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Published: October 10th 2015
Once the notorious party town of Laos, it drew swarms of young travellers from all over to lose their self in3 tubing, drinking, drugs and whatever else the town had to offer. It finally reached its peak in 2012, before the government shut everything down following a number of accidents and deaths involving travellers. With nothing else to keep the tourists coming, numbers dwindled and many guesthouses and bars were forced to close. With it beautiful scenary, huge karst mountains surrounding the river that run through this town it is understandable why people keep coming.
Jumping to 2015, we arrive after a hairy ride on some thin foggy roads from Luang Prabang, in the underwhelming ghost town of Vang vieng. Even though there was a mix of western and Chinese tourists milling around, the town lacked any life, hence ghost town - in our opinion. The main road is filled with eateries and guesthouses with the side streets coming off it offering the same. We passed a few guesthouses playing back to back Friends episodes before locating ours on one of the side streets. P had a headache so decided to have a quick nap before we went out
to explore. No chance. The club (the only club in vang vieng it seemed) across the road from our place started playing their music extremely loudly. It was like they'd placed the speakers in the front of the club as opposed to the back. It was only 7pm and we were not in a partying mood plus it was not our sort of party. People crazy drunk outside, girls dancing on the tables and the noise was louder than you would believe.
Looking around at the scenary and this small quaint town we asked ourselves why the locals had allowed tourism to disrepect their culture. It was now in our opinion vulgar with this music pumping out and mass amounts of alcohol spilling out with people onto the streets. We agreed that whatever culture was once here was long gone.
With the use of earplugs and a pillow over our heads P was able to enjoy around 40 mins of nap time. If that. Later that evening, we walked around the town briefly to get orientated, Chris bought a chicken sandwich stating it had nothing on the chicken and avocado we loved in Luang Prabang. There are
a few bars and a handful of popular restaurants but nothing more beyond that. It just ends. Heavy rain started up so we dashed back to our hostel to fall asleep to the soothing sounds of Tecnho music. Suffice to say we checked out the following morning.
So what is tubing?
Still Popular in vang vieng, tubing is basically floating downstream in a river whilst sat in the inner tube of a tractor wheel. Along the river you could stop at one of the many bars on the riverside for a drink, food and to socialise. As you can imagine prior to 2012, rivers, drink and drugs sounded like a very bad combination.
We'd read that that whole era was over now and tubing here was more of a scenic activity with maybe only 1 or 2 bars along the way to stop for a peaceful drink. We wanted to try canoeing down the river but that was only offered in a tour package we didn't want. Tubing it was then.
The following day we rented our tubes and hopped on to the tuk tuk to the starting point along the river. A few other tourists were
on the tuk tuk too, one guy said this was his 3rd time tubing on this trip alone! It must be good we thought.
Getting out of the tuk tuk we couldn't help notice the start point was actually a bar overlooking the river. There were people already there; drinking, chatting, playing beer pong with music pumping in the background. A stoned canadian guy - who seemed to be 'working' there - offered us a free shot. We politely declined. We walked around the bar for a moment and agreed we wouldn't stay as we wasn't here to drink. As we were leaving we were approached by the Canadian guy. "Its up to you" he said, "if your here for the scenery go ahead, but if you want to be sociable, have a drink, stay here...plus...its safer if we all stick together"
A guilt trip if we'd ever heard one. The whole thing is set up like a bar crawl, on a river! P was already nervous about the whole tubing thing as it was. The guy proceeded to tell us that all the info on the internet about people dying whilst tubing is a lie. We weren't
quite sure where he got his info from as we'd read many tales of broken necks, drowning and overdosing. Feeling like maybe it was too early to leave, we rejoined the bar and made our way to the edge looking over the river. Most people were drinking and chatting away, almost forgetting they would need to navigate themselves down a river in an inner tube. Our plan was to wait for a few people to leave first and then follow behind them.
We got chatting to a couple of british teachers (Stephen & Claire) on holiday from their jobs in Doha. They were of the same thinking as us and had the guilt trip played on them too. We decided to band together and venture down the river ourselves. The crowd at the bar didn't seem like they were going anywhere as it seemed that they were encouraging people to drink as much as possible before they would move people on as a bug group. We even got a funny look off another 'worker' there who seen us leaving, like we were some kind of unsociable sober party poopers. More like sensible.
The river was pretty cold as
we plonked ourselves onto the rubber ring and shuffled into position. Off we floated, with the current carrying us down. Well all of us except P. She was caught on the outskirts of the river where the current wasn't strong so had to paddle and pull at the reeds to gain a bit of motion. Eventually she got into the centre and whizzed straight past Chris who was waiting nearby to grab her. We floated for around 5 mins, during which we admired the surrounding green hills pondering how much better the views would be if the skies were clear. Up ahead we spotted a bar on the right, Stephen and Claire had already docked and were waiting for us.
How do you stop in a tube going downstream?? Simple it seemed. The bar staff throw a bottle of water attached to a string at you.
If you miss the first time, there's at least another 2 members of staff each with their own bottle on a string. P missed the first 2 before luckily grabbing hold of the last one. With the power of the current leading her away she wrapped the rope around her hand to
get a better grip. This was not the best thing she could have done. She felt like she was being torn in two. The rope getting tighter around her hand and the current trying to pull her in the opposite direction causing major discomfort. She had to let go of one, the tube it was. The rope was still getting tighter and P couldn't swim with it pulling at her hand. Seeing what was happening the guy holding the other end let go of the rope, P started flowing down the river until she caught another rope further down. And we thought this was only dangerous when inebriated.
The tube contined to float off down the river and the bar staff helped P out the river and up the steps. Chris not far behind managed to dock safely, complete with tube on the 2nd throw. All was not lost, as a member of staff dashed into his boat and rescued P's tube (lost tubes cost 60,000kip). Slightly shaken, P was approached by a local Laotian woman who hugged her and checked to see if she was ok. It was very sweet of her.
The bar was empty
when we arrived. The guy behind the bar thanked Claire for coming and mentioned it was their first day opening. We bought some drinks and relaxed for a bit watching the canoes float by along the river. A few more people on tubes eventually turned but none we recognised from the first bar. Were they ever going to leave there before dark?
After drinks and a farewell to the Laotian lady and the bar staff we set off again down the river. This time however we both entangled ourselves so we'd float together. There were times where we were going off course and Chris had to use his flip flops as paddles to get us back, whilst P clung on, too scared to let go. It had started raining, we were 2 minutes from the previous bar and felt wet (obviously) and cold and just wanted to get back to warmth. Tubing wasn't all it was cracked to be, unless your high or drunk that is.
Expecting more bars to be open with the way people were drinking at the first bar, we were surprised to see a sign stating 'End of tubing'. We did pass a few
closed bars that may have been opening later but appeared to nothing more than a shack on the bank of the river. A couple other places looked like bars on the route, playing music but they never bothered with us and we went straight past. We were thankful.
We returned our tubes and got our deposit back. There was slight confusion (almost) as the number they scribble on your hand had almost disappeared on P's - a result of water and the rope incident - the staff were all gripping her sore hand to try and read the faded number as she winced in pain.
Soon as that was sorted we went straight into the shop next door and ordered 2 tickets out of Vang Vieng to the Vientiane - The capital. Vang Vieng was ok, pleasant as we met Stephan and Claire but it just wasn't our cup of tea. We can only imagine what it would be like here in high season. We thought all the crazy drinking antics had been stopped. Not at all. The crazy swings taken down, many bars closed yes but the dangerous drinking continued.
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