‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ right? To be polite, and possibly also advantageous, to abide by the customs of a society when one is a visitor- Tick. So everyone traveling through this neck of the woods have heard the stories of this place- I was cynical…understandably. This is the party capital of the South East Asian world after all- and I thought I was over here to culture my bones…
The stories I had been told all had the same general theme to them; that of potent whiskey buckets, sex, and pure hedonistic behaviour, where people are let loose on the shallow river with their waterproof pouch and large inflated tube. I attempted to approach this place with due care and consideration for myself and others, and had committed to myself from day one that I would spend 2 days exploring the surrounding area and just 1 day actually ‘tubbing’. Afterall, if I wanted to get messed up in bars, neck an uncountable amount of shots and have lots of sex, I could have saved alot of money on flight fares hopping over to a Mediterranean island much closer to home.
So I arrive at VV by bus, the roads still certainly living up to their reputation as being a little harsh (understatement). Me and my friend checked in to a pretty hotel by the river for just $10 a night. The plan is to not get too drunk and conform with some of the cretins that have been passing us by. With alcohol heavy on their breath, and a genuine struggle to walk in a straight line and stay upright, I was telling myself I wouldn’t be getting so messed up myself during my stay here.
Like all the other places I visited during my 3 months away, a scooter was now a necessity to get out and see places in all its glory. The stunning limestone mountains that tower over Vang Vieng draw in crowds for caving and rock climbing, and a short bike ride over the other side of the river took me to the Blue Lagoon. Living true to its name, this amazing little hide-away is the perfect retreat from the loud and bustling town, where you can dip your toes in the refreshing pool of water and relax all afternoon. Just behind is an entrance to a deep cave. As soon as you enter you are submerged into darkness. Flashlight on and bats screeching above, I proceeded to work on my caving skills in the name of adventure.
The food soon got boring here. The town is over-run with american tourists, and this reflex’s notably with the burger/pizza restaurants and friends/family guy on repeat in each of them. Don’t expect any nice cuisine down by the river. If you don’t fancy a greasy burger or a poor take on a ‘spag bol’, you can head away from the river side to a couple of nice restaurants a 5-10 minute walk away, each whipping up great food at a reasonable priced.
Two days quickly passed, and day 3 was fast approaching. I had lost count on the occassions I had witnessed guys and girls stumble back in the late afternoon from the river with their tube over their shoulder. Some would be sick, some would fall over; all of them had lost atleast one garment of clothing or a flipflop. I can’t do that to myself- I can’t conform. I woke up well rested for the day ahead of me. I sat down and had my egg, toast and ham, and washed it down with my first BeerLao of the day. We payed a visit to the tube shop where for a small parting of cash you can hire your tube for the day. With tube over shoulder, and my second BeerLao in hand, we climbed into the back of the truck which was to run us the 3 miles up stream to the start of it all.
5 minutes later, we rolled out the back with our inflatables and made way through the trees to a foot bridge which takes you to the first bar. Ahead, the Nam Song River was lined with bars across both banks, all pumping out awful pop music. Each bar would sport some form of zip line or rope swing to draw in the punters, for the drunken revelers to trifle with; each participant blissfully unaware of the dangers lurking just beneath the shallow water, in the form of razor-like rocks, with a large area of failure and odds stacked up against them. Every bar you enter, you get a free shot of whiskey. Every drink you buy at the bar, you get a free shot of whiskey. Every beer you down in one, you get a free shot of whiskey. It would be safe to say that I was drunk within the first half an hour of arriving. I will not conform. Its easy to see how these kids would drink so much, lose their memory, lose their flipflops, lose all manor of things intoxicated this much on this river. The day passed me by in a blur of drunken haze and intermittent memory loss. I may or may not have had mushrooms slipped into my bucket shake, knowingly or unknowingly. We went from bar to bar in our tubes, soaking up the sun, the shots, and cheap buckets. I danced, I played beer pong, I met loads of like-minded drunken companions, all of whom were, for that day, the exact best friends I had been looking for all this time. As I made my way further down stream, I made the educated decision to swerve the slides and swings- after all, I like my life and didn’t fancy cutting that one short. I continued drinking…
I can’t remember at what point of the afternoon I lost my flipflops, but they never made it back with me. If my memory serves me correct, I think one snapped whilst I was busy winning at limbo (my prize-you guessed it…shots of whiskey). As the sun began to slip away behind the mountains, it was time to return our tubes. I fell over, I cut my knee, I grazed my elbow…I laughed so hard and so much that I would struggle to catch a breath between hysterics. Finishing of the night, I sat around the large log fire at bucket bar with my new found family, discussing and reminiscing the carnage the day had to offer us. It was 10.30pm, and the night was still young for many…but apparently I’m not as good at drinking as I once were. With my greasy hamburger in hand, profanities penned all over my arms; black feet, and bruised skin, I stumbled back to my room, to the not-so-subtle chuckles of a few bemused passer by’s
I laugh at my own hypocrisy that is Vang Vieng. I wouldn’t have done VV any other way. I got to see all the beauties the place has to offer, and I fully embraced the culture of river life. So I conformed…shoot me; I had a bloody good laugh. Generally, I’m good at doing things in moderation…but then nothing about the Nom Song River is moderate. Parting words of advice? The sad truth is, people do hurt themselves here, mainly down to poor decisions when they have drunk too much. It’s said that few people die a year in VV, although I heard ominous rumors that this figure is in fact way higher. Don’t do anything stupid, check out the swings and ropes first for abit before having a go, and don’t get so drunk that you don’t know what you’re doing. Lastly, look out for each other and be safe.
With my bus now booked for Vientiane, I had a plane waiting to whisk me somewhere a little colder- Hanoi. Time for more visa’s and another stamp in the passport…
…pass me the painkillers please
- Vang Vieng, Laos. Part 1 (roiglioness.wordpress.com)
- TUBING! – Vang Vieng, Lao Peoples Dem Rep (travelpod.com)
- Vang Vieng recommended (meertells.wordpress.com)
- What’s up Vang Vieng?! (meertells.wordpress.com)
- Sabaidee! – Vang Vieng, Lao Peoples Dem Rep (travelpod.com)
- The New Vang Vieng – Vang Vieng, Lao Peoples Dem Rep (travelpod.com)