Vulgar Vang Vieng – Tubing or not?

5 Mar
This is tubing - better and lazier than a trek

This is tubing - better and lazier than a trek

I had planned to stay only a two or three days in Luang Prabang, but ended up staying 6 nights. LPB is a very pleasant city, nice to get lost in – and then I met nice people, and lost track of time. I definitely slowed down in my travels, not rushing around anymore. And “Lao PDR” (which stands for ‘please don’t rush’) has a very soothing effect – you just want to take things easy here…

But on the other side there is rough and rowdy Vang Vieng – a magnet for everybody that wants to get high – either on outdoor adrenaline adventures or on booze and happy shakes. Average age probably 22. I was veeeeery skeptical about going there and join in the tubing (see below) or kayaking experience, but then enjoyed it to the max!

Lovely mountain views - but horrible roads

Lovely mountain views - but horrible roads

Since Vang Vieng is on the road between Luang Prabang and Vientiane (where I needed to go to take a flight to Siem Reap), I thought I’d break up my trip and stay a day or two in this so-called “backpackers paradise”. I bought a ticket for a 5 hour mini-bus trip, which took me from 8h30 in the morning till 4pm… (funny way of timing). The minivan took us through veeeeery windy roads. There wasn’t one stretch that was straight for more than 50 meters. I’m usually not so much into pills, but after only half an hour of turning, breaking, accelerating and overtaking, I was veeeeery happy to have my Mottilium within reach (against nausea and car sickness). It took us about 6 or 7 hours for 150km snailing through the beautiful mountains, overtaking trucks, dodging crossing cows and children and of course stopping at all the places where the driver got commission.

Regression: Simpsons and beer... (I am ashamed)

Regression: Simpsons and beer... (I am ashamed)

And then we arrived in Vang Vieng… Think of all the influence tourism can have on a local community and you get Vang Vieng. Tourists like banana pancakes? There’s dozens of pancake stalls lining the streets. The active tourists want to go tubing down the river? Dozens of travel agencies offer tubing trips. At the tubing, people want to have fun, and get drunk? So every 50 meters there’s a bar that sells Beer Lao or Lao Lao local whisky. Want to be even more happy? Many bars offer happy shakes, with your choice of magic mushrooms, marihuana, or even opium. People want to chill in the evening? There are dozens of restaurants with TVs that play non-stop head-to-tail episodes of Friends, Simpsons and what not.

  • I have to admit that I went for a fill of Simspons with some chicken & sticky rice – but that was mainly because my tummy was acting strange again (so that was the start of another few days of Coke & Cookies diet).

B

The wobbly bridge to the other side, to peace & quiet

The wobbly bridge to the other side, to peace & quiet

ut there is a possibility to escape from the hustle and bustle of the tourist town. I found a guesthouse down the other side of the river. I actually waded through the river to get there, because you had to pay to go over the bridge. Locals paid 1000 kip, foreigners 4000. I refused out of principle – and stepped into the river, as many locals were doing anyway. It being dry season, water got only to my knees at the deepest spot.

I found a lovely stilt bungalow place (with attached bathroom and even hot water this time) for 50000 kip (5 Euro)/night – pictures below. A big bamboo room with mattress on the floor with mosquito net, and a balcony that comes with a hammock overlooking the river. On this other side of the river; things are more quite and relaxed, with a beautiful view of the limestone karst mountains from the window. And it only takes 10 minutes to get to a wobbly but toll-free bridge to get into town.

Tubing – you cannot be in Vang Vieng and not go tubing!

The rules of the game (to squeeze more money out of you)

The rules of the game (to squeeze more money out of you)

So I thought I’d give it a go: the INfamous tubing – more out of participative social research reasons, than because I wanted to actually go tubing. I had seen the evening before quite some drunk people coming back from the tubing, half naked, completely wasted (either alcohol or other mind-expanding stuff), some couldn’t even walk – and many injured (limping, cuts, bruises,…).

So I was just going to have a look what it is like and probably be back after an hour or so, leaving the drunks to the drunks. Been there, done that, off my list, never again. But then it turned out to be great experience after all – even though surreal.

Your body (bag) number...

Your body (bag) number...

So basically you arrive at the centralized tubing office (just to keep the prices high? 55000 Kip = 5,50€). You have to sign a paper on which you indicate if you want a life jacket or not, on which you take all responsibility for your actions whether it be in sober or not-so-sober state, and the 20000 Kip fine clause if you arrive back after 18h. And then you get a number marked on your hand in big fat indelible marker – in case they find your body floating down the river… There are a dozen of casualties each year apparently – and many get injured (especially the drunk ones).

I started off my tubing experience on my own and thought I would float the 4km down the river in an hour or so, take a shower and read a book in my hammock. But then there were all these bars on the road (river) and I didn’t want to be a bore – so I ended up in one of the bars with free shots and got talking to a German couple. The alcohol and the good vibes bonded us for the rest of the day, floating down the river together.

The Death slide - sooo much fun - and am still alive

The Death slide - sooo much fun - and am still alive

Each of the many bars tries to attract the customers and get their arses out of their tubes and into their bar. Some use free shots, all have invariably bad music, and there are many swings, cliff jumps or death ride slides around. Well, I’m not 18 anymore, so I didn’t really feel like facing death – and all people watching. But after a first timid time, I really got a hang of it – it was simply suuuuper fun. I got drunk on adrenaline rather than alcohol – even though there was a bit of both ;-)

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