Vang Vieng! A name synonymous with Parties/Heavy Drinking/Friends and Family Guy/Happy Shakes/Happy Pizzas and most importantly of all TUBING!
For those who've been there, you know what I mean. For those who haven't here goes. Vang Vieng is a gorgeous little riverside town set amidst mountains. It was once, I imagine a quiet, laid back pretty town until Laotians discovered the excessive side of young travelers and realised it would be good business to provide them with everything they could wish for and more. Needless to say, young travelers were only too happy to oblige.
In Vang Vieng you'll find places offering happy shakes, happy pizzas etc. The word happy meaning 'laced with some kind of drug or other' be it marijuana, mushrooms or even opium. In recent years the 'happy' offerings have been limited to what's known as the 'party island'. To be honest we never actually made it to the party island so I don't know if I'm perpetuating the myth here.
Another unique feature of this town is the set up of some of the bars and cafes. Tables are arranged with chairs facing in one direction - towards a TV playing constant re-runs of either Friends or Family Guy. It was depressing to realise that whilst Friends was definitely from 'our' generation most of the travelers here were too young to have actually seen it back home!
The biggest draw to the place however, is what's know as 'tubing'. That is, hiring a giant rubber ring and floating down the river lying on it. 'Tubing' was the most consistent word we heard coming from the mouths of anyone who's been to Laos. We couldn't wait to give it a try.
Now I imagine that some time ago Tubing consisted of just that...floating down a river. Then someone had a great idea to open up a bar along the way so that 'floaters' could stop over for a pint or two. Someone else liked the idea and opened up a bigger bar, with louder music. Soon after a third bar opened, but what to do to outdo the competition? Hmmm free shots of some potent home made brew? That's always a winner. How about adding a slide from the bar into the river? That will be fun! And what about a swing for people to swing in the water? Or a zip line? And lo and behold a legend was born! It both attracted travelers and repelled others. Some spoke of Vang Vieng as the highlight of their trip while others wouldn't go there if you paid them. We were curious, and whilst we knew we were older and therefore, naturally, wiser (hmmm) than most of the travelers there, there was no reason why we wouldn't enjoy a spot of tubing.
Sure enough on the night we got there we saw a jeep-load of drunken people arrive back from tubing to the centre of town. They were sprayed yellow and pink and blue and were totally wasted. We looked at them from our high horse thinking 'ah the follies of misguided youth' happy in the knowledge that we were past those days.
On the following morning, we decided to start our tubing day early so as to avoid all the mayhem. Our plan was to do it in a decent, mature, and grown up sort of way. Have a couple of beers along the way but get back to town within the curfew (6pm) and naturally, sober.
We set off with Shawn and Jo the couple we'd met in Vientiane and got dropped off by the jeep at a place called 'the new tubing start'. (Now, if you ever get to Vang Vieng please note that this is a trick they use to get you to visit some of the bars that are further down the river. The best bars are further north and you have to walk up for about 20 minutes to reach the real start of the tubing trail).
At this point I could write that it all went according to plan and we had a nice, decent time tubing down the river. Don't worry we did have a nice time, a great time in fact, but not quite as we had planned.
It started to go awry even before we got to the first bar, when we were offered a free shot of god knows what before crossing the starting bridge. This was quickly followed by a second free shot the minute we crossed the bridge. Of course now we had to buy some alcohol to show our appreciation for our free drink. A couple of beers later (please note that I didn't even like beer before we set off on this trip) we decided that it was time to tube!! Hooray. We got in the river and started floating down the river. It was so much fun for the whole 5 metres we did it. Soon enough a rope was thrown at us from another bar. We loved the idea of being lassoed into a bar so we had to oblige.
10 minutes later we were playing games of 'beer pong' (getting a ping pong ball into a cup of beer) and 'Flip cup' (a relay race involving downing cups of beer and then flipping them over) and we became best friends with all those around us. And the music was great and sooooo much fun. And then someone brought out some spray paint and stencils......(Sounds like I'm reading my own diary from when I was teenager!). Needless to say we never made it past the third bar, we never made it back before our curfew time, and we definitely never made it back sober. Of course when we did make it back, we were sprayed blue!
Even as I write this, three weeks after the actual event, my toes still have blue paint on them. Although I do have a huge grin on my face as the whole day was brilliant brilliant fun. We went there expecting to see people who were totally off their faces, but what we found was people having fun. The atmosphere is great and very contagious. And yes, when I hear people are going to Laos, I will be one of those saying 'You've got to go tubing!'. We were so wasted by the time we got back to town that the rest of it is a blur!
Before I go on, I must say that zip lining is so much fun! Going fast down a line and jumping off into a river is like being a child again!
As I was saying we were pretty drunk. Karen wisely went back to crash for a while. I on the other hand went to watch some football with Sean, Jo and some new found friends. We actually never really got to see much of the football as we were distracted by more free drinks at the bar. Although I did keep sending Sean over to the big screen to see Villa (he is a Villa fan) losing 4 v 0 to Blackpool. It was hugely entertaining as Villa were not even playing and two all these Man U fans were moaning at him because he was standing right in front of the screen. Very funny. After a few hours I went to wake up Karen to come out to play. I duly did that but by the time she got ready, the booze really hit home and i crashed out! It turned out I was not the only one as all the gang were in bed by 22:00! Party animals or what? The next day was a chilling day, surprise surprise but we were determined to tube further down the river so we organised another tubing day. This time we actually managed to tube all the way! We did stop off at a few bars at the start but we took it a lot easier. The weather was overcast so that helped. As Karen mentioned before, the first few bars are the best of the lot. About half way down the river (1.5 hours of tubing) there is a bar called Mr Lau Lau (I think) which is probably the last good bar in our humble opinion. It has tables in the river and the Laos owners are great. They were dancing with us and spayed us (yes again!) with purple paint. Another word of advice, when you get to the Bob Marley bar, get a tuk tuk back to town. We declined as we wanted to tube all the way but the last 1 hour is a lot slower so you have to row with your flip flops and the scenery is not as spectacular. Talking of scenery, this area is amazing. Just sitting in your tube slowly going down the river and looking up at these huge limestone cliffs is really trippy. You don't need any happy shakes to be zoned out! So you see, we did manage to tube and not get drunk but I am sure glad we did both! So that was Vang Vieng. Not everybody's cup of tea but in our view a great diversion from the more relaxed and cultural side of Laos. Talking of which, our next stop is Luang Prabang, a place we have been excited about for a long time. It always comes in the top 3 Cities / Towns in the world in Wanderlust magazine. You will see what all the fuss is about in our next entry!
Love & Peace as always,
Karen & Paul xxx