The bus pulls up at 3am. Nice and late. I managed to locate a guest house that had someone awake in it. Babylon Guest House gave me a comfy bed, Wi-Fi access and a hot shower for the morning. I slept in between bouts of dodgy gut. I woke a few hours later and went onto find a cheaper and more sociable accommodation in the form of Easy Go Backpackers Hostel. Vang Vieng really is designed purely for the young backpacker. Guest houses, restaurants playing Family Guy and Friends, bars, pancake, baguette and shake stalls and adventure activity shops are all that inhabit this small town on the river. It’s like Thailand but with a traditionally Laos, relaxed and happy service. This place is chilled out, almost empty. I like it more than I thought I would.
I sit in a restaurant and meet a couple of crazy young Israeli’s. At this point, the staffs from Monkeys, a late night bar, come and jump into their Monkeys sponsored jeep. Donning fake tan, shit vests and ridiculously massive gold bling, they whack on a shit house song full blast and zoom off in their shit jeep plastered with shit stickers. Vang Vieng is cool but Majorca dickheads like that…
Vang Vieng was the piss head backpacker capital of Laos. Not so much now. 27 people died last year in the name of fun. Word on the street was an Ozzie MP, whose son died while tubing the previous year, put pressure on the Laos Government to shut down proceedings.
Tubing explained: you hire and sit on an inflated truck inner tube and float down the river stopping at what used to have over 30 bars selling alcohol, mushrooms and anything else you could possibly want to digest to make you happy. For life challenging activities, there were slides, zip wires and platforms to jump off. No safety precautions took place. Wankered lads would jump and fall off the water features, breaking arms, legs, necks, backs and skulls. At night in the rainy season, buzzing teenagers would be taken by the current and drown. In the dry season, they would jump into extremely low water breaking themselves. So, now tubing has been made safe, and all but three of the bars have been taken down, I decided to see what the crack was.
Thanks to Emma and Neil for letting me hijack some pictures from FB, I’ll give you some royalties when this goes viral.
We paid for a tube and our group of honourable piss heads all jumped on board a tuk tuk to take us down to the starting point. Everybody was pretty friendly and friends were easily made. The river runs through karsts and spectacular scenery which is an added bonus that drunken people probably don’t fully appreciate. I’ll proceed. The water level was extremely low. Sometimes the tube would get stuck on the rocks and my butt cheeks would get the occasional bash too. The craziness of previous years had completely gone. Instead a pleasant and relaxed vibe was appreciated, especially me, part of the OAP section of the convoy. Only two bars are legally open, plus a dodgy dude in a bamboo hut selling beer cans on the sly. All the platforms and slides have been taken down. We drunk Beerlao and floated down the river. Giggles were had. We formed a huge international island of backpackers, each tube being connected. Drunken adults floating down a beautiful river. What a genius idea. I can see how it got out of hand. I had a great time. I can only presume this is what it must have been like 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, tubing drew in the crowds. A lot of guest houses now appear quiet and every hostel has beds available. The crowds don’t come as word spread about the tubing chaos and imminent closures. Prices have now come down as competition is getting tough. Vang Vieng still has its charms and I enjoyed it for couple of days. I slept, recovering from my exploits across the North of Laos. Most of the time I sat and sunbathed by the river. My daily routines included drinking, reading the occasional page of a book, drinking shakes and eating baguettes. I met a fair few nice people here. I had good solid English conversations with people from all over the world in the bars at night. It was nice to have some familiar accents to talk to. Having been travelling in the remote parts of the North I actually missed a conversation with British people. Vang Vieng had this in abundance.
On the last day, just before my bus was to take me to Vientiane ready for my plane to Malaysia, I decided to get my hair styled. I say styled as I had been outgrowing the remains of my skinhead. It needed a little trimming around the ears. I like to make an effort. So I opted to get the local boy who looked no older than 15 years old to have a go. His chair is on the street was in full view of the Vang Vieng faithful. He spoke no English so I had to tell him what I wanted with hand signals. He didn’t understand but he started to shave the sides. I squinted as he went nervously about the job. Two girls who I’d met throughout Laos popped up and said ‘hi’. The look on their face in the mirror when they saw the kid’s job of my hair told me everything. They questioned what ‘look’ I was going for and giggled. Very funny. I didn’t exactly have lots of hair in the first place, surely he couldn’t bodge it. At this very point, the backpacking gods took favour on me. Midst our giggles and laughter, an old man pulled up on a scooter, shouted at the kid and took the razor off him. Without asking me what I wanted he then zoomed the razor around my head with lightning fast speed and efficiency until I had a reasonable looking mound of hair. Admittedly I looked fresh out of the army. Mission completed. 20,000 kyat well spent.