24 November 2011

TUBING! [Vang Vieng, Laos]

One of the most well known activities in South East Asia, and probably the most hyped; TUBING! For those not in the know, tubing entails grabbing an inner tube and peacefully floating down a nice river. Oh, and stopping off at many of the makeshift riverside bars, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, those more adventurous souls downing a magic-mushroom shake or two, then jumping from massive swings into the river. Yes, it is as dangerous (and AWESOME) as it sounds.

Vang Vieng in a word; stunning. It is surrounded by towering limestone mountains which rise sharply from the ground, some with a small covering off trees that have managed to take hold on the steep cliff faces. In between the mountains the landscape is green and gold, with lush forests, open fields and rice paddies. Truly beautiful.

Not interested in getting out into nature? Hungover and need a day to recover? Or just want to veg and do nothing? This is the perfect town. All the restaurants have these elevated booths with comfy cushions instead of tables and chairs, so you can lye back and relax. And they have two big screens at the front usually playing Friends (but sometimes Family Guy) on constant repeat. You can chill out drinking fruit shakes and watching crappy American TV shows all day and night! And they step it up a notch; most places having a 'Happy Menu', with weed/magic mushroom/opium shakes/pizza/coffee or whatever you like. Or you can just straight out buy the drugs if you want. On one menu I saw 1kg of weed. ONE KILOGRAM! On the menu! Like it is a normal occurrence to buy a kilo of weed.

Julia and I spent a day on hired bicycles riding out into the countryside. As soon as we were outside the town we were surrounded by what felt like 'real' Laos. Farmers in the fields, children playing on the side of the dirt road, smiling faces and friendly people. All surrounded by indescribably beautiful nature. We visited the 'Blue Lagoon', or what was advertised as the blue lagoon... There are a few 'fakes' around due to the popularity of the lagoon. Random people just slap up a sign and start charging people to go in. I think we got jacked... but it was still nice enough. We chilled out by a small stream and relaxed for a couple of hours, surrounded by the mountains.

So enough about the natural crap, what about the tubing!? We started our day by hiring a tube from a cartel in town for LAK 55,000 each (about US$7! pretty steep really) with a LAK 60,000 deposit. There are several ways in which you can loose your deposit, and they stack the odds well against you. So all in all, they do pretty well out of the whole operation. The $7 does include a 15 minute ride up river to the start point. So before noon we found ourselves in the back of a tuk-tuk with six other excited foreigners, ready for a big day on the river.

A short walk across a bamboo bridge and we arrive at the first bar (without even getting in the water). On arrival we drop our tubes, walk up the steps and are greeted by free whiskey shots (poured directly from the bottle into your mouth). This became a common theme - all the bars have bottles of this VERY cheap whiskey that is basically free-for-all. So what next? We bought a couple of drinks and relaxed in the sun, chatting shite, playing beer pong and watching more enthusiastic tubers floating down the river.

After a beer or two we finally get our first dip in the river. Floating for all of maybe 30 meters and we are thrown out a line by the staff at the next bar and hauled in. What did we do here? Well, the first bar, lather, rinse and repeat... With one exception; they had a massive swing! After a few goes we spied a sign across the river; 'BIGGEST SWING ON THE RIVER'. Oh, it's on...

And that is how the afternoon went, moving from bar to bar, trying (failing) to do back flips off the huge swings. Further down the river there were some awesome slides and a BLOB! (I had always wanted to try one of those). As we got further down the whiskey seemed to get more and more exotic, first filled with chillies, then wasps, and finally a massive centipede. Ugh. But what kind of backpacker turns down free shots?

The last few kilometers of the river are pretty sparse in terms of bars. It was starting to get cold and we had to have the tubes back in about 30 minutes, so we ended up grabbing a tuk-tuk. Just getting our tubes back before 6pm, therefore securing our deposit. Others we were with weren't so lucky. It seems some people on the river are just plain a**holes; They don't hire a tube, instead get a tuk-tuk up to the first bar and steal someone elses tube. Bastards!

Before setting out we purchased a small dry bag to hold money, keys and my camera. I know, drinking + water + huge swings + camera is probably not a good idea, but I really wanted to get some photos, and I was determined to be extra careful. It wasn't until the tuk-tuk ride back to the tube-station that I opened the bag and water literally poured out. Later we found a small hole, no idea how that got there. Maybe one of those big swings or slides? Hmmm... Another camera bites the dust.

We got back to our hotel about 6pm and both passed out. Julia woke me at 11pm to say we should probably get something to eat (we hadn't eaten all day). I had a horrendous hangover! Definitely top five material. I think it must have been all that cheap, nasty whiskey...

While I would have loved to stay and go tubing for a week (like many travellers do), but it was just so freakin' expensive! We literally could not afford it. So we decided one amazing day on the river was enough. The best decision for our wallets, and probably our health.

Random bits:
- Laotian people always greet you in Laos, even though there English is really good. I like that.
- The roads here are shitty. Really shitty. For every 20 meters of good road there are 30 meters of potholes. So even if you are in a comfy bus, long distance travel is pretty hellish. I am kinda glad we decided not to travel down through Laos to the south.
- I think I said it last post, but food here is expensive! Our one saving grace has been baguettes. They have baguette stalls everywhere that sell awesome sandwiches for (relatively) cheap.

1 comment:

  1. A few things:

    1. Drunken camping/canoeing/tubing is what everyone does here in the summer. We have Apple River not far from me and yeah- I'm pretty sure the water is mostly beer and piss. :)

    2. I feel like you need to come to America so I can feed you. Are you not eating? You need to eat. It's Thanksgiving here today and the amount of food happening right now is ridiculous. I have 4 dozen muffins and 3 pies on my counter right now. Not including everything I'm making.

    3. Stop breaking your cameras.

    Miss you... and keep having fun!


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