Friday, February 19, 2010

Tubing in The Vang Vieng

20 January - 25 January 2010
In the meantime I've already been in Thailand for over a week now, but I haven't written much about Laos yet, that doesn't mean there's nothing to say, in the contrary, Laos has been my favorite country I've visited so far.

After the motorbike trek I head up North with Holly to the notorious Vang Vieng. At first I didn't want to go, knowing that this place is all about tubing (floating down a river on an inner-car-tyre), partying, drugs and boozing it up. Such a strange contrast I feel in a third world country. But i decide to go anyway, convinced by it being a stunning area and one of the best places in SE Asia to go rock-climbing.

When we arrived around lunch time (after a very windy and uphill ride into the mountains, luckily I took travel-sickness pills) it was already scorching hot and our rucksacks seemed stupidly heavy and annoying in the heat. But after some persistence we found a bungalow-resort on the otherside of the river called (quelle surprise) "The Otherside". We had a cute little bungalow, overlooking the karst-mountains, cows roaming around our front garden and it only cost 1,50 dollar each per night.

Vang Vieng lived up to all the stories I had heard. We were having lunch when a tuktuk full of 18 year old shouting, drunken kids with tubes on the roof came speeding around the corner on their way to the beginning of the "Tubing-Experince". I hadn't seen the infamous party-river yet, but I wasn't being convinced that this was something for me. The restaurants and bars were filled with hungover kids eating their hangover-cure breakfasts (all day long) and in ALL the restaurants seasons of either "Friends" or "Family Man" were playing non-stop on the tv screens.

The rockclimbing was great though, I managed to climb a few 4's and 5's and even a 6a, with alot of help of all the trees, roots and vynes, but nevertheless, I made it up there. I've only climbed a few times indoor in Amsterdam, but this is something different. You arrive at a seemingly impossible to climb rock-face, and then one of our guides starts climbing ahead to secure the top-rope, making it look like a walk in the park. You're surrounded by jungle, singing birds and fruit falling down from the trees while you're climbing. We had a fantastic time and the next day, the muscle-ache to prove it.

Not wanting to leave Vang Vieng without at least seeing what all the fuss is about, Holly and I decide to rent a tube and go to the river. Wearing just a bikini and a plastic wallet for our money we climb into the tuktuk joined by some guys who keep boasting about how hungover they feel and how much they drank yesterday and how much they can't wait to get wasted again.

Arriving at the party-scene we get offered a shot of Laos whiskey (it's 10 in the morning) and follow our fellow tuktuk passengers to the jumping-in spot. I think I might have been a bit too small for my tube, because I kept falling through, while everybody else made it look extremely comfortable, like floating fatboys. Luckily the tubes rotate, so I did manage to get a better fitting one in the end.

Now picture this: beautiful karst mountains covered by trees, blue sky, an occasional bird flying by and then you look down the river, you see 7-8 different bars on the riverbanks, everybody is either partying on the deck of one of the bars, floating in their tubes from one bar to the next, almost being capsized or bombed by people flying through the air jumping off the huge swings, slide and ziplines. In the meantime the locals are trying to get you to their bar by throwing empty plastic bottles attached to a string to pull you in, sometimes the string isn't strong enough because the current of the river is too strong. Loud music in every bar, from trance, hip-hop, house, 80's to Kings of Leon, all playing through the speakers at the same time... and this all in a space of a few 100 m's...

To be honest, I can see the fun in all this, but somehow I feel a bit to old for it all, and not very looking forward to splitting open my head (it happens alot) or killing someone else in the proces, so I just float down the river to a bar called "The last bar", which turns out not te be the last bar, but it's quieter, playing some chilled out reggae music and seats surrounding a fire floating on the river, it's quite chilly in the shade.

All in all, I'm glad I went to see what it was all about, but also glad to be moving on to a more civilized part of this third world country.

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