Tuby the Tuber

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
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Trip End Sep 06, 2010


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Friday, July 23, 2010

We arrived at Vang Vieng just before the sun went in and could see what a beautiful setting it had. The small village was surrounded on all sides by rice paddies and karsts looming over the river.  The village itself has been completely taken over by backpackers and is to all intents and purposes 'Backpacker Heaven'.  There is nothing traditionally Laos or even South East Asian about it which I know in theory I should be ‘tsking’ about but in actually this place had such a warm and homely vibe I couldn’t help but love it too. 

We settled into one of the many, many guesthouses and then headed straight to a bar.  The bars here are all designed for maximum relaxation and as such do not have tables and chairs, instead they have beds with cushions and coffee tables where you can order food and Beer Lao while watching endless episodes of Friends or Family Guy on the TV screens.  We managed long stints of both during our three days here while reminiscing about our student lives when this was all we ever did.  I must also be honest and tell you that the food stalls in Vang Vieng tempted us away from our Asian diet.  As with everything else in town they were tailored to a Western palette and with bacon sandwiches and chocolate and banana pancakes on offer for half the price of the local food we gave in and feasted.  Typically this was the only street food we have had that upset my stomach, although it might have just been the guilt from breaking the diet!

On our first full day we woke up late thanks to ending up at ‘Bucket Bar’ drinking Lao Whiskey cocktails out of buckets while swinging in a hammock until the small hours, but that was nothing short of what was expected from us in Vang Vieng.  We got ready to head out for the day tubing on the river when I noticed my flip-flops were missing.  In Laos as a sign of respect you must take off your shoes before entering a guest house and mine had been outside with everyone else’s.  The hotel owner helped me play detective and we played back his security footage of a drunk man falling into the hotel, falling over, picking up my shoes and then falling over again.  He was identified as the man in room 26 who, when confronted, had no memory of what he might have done with my genuine Haviania flip-flops that were my souvenir from Brazil and it became clear that the security camera shot was the last I was ever going to seem of them.  It was a sad occasion as we’d traveled a long way around the world together and I never got to show them ‘home’ they lived the life of a nomad and served me well.  I decided to mourn their loss by getting out and enjoying the day, it’s what they would have wanted, and we headed out to go tubing (an activity that suitably does not require footwear).

We were given two inflated tyre inners and jumped on the back of a tuk-tuk to drive 3km up stream where we would begin the tubing experience.  I’m not going to lie, the river did not look that inviting, it was clearly swollen with the amount of recent rain, was flowing shockingly quickly and the murky brown colour screamed all types of hidden diseases at me.  As is the way with these things we’d come this far that were obviously going to do it anyway so we jumped in our tubes and started floating towards the first bar.  Well everyone else did, despite the frantic flow of the river mine managed to defy physics and started carrying me upstream.  Soon enough I paddled myself into a helpful current and was also on my way to our first destination. 

The first bar was full of people drinking buckets and Beer Lao so we thought we’d stop by and join in the atmosphere but we realised we didn’t know how to stop.  The bar owner, sensing a sale, literally threw us a life line and started reeling us in against the current.  I thought my arms were going to be yanked off but thanks to my fear of being the only person weak enough to be left floating down the river I found the strength to hang on long enough to be reeled in to the shallows.  The bar was great with summer tunes playing and cold beer to relax with in the sun.  I thought someone had put something in my beer when I saw someone fall out of the sky into the river in front of us but it turned out to be a thrill seeker trying out the bar’s tree top trapeze to launch themselves into the river.  Moments later Steve was in the line and took the leap from treetops to river without hesitation.  I can’t say I was tempted, the whole thing was a health and safety departments worst nightmare and I’m clumsy at the best of times! 

We drank up and floated further down stream to find a new bar, Steve got reeled into one but my arms failed me and, much to my embarrassment, I ended up being swept away by the current.  I did manage to float nicely into the dock of the next bar though to wait for Steve to catch me up however on the dismount from my tube I stood on a wobbly stone under the water and fell hard onto a rock taking a big whack on my shin.  The impact alone broke the skin and started bleeding which was pretty much my worst nightmare given the cleanliness of the river but there was little to be done about it.  It was just typical that everyone else was being drunkenly reckless and even when I try to be sensible injury finds me.  The bar itself had suitably cold beer and comfortable hammocks to make me feel better but I was in no state to now play volley ball in the mud pit which was a missed opportunity.

Eventually it was time to quit whining and get on with having a good day so we donned our tubes and sailed on down stream admiring the stunning views all around.  At the last bar we went to there was an even higher trapeze to play on and Steve had a good few turns being launched into the soupy water when finally I decided not to be the victim and to actually have a go at playing the daredevil myself.  I believe my line of thinking was, I’ve already got my injury so lightning doesn’t strike twice – the thinking of a person who might have been drinking all day.  As soon as I’d actually launched off the platform I couldn’t believe I’d actually done it or that I’d managed to hold my own weight long enough to swing out and not just drop into the water.  Then reality set in that I’d have to drop sooner or later and I managed to just hold on long enough to ensure it was at the lowest point of the arc to create minimum swallowage of dirty water.  Surprisingly I both enjoyed and survived it but wasn’t quite foolish enough to tempt fate a second time.  Instead we made the most of the meandering float down the river that was left, usually supposed to take one hour from the last bar but as the river was running so fast it was more like half an hour in our case.  I might have limped over the finish line but at least I made it on time to return our tubes without a fine, long after we were cosied up in a Friends bar people were still staggering off of the river in the dark.  How they managed to get off at the right village in one piece in such an inebriated state I’ll never know.  .

On our second day we rented bikes and went exploring the countryside with our destination being a gigantic cave.  The cave went on and on into the darkness with huge caverns you could have fit an office block into.  We only had one small head torch between us so were not overly adventurous about how deep we wanted to go.  In fact we beat a hasty retreat once the headlight panned onto a big creepy spider on the rock right in front of us in a pitch black cavern.  The spider chased us out the cave but at the entrance we realised the torrential rain had kicked in again and we took our chances with the spider for a bit longer rather than attempt the steep steps cut into the sheer rock face we’d have to scale to get out again.  When it let up slightly we made a break for it but it was pelting at us by the time we were on the bikes again which was actually a welcome change from the heat we had endured on the ride to get there.  We couldn’t complain about the weather cutting short our plans in a place with beds and tv’s in bars so we made the most of our last evening in Vang Vieng by putting our feet up.  Next stop would be Luang Prabang only a mere 8 hours away by bus where we would return from this western dreamland into South East Asia again.

Lots of Love,

Amy and Sandwich-eating Steve

P.s My flip flops never did reappear so I’m now left with just one pair that dye my feet dark brown when I wear them and given how often I have to take my shoes off here it’s quite a serious problem!
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