Saturday August 29, 2015 (Asia, Laos, Southeast Asia)
Surprise, surprise! We ended up doing the thing you’re “supposed” to do when in Vang Vieng. And you know what they say: “When in Vang Vieng…” So we went tubing! It’s a pretty simple affair. You wander over to the tube rental place and pass over some cash. Then you pile into a tuk-tuk. And once they have enough people in it, they drive the whole crew a few kilometres upriver and let you off.
We were prepared for a pretty boozy affair. The attraction of the entire thing seems to be that every few hundred metres along the river is another bar pumping out main stage electro jams and spraying water all over the place. The first place we stopped was in a constant state of passing out free whisky shots. That’s my kind of place!
After grabbing drinks at the first bar, Sandra and I inquired about the possibility of playing volleyball. They had a net set up, and soon enough a ball was located. The two of us started peppering the ball back and forth and all was right with the world. This lovely arrangement lasted all of forty-eight seconds. Two locals approached us and implied that they’d like to join in. Sure – two versus two would be great! We start to walk over to the net. And then the two locals call over their friends. The friends arrive and now others are noticing that the volleyball court is filling up, so they join in too.
If this were almost any sport except volleyball I’d be cool with it. But volleyball is such a tricky sport. It’s incredibly difficult not to become a volleyball snob after attaining only a modicum of skill in the sport. I definitely fall into this category. I’m not that great, but I’m good enough that I find it exhausting trying to play with people who have no idea what they’re doing. I’m out here to get some exercise and have some fun, but every time the ball comes over to our side of the net somebody either pounds it with their fist or kicks it out of play. In soccer, it’s OK if your team doesn’t really know what they’re doing. You can hold onto the ball as long as you want! But you directly rely on the rest of your team in order to compete in volleyball. So now our nice little pepper session has turned into a monstrous eight-versus-eight mosh pit with a volleyball thrown in somewhere. Not ideal.
After the first bar we hopped back into our tubes and went downriver to the next. It’s the rainy season in Vang Vieng, so you really start travelling at speed in these tubes! You’re moving fast enough that each bar has a team of no less than four people throwing weighted water bottles on strings at the passing tubes to help reel in the drunks. These guys are sharpshooters. We got video footage of one of these intrepid co-ed wranglers. He ruled over his domain, which happened to be a wooden platform elevated several metres above the ground. This allowed him the lion’s share of the view over the coursing river. And that was appropriate, because he was shirtless and wearing a skin-tight leopard print leotard.
The big frustration we found with the tubing was that it became very unclear how far you were able to tube down the river. After the third or fourth bar, each one began posting signs referring to themselves as the “Last Bar”. This is an obvious ploy to draw in a crowd concerned that they will not be able to maximize their blood alcohol levels. But it’s incredibly confusing when you actually want to keep tubing down the river. The other problem being that you’re on a timeline because you’re charged if you return the tube late. Eventually we had to hop out and grab a tuk-tuk back into town to avoid paying late fees. Were we to do it again, we’d start early in the morning. You don’t have to drink at all the first time around – just get a feel for how long it takes to tube down the entire length of the river and enjoy it. Then you can pay 10,000 kip to be hauled back via tuk-tuk to the riverhead and start the journey all over again. That’s the way to do it, folks! Unfortunately there’s only GoPro video footage of the tubing. I decided my unprotected, fragile 3kg camera was not an appropriate aid for activities centred around the concept of floating.
Other than that, we didn’t really do a heck of a lot in Vang Vieng. The feel was a lot different than Luang Prabang. Although our info told us that the tubing scene and river bars had been mostly closed down in 2012, the “let’s get drunk and party” feel was definitely still present in Vang Vieng. We had considered renting dune buggies or quad bikes and going for a spin to the outskirts of the city, but the weather wasn’t overly cooperative. It rained on us a bunch. Oh well – time to relax, right? We had a nice long morning run, and just before departing for Vientiane I captured some images of the fog on the huge limestone cliffs that surround the town. Oh, and a cute puppy that we spent a lot of time playing with.
On our morning of departure we picked up some street pancakes. There are uncountable numbers of street vendors with nearly identical painted menus offering pancakes, sandwiches, and smoothies. We decided it was time to indulge (and hey, we’d just gone for a long run!) so we picked up two banana, nutella, and peanut butter pancakes. The cooking process started by dumping a load of oil onto a hot pan. Then came the thin crepe-like pancake batter. Last of all was the stage in which the pancake is fried on the hot plate in a puddle of butter. Rest assured the pancakes were tasty, if only slightly detrimental to our long term health.