Sobriety down the tube. Vang Vieng, Laos
Somewhere in the heart of Laos the sun is beginning to set over a shallow, brown river in a dusty little town. The silence is broken by the patter of tiny feet making their way hurridly over a make-shift wooden bridge. As he gets nearer to the other side the little boy cuts the corner, leaping onto the bank, tripping out of his tshirt and shorts and tearing into the river. He is welcomed by a torrent of water, kicked at him by a group of gleeful kids. They spend the next few minutes splashing about together before their fun is destroyed, as always, by their mother. Seated on a rock downstream, she calls them one by one and they reluctantly skulk over to be scrubbed from top to toe with a hard bar of soap. Water buffalo look on from the shore where a row of stilt houses are set off by a misty backdrop of hunched karst mountains and slouching palms.
A few kilometres upstream on the same river the silence is punctuated by noises of a very different kind. A guy screams in terror as he flails through the air, working his arms and legs as if climbing an invisible ladder. A collective gasp escapes the gathered crowd as they wait for him to come crashing down on top of two twenty-ish, bikini-clad girls who are floating down the river in tractor tubes, beer cans in hand, blissfully unaware of their impending doom. Miraculously he lands face flat in the 2m space between them and the crowd errupts in rowdy applause. Interrupted from their silent reverie, the girls look around in confusion before spotting the guy gasping for air nearby and the river swing dangling 30ft above his head. “Awesome!” they scream as they grab hold of the end of a rope thrown out to them and are dragged ashore to another bar on the river. “Tubing rocks!”
The girls climb up the bamboo ladder to Bar II and are quickly lost in a crowd of one hundred nearly-naked bodies splayed out on mats and dancing energetically on tables and benches. Although the revellers vary in race, shape and size they all have one thing in common – every one of them is clutching a coloured bucket densely populated by chewed straws. As the song changes to a popular tune (“Oh. My. God. I LOVE this song. Lisa, it’s our HOLIDAY SONG! We HAVE to dance!”) the alcohol inside sloshes over the edge and onto a dozing party-goer who opens one eye, assesses the situation and then licks off the renegade liquid.
If you have ever wondered what would happen if you gave a bunch of twenty-something year olds with no responsibilities unlimited alcohol, river swings, slides, ziplines, a mud volleyball pit, a handul of self-run bars and no clothes then Vang Vieng should feature pretty high on your travel wishlist. Until recently Vang Vieng was just a small town in a beautiful location (after all, tourists were only permitted to enter Laos in 1990) until one day someone said “Wouldn’t it be fun to float downstream in a tyre tube? Wouldn’t it be more fun to do it drunk? Wouldn’t it be even more fun if you didn’t have to load a keg into your tube, if you could just hop out and go to a purpose-built bar enroute?
A few years later and the experiment is complete – a tourist town dedicated to partying. Whatever your poison they have it in Vang Vieng laced with rocket fuel M-150 and costing only one dollar on happy hour. And what’s better, the next day when you are exhausted, sick as a dog and totally confused (what happened, whos shoes are these and why in God’s name does it say ‘My Daddy loves me too hard’ on my back?) Vang Vieng can provide you with the best hangover in Asia complete with scrumptious breakfast rolls and bars where you can stretch out and watch Friends or Family Guy re-runs all day.
They built it and we came. We partied. We recovered. We partied for another three days. Then we fled to Luang Prabang, clutching our livers and wondering how on earth anyone could do that for 380 days. That guy must hate himself. I hate that guy.
Along the way we picked up some great friends – two bubbly sisters from Oz (Amanda and Amelia) and two Kiwis (Joe and Laura) who were dating/broken up/still in love/so totally over each other/definately not sleeping together in that double bed. After two weeks of not making any friends in Cambodia we were starting to make use of our Break-up-o-meter so it was with absoulte pleasure and not a little desperation that we latched onto Laura and Joe for a week of witty banter and friendly abuse. I love those guys. Even if they did cause us major internal bodily harm, almost start a punch-up in Vang Vieng and give me some kind of strange, digestion-related disease*.
*note: these things may or may not have been Laura and Joe’s fault but they were there at the time and they’re Kiwis so let’s just say it was.
P.S. note to Laura and Joe: It’s dead not did and men not min. Get it right!
More pictures from Vang Vieng are available in the gallery