didn’t happen last time as we were late ops!!!!

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