After my extended time in Bangkok and much dithering and faffing I was so indecisive I had to flip a coin to decide where my next destination should be; Burma, Laos or Cambodia. Laos won. I booked my ticket to Vientienne, the capital and 10 minutes before boarding the bus decided on a whim that I should instead go straight to Vang Vieng. V V is in the centre of Laos and the home of the infamous ‘tubing’ where you float down the deadly Nam Song river in a tractor tyre inner tube, visiting bars and partying along the way. This is actually the destination where I left my blog at last year, so I conveniently won’t be repeating myself in this post.
2 vallium, 4 buses, 1 tuk tuk and 22 hours later we finally arrived. I’ve never been a fan of long hall bus journeys but the vallium helps immensely with only mild hallucinations upon waking. I had never taken vallium before so perhaps it’s just the Bangkok kind that makes you see strange shit but I’ll never be without it on south east Asian transport again. I slept like a baby. Also the tourist buses in Thailand aka VIP buses are really rather plush; you get a loo on board and frilly doily like curtains and sometimes a little packed lunch. And as I found out, Thai /Laos transport is like 5* luxury when compared with the transport in Cambodia.
Now Vang Vieng is where most holidaymakers and travellers go tubing and to party, and for most it’s the only place in Laos they will visit as it’s basically like the full moon party x 1000 but in the daytime, on a river, every single day. It’s a shame that few visitors make it past this hedonistic place. Partying in Vang Vieng, as amazing as it is, is nothing like the real Laos at all. Pretty much all of the food is western fare; pancakes, burgers, pizza and more chicken sandwiches than you could ever imagine in one place. Laos food exists here, but isn’t that great apart from one restaurant called Nokeo which I visited last time but was closed every single day I went to eat there this time around. Having said that, if all you’ve been eating for the past month is noodles, rice and curry, sometimes a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich is just what the doctor ordered. Ok, now I’ll stop with the judgemental ‘I’m a REAL traveller now, so it’s not all about drinking buckets’ rant and tell you about the fun stuff because, as you know, I like to party.
Tubing in Vang Vieng
How it works is this: you wake up in the morning with a massive hangover, stumble out of your guesthouse to the nearest restaurant and order something greasy and wrong, then wash it all down with a fruit shake of your choice. Or a Beer Laos. Next you get your waterproof-ish tubing bag, stuff it with fags and kip and stumble your way down to one of the tubing stations. You pay an extortionate sum of kip and sign a form (all written in Laos) but I presume it’s some sort of disclaimer so if you happen to injure yourself or drown it’s your own fault and not theirs. After this you pick up your tube, clamber into a tuk tuk with a bunch of other hooligans and then an Irishman will give you shots from a bottle of Tiger whiskey. This isn’t an essential part of the experience, the Laos people don’t actually pay an Irishman to sit in the tuk tuk and feed you booze but I would bet money on it happening as it literally happened every single day I tubed. Then you hurtle down dirt roads past amazing scenery (just ignore this and have another shot) and then get dumped at the start of the tubing bars along the river. Grab your tube and you are ready to go. Good bye and good luck.
Q bar is the first you’ll visit along the river, you receive a ‘Q bar’ wristband, a bikini girl will pour whiskey in your mouth like a sort of Q bar baptism, or perhaps offer you a bodyshot, then you are practically forced to down more shots (from a glass) and after this Laos whiskey ordeal you will receive a woven bracelet. Each bar along the river will give you one of these in varying colours every time you enter the bar. From this it is obvious to recognise the people who have been there for far too long (like me). I had about 21 at the last count having been in Vang Vieng about a week. Next, if you are a girl you should expect to have your bikini untied by the guy running the bar, string bikinis are especially easy for this sort of activity, which I unluckily found out. All of this happens before you have even entered the bar and bought your first beer. And it happens in almost every bar along the river, of which there are 6 or 7.
Within the bars they play the usual cheese/dubstep SE Asia soundtrack, have games and competitions such as beer pong and in the 2nd bar (Star Bar) you can partake in a civilised game of X-rated Jenga, the family favourite. It’s like regular jenga but each jenga stick has either a dare or drinking associated task to perform scribbled onto it.
I played the game once not realising the complete set of rules and ended up having to perform various simulated sexual positions and then walk around the entire bar topless (but obviously covering my boobs with my hands), which was mild compared to some of the dares.
I watched one guy take a shot of whiskey in his eye. IN HIS EYE. And the amount of upside down beer bongs I witnessed are impossible to count. It’s amazing what kids will do for fun these days.
This young lady I fear may have taken the game a little too seriously, bear in mind that this is only the second bar.
As it’s easier to sum up visually, and to be fair I can’t really remember most of it through my haze of drunkenness, here are some snapshots of day to day life in Vang Vieng:
So, after a hard days tubing and as the evening draws in and turns into night everyone takes a tuk tuk back into town to then shower (or not), get some dinner (or not) and then party across the other side of the river until the early hours (compulsory). Bucket bar has probably the happiest happy hour I’ve ever encountered – free buckets from 9pm – 10pm then £1 buckets thereafter. Plus the obligatory fire limbo for drunken loons to acquire additional injuries.
The first time I was in Vang Vieng it was during the dry season and each bar had either a rope swing, zipline or slide into the river. During the wet season the river runs much faster and so many of these dodgy wet n’ wild rides were out of use when I was there this time. Even so, you can easily imagine why the Nam Song River takes many lives here every year. Westerners who think they can handle their alcohol and drugs may be fine on dry land, but on the river it is another matter entirely. I for one had to help on average at least one person per day who had either drunk too much, or dabbled with drugs they thought they could handle and couldn’t. Like this guy:
I also had the interesting experience of sharing a room with a girl who I met on the bus and I guess I sort of ‘misjudged’ her on the whole alcohol tolerance front.
The first night alarm bells started to ring right from the off; we arrived early, but not early enough to tube so thought it would be nice to sit in a restaurant overlooking the river and enjoy an early evening meal. To accompany my meal I ordered a Beer Laos. She ordered a bucket. And then another.
By around 8pm that evening she was totally and utterly smashed. I gave her the key to go back home (literally a 2 minute walk from the bar). At around midnight the owner of the bar informs me that she has fallen down the stairs of our guesthouse, she’s lost the key to our room and is a crying, jibbering mess on the floor. Great.
After sorting her out and finding the key I put her to bed and hoped that the whole thing was just a case of ‘first night syndrome’ and she would have learnt her lesson. I was wrong. The following day I lost her at about 5pm and couldn’t find her for the entire night, then as I arrive back to our hotel find her butt naked on the bed; a sprawled, drooling mess. It transpired the next day that she thought it would be a good idea to eat an entire bag of magic mushrooms, on her own, in our room.
The following night; same story, or as the SE Asians say ‘same same, but different. This time an opium pancake was her disaster of choice.
On her last day in Vang Vieng I had basically given up and ignored my initial instincts of responsibility. If she wanted to kill herself by getting twatted and drowning in the river, or breaking her legs on rocks tubing or overdosing on some weird drug, well she could be my guest… Only that wasn’t true at all. Of course I went to look for her when she was lost. And on her last day there after losing her by the riverside I went to the Island to try and find her. Which brings me onto my next story:
After spending a week in Vang Vieng did I sustain any injuries? Yes, of course I did. However, I didn’t injure myself by crashing a motorbike, nor have any drunken related tubing disasters, I didn’t fall off the stage trying to pole dance drunk (again a la Koh Phi Phi), or fall into a coma from some insane cocktail of drugs. No, instead of these rock and roll endings I was stone cold sober and fell through a bridge when looking for my crazy room-mate. This bridge:
And this is my leg in various shades of black and blue:
It was dark when it happened and I was alone, my leg stuck in the bridge refusing to release itself like two foxes mating. No matter which way I shifted, my leg wasn’t going to budge, my knee joint was plugging the gap and the bridge was having none of it. It was my own version of 127 hours, although it was probably only around 10 minutes, and I didn’t have to saw through my own leg to escape.
After five or so minutes a crowd had developed around me on the bridge, each person drunk and offering advice. One guy started shouting “we need lubrication, does anyone have any LUBE?” Everyone did, but it was inconveniently back at their guesthouses. Then one girl had the bright idea of pouring her whiskey bucket on my leg to help free it. No such luck. Eventually after a struggle, through gritted teeth I pulled my leg free. A cheer erupted and we shared buckets all round. By this point though I had made up my mind; I had to leave. So the next day it was time to flip the coin once more.