4/4 – Our original purpose for spending time in Vang Vieng was to split up the long bus ride between Luang Prabang and our next stop, the Laotian capital of Ventiene. We were not aware until we got here that Vang Vieng was, until recently, the wildest party town in all of Southeast Asia, known for its alcohol and drug fueled tubing trips down the Nam Song River. Here is one of the many bar “menus” you can see online if you Google this town.
Over 400 young travelers a day used to tube down the river, starting off at noon with free shots, Beer Lao and “bucket” drinks, and stopping at riverside bars every hundred yards enroute to re-lubricate themselves with both alcohol and drugs ordered off a menu, while zip-lining, swinging, sliding, jumping off bridges and doing other foolhardy things that was getting them injured and killed in such large numbers that, in 2012, the Communist government came in and ripped all the bars and party equipment down. Once the bars and drugs were gone, the kids stopped coming, and now Vang Vieng is the sleepy little town we see today.
The river is still here, and the mountain scenery is still beautiful, so we decided to have a go at tubing, without the intoxicants. My arm is still healing, and I can’t yet handle a kayak paddle or a hiking stick, but how strenuous could sitting in a tube be?
We walked down to the tube rental place and payed 55,000 kip each ($6.80) plus a 60,000 kip deposit to assure that each tube is returned by 6pm. We signed release of liability forms, and had numbers written on our hands in blue magic marker, presumably so that our bodies could be identified when they washed ashore. I had a waterproof bag for our shirts and sandals, and Jim carried his iPad in another dry bag so he could capture our journey on video. We piled into a tuk-tuk with eight like-minded youngsters, and were driven four km upstream and let off at a bar blaring Pharrell’s “Happy” to begin our journey. I thought all the bars were gone?
The young folks jumped right into the water while we oldsters applied sunscreen and secured our clothing in the dry bag. There wasn’t much current, so we waded in to knee-deep water, and set off. A little ways downstream was another bar blaring techno music, with a man on shore holding a long rope to throw to anyone who wanted to be reeled in for a drink. The young folks all went ashore, and we had the river to ourselves. There were several more bars with loud music, then blissful silence and the serenity of the river.
Even though we were just floating along, some paddling was required, and I soon realized that my right arm was not up to the job. Luckily, Jim snagged a long piece of bamboo as it drifted by, so we attached our tubes together and Jim steered for both of us.
The dry bags weren’t totally dry, and Jim’s iPad got wet. No more pix today!
After three hours on the water, we saw a sign that said Tubing Ends Here. We stumbled out of our tubes (both my legs has fallen asleep) and onto the rocky beach at a deserted bar. Don’t know why, but I expected some sort of welcoming committee at our destination. A marimba band, perhaps? We shouldered our tubes and hiked across a rickety bridge back to the main road, and found our way back to the tubing office. Success! A fun day.