Getting from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng takes about 6 hours in a convoy of minibuses full of backpackers, most of which have one thing in mind: tubing. The drive itself ventures south down the very worn highway and shows off even more of Laos’ spectacular mountain scenery. Tens of tiny villages with pass with local children playing, women collecting and preparing a type of grass which I’m still not sure what its purpose is, and men erecting new structures. Every now and then huge new school buildings pass by with stamps from World Vision Australia, UNICEF and numerous other organizations on the front. To top off the feeling that you are traveling through another time, small hordes of cattle, goats and buffalo cause the occasional road block as the animals make their way to new patches of grass. After the convoy arrives at the depot which, of course being Laos is about 15km’s from the town the group of weary eyed backpackers jump into Tuk Tuk’s for the last leg to a town many will stay for far longer than they had planned.
The town of Vang Vieng is tiny and can be walked around in no time at all. Guest houses, construction sites and restaurants line the streets with each street corner occupied by a cluster of pancake, sandwich, noodle and fruit shake stalls. The workers in which will undoubtedly be there when you walk out in the morning and still be there smiling and offering you delicious sandwiches when you stumble home some time after the midnight curfew.
Tubing in Vang Vieng doesn’t seem to be as much about tubing (at least in the dry season) as it is about partying which is why a lot of people recommend not even bothering with the tube. However, the act of tubing involves hiring a tube from the shop in town and catching a Tuk Tuk to the starting point in the river. The starting point is littered with most of the bars and the idea is to jump in your tube and float down the river while the different bars throw ropes out and pull you in to the party. The journey down the whole river in the wet season (if you don’t stop) takes about an hour or so whilst in the dry season as it was when we were there takes up to three hours. Most people however, don’t make it past the mud bars which are about 200m from the start point. Our group, well, we didn’t even make it that far.
As soon as we got dropped to the shore a man with a plate of whiskey shots came up to us and invited us to one of the first bars. We obligingly took the shots and walked across the rickety bridge to the bar and bought ourselves some buckets. Most of the bridges in the town get washed away each year as the water rises so it’s easy to understand why they aren’t the sturdiest structures. The other thing about the whole tubing experience which I haven’t yet mentioned is the swings. A lot of the bars have huge rope swings, jumping platforms or even water slides for party goers to use. Each year a few people die due to the combination of alcohol, hallucinogenics and as the case for the person that died a few weeks before we got there – shallow water. The slide that was the culprit for that particular death has since been shut til the wet season. In the whole afternoon we were there we made it to about three or four of the bars which were seemingly full of either Australians or Swedes. Some of the best fun of the day was had with a group of local kids who were playing soccer on a makeshift field in the sand who we spent about an hour playing with. Eventually the sun went down and with it went half of the tube deposit because they are meant to be back by six. We got somewhat lost as we took a back way to the main road and ended up hitch hiking on the back of a truck to town.