During my four months of travel through the Indochina peninsula I met many travelers who had already been to Laos, all of whom had their own opinions and suggestions. Upon hearing that I was soon headed there myself their first question was generally "Are you going to Vang Vieng?" aka are you tubing? Over the years Vang Vieng has become a bit of a legend among backpackers on the SE Asian backpacking trail. Once the epicenter for drugs, drinking and 'chilling out', it has now relaxed a bit while keeping a portion of that old 'charm'.
wasn't sure if I'd partake in the fun, 5 years ago I wouldn't have given it a second thought but now it was a decision I had to make; I guess I'm growing up? Really though, the party scene just has a different vibe when you're traveling alone. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending how you look at it) I met two Canadian guys in Phonsovan and decided to join them for their onwards journey to Vang Vieng. Neither of the boys had their heart set on tubing, but after talking to other travelers were convinced that it's the thing to do there.
Our first full day brought a rainy morning and overcast skies. Not wanting to bike in a downpour tubing seemed like the logical thing to do, we'd be wet anyway. The official starting time is anywhere from 12pm onwards but the tubes must be returned by 6pm and the process takes 3 hours (not including stops). Once we chose to go we got to the office around 2pm, picked up our tubes, signed our lives away, paid and were loaded onto a tuk tuk headed north along with a load of other foreigners. By this point in my travels I was getting sick of the "what's your name..." which this day promised to be filled with, but I was hoping that a few drinks would solve that. After our brief, bumpy ride we arrived at the first bar, the jumping off point for our river (drinking) adventure.
Shots were being distributed (bizarrely enough from a girl who couldn't have been over 15) and it was clear the party had already started. Beer pong tables were filled with hopefuls and there was more neon in sight than I've seen in a long time. I lost (ditched/ignored) my friends I had come with and went over to observe the various been pong games. I soon found myself in the company of Simon and Vlad, two characters who were actually working at the bar. When they finished their game I destroyed Vlad in a game of 'Personal flip cup' (guess who invented that), while the majority of the crowd continued downstream. We were close behind but only after I was invited to shotgun beers with all the workers, when in Rome.
The remainder of the day proceeded in much the same fashion, drinking games, music, dancing, meeting loads of new people (who I'll never talk to again) and oh yeah, tubing. The company is smart in making their 'back before 6 late fee' because I'd be willing to bet no one makes it back on time, gaining them an extra 20,000 per head. Another entrepreneurial woman was selling sandwiches at the last bar but I failed to take advantage of those as I was busy dominating the basketball court...
After leaving the last bar it's roughly an hour ride back to the starting point which I enjoyed with my original travel buddies and Steve from TN who shared our tuk-tuk ride earlier that day. Vlad had disappeared somewhere around bar 3 with a lovely tall blonde on his shoulder, couldn't have asked for a better scape goat!
Despite having some apprehension about the day I'm happy to have taken part in the festivities. Tubing is somewhat of a legend in Vang Vieng, although it's gone through many faces over the years (some uglier than others). I had joked to my travel buddies about my love for day drinking and that it allows me a delicious dinner and decent bed time. I'm pretty sure they thought I was kidding but after I showered and sat down to my left over pizza I think they realized I was serious. They somehow convinced me to join them at the bars but it was short lived. One quick visit at a small bar where the owner was throwing Poi, a walk in the rain and more boredom at the Irish bar before I called it a night and enjoyed some well earned sleep. The only down side of the day is I have no pictures to show for it!
Often overlooked on the backpacker trail, this is a destination to not be missed. Without the influence of 7/11, Mc Donalds or Starbucks this is a country that offers a raw, rich experience.