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Tubing and Defying Death

Vang Vieng, Laos

We got a nice cheap local bus to Vang Vieng which, in contrast to all the nasty expensive "VIP" buses we had taken so far, dropped us where we wanted to be dropped, at the town, rather than at the bus station several kilometres outside of town. All bus stations in Asia seem to be located between two and fifteen kilometres outside town, a bit like Ryanair airports. We've not been able to come up with any sensible explanation other than to provide tuktuk and taxi drivers with business. Usually the last few kilometres after you get off a bus cost about one quarter of the bus fare which has just taken you several hundred kilometres over several hours. It's like having Buchanan Bus station in Kirkintilloch instead of the centre of Glasgow. Madness, but it seems to be the norm in Asia.

After marvelling at our convenient location, we noticed the fantastic scenery and very quickly afterwards noticed that the Lonely Planet is not kidding when it says that every restaurant and bar is playing friends continuously. Apparently Vang Vieng originally became a popular spot for travellers because of this fantastic karst scenery, not unlike the scenery we had seen in Halong Bay and Yangshuo, and it was a sporting activity centre: kayaking, rock climbing, caving, Tubing, all that sort of stuff. Now it seems that the primary reason most people come is for the Tubing. And to get wasted. They probably barely notice the scenery, but we planned to go kayaking, take a short climbing course, and, yes, go Tubing. Everyone said it was fun.

We found a nice hotel and set about settling in by visiting a hammock bar and sampling the local produce, including a bucket, which Joanne had sworn she was never going to touch again after Siem Reap (blogabond.com/CommentView.aspx?CommentID=54219). After we got back to the hotel, I was a bit hungry, so decided to go out on to the street to find some food. Nearby there was a little barbecue stall, where there was only one thing left for sale. I wondered whether it was dog as the guide in our hotel room had said that there were places in town catering to local tastes e.g. dog. The woman at the stall didn't speak English so I decided it probably was dog until a Lao guy, who did speak English said "chicken". Actually I was a little disappointed. At least it was chicken on a stick, which we'd seen everywhere (usually more recognisable) but never bought. Just as I was leaving the stall there was a loud screeching sound, and I turned around to see a circle of people running to crowd around one place. I could just make out a moped wheel through the legs and realised it must have been a bike accident. After a few minutes of people looking very concerned indeed, a woman stood up, got on her bike and rode off, albeit a little wobbly. The crowd dispersed and I intercepted a couple of American girls to ask what had happened. Apparently a car had hit this woman off her bike, but it seemed pretty obvious when she came to that she was very drunk or "on something". So they reckoned it was her own fault.

The next morning was Tubing time. Stopping after only one bucket seemed to have kept the hangover at bay. We had taken plenty of advice on this, so we knew what we were doing and now had a fairly good idea of what was involved. One was to work ones way down the river on inflated tractor inner tubes, stopping off at bars to have a drink and sliding down various apparatus back into the water. The course is quite long, so we had been told start early, otherwise you have no chance of seeing the end. We had also been told not to actually get a tube, because there is a massive fine if you don't get it back in time (which NOBODY does, we'd been informed), also people without tubes steal them from the piles in the bars, and much of the time they are really just a hassle. The last piece of advice related to staying out of the hospital there. We had already seen more people than you would think possible walking (most of them) around Vang Vieng with bandages, often around the head, and considering the number we had seen before we got there, we were keen to minimise the risks. So we should only enter the water by walking carefully down to it or from one of the proscribed methods of entry, like a chute or flying fox, as these are above the deep bits in the water. Most injuries it seems had been sustained diving into the water from the edge, and as it was dry season the water was not very deep in places. Forewarned is forearmed.

We arrived at the tube hire place to discover that they also had dry bags for rent to keep all your valuables and money dry, although we'd been told the bars are used to wet money. Instead we bought a big dry bag to share, for not that much more, since we were planning diving when it could also be useful, and we thought it might be useful to protect against the monsoon which seemed to be threatening an early start. We had to pay for the ride up to the start of the course, whereas everyone else got it included. We reckoned we'd still be well ahead after they had paid their fines. So we arrived at a rather full outdoor bar. We felt really quite old at first, as first impressions we that it seemed a bit like a Club 18-30 camp. We got a couple of beers and watched the people zipping down the wire into the water. It seemed quite high. And a bit scary. Joanne said she wasn't going to do it, but I was determined to do them all. An Australian guy we had kept bumping into since he was on our dive boat in Sihanoukville, was at that bar and advised me to let go at the very end when I was momentarily stationary, otherwise I would have too much horizontal velocity and hit the water skew. This turned out to be terrible advice! I climbed the stairs to the platform and realised that it was as least as high as it had terrifyingly looked from the ground. But I threw myself off anyway, despite the fear I was feeling. I waited and waited until I was just at the very end and about to start sliding back, but this was the highest point after the start, and it meant I let go and hung in the air for a very long and scary time. So long that I think I looked down when I couldn't believe that I had not yet hit the water. Of course that was just before I did hit the water, which meant that my throat and chest were now slightly exposed to the surface. I felt a massive thump, then thought I wasn't going to be able to breathe when I came to the surface. Thankfully the advice about the depth had been good. My chest and throat were both stinging and I seemed to have lost my voice. I think my voice box got bruised when it was crushed by the force of the water. We swam to the next bar, Joanne using the dry bag as a float.

Before moving on to the second bar we got chatting to a couple of Canadian girls, Cindy and Jackie, who asked if we would take their stuff in our dry bag.

Their plan had been to steal someone else tube, but they had been thwarted by a child who grassed them to a security guy overlooking the tubes. You get a number written on your hand when you hire one, which gave them away. At the next bar, the flying fox was much lower than the first bar, so despite my croaky-voiced injury, I went for it again. This one was a breeze! I encouraged Joanne and Cindy to go for it, although neither of them had had any intention of doing it. Jackie, who was much younger than the three of us, appeared to have disappeared, snogging her way round as many men as she could. At this bar I started to notice that quite a lot of people had "witty", often smutty, things written on their backs; some people had "182nd day Tubing!" or "74th day Tubing!" or whatever written on their backs; quite a few guys had what can only be described as 70s porno moustaches, and quite a few more were wearing eye makeup, and some others dresses or pink hotpants; Tubing appears to have evolved its own little subculture, presumably inspired by the loss of brain cells repeating this activity so often would cause. After a second drink the two girls decided to go for it and climbed the ladder to jump. I was ready to record the whole thing, although there were quite a few heads in the way. I got the first bit, but Joanne did not appear again over the heads on the second half of the swing, where she should have dropped off. When she did swim to the side she was not happy: sore face and bleeding gums. She had let go from fear at the lowest point, but since this is also the fastest point, her face had smacked off the water hard. Cindy was unharmed and slightly elated.

For our second drink at the second bar, Joanne decided that beer was making her too full, so we should switch to buckets. Sensible! We moved onto the third bar before most of the crowd, our idea being that we could stay slightly ahead of the mob, leave when it got really crowded, and then we'd definitely make it to the end. I did the zip-slide again and on this one I was slightly alarmed when I was able to push off the bottom with my feet. I had been thinking about a somersault on that one, but I hadn't hit the bottom hard so I'm sure it would have been alright. I'm not quite sure what went wrong with our plan, but by the time we got to the fifth bar it was dark and we were miraculous. I vaguely remember a sixth bar and a mud-bath there, but we were only a couple of hundred metres down the river and the full course is meant to be a few kilometres. Maybe there is a big section with no bars, but it seems completely impossible to me. At the sixth (or may it was seventh) bar there was transport waiting to take everyone and their tubes (late) back to town. No tube was definitely the correct thing to do. Although we probably should have started earlier with a tube, sailed all the way down without stopping in a bar, just to see the nice river scenery, then gone back to the start after getting the tube deposit back without a fine, and then started what we did about the same time as we did. and maybe stuck to beer! The van dropped us near the bucket bar, for which we had been given free armbands entitling us to... yes a free bucket! How could we not? We collected out bucket and then moved to the rock bar, where Joanne passed out and Cindy "rocked out". At some point during the evening we realised that Cindy and Jackie were the two "American" girls I'd spoken to after the moped accident the night before. What a coincidence! And, yes, they were offended that I thought they were from the USA.

The next day, Joanne insisted on drinking beer in one of the awful "Friends" restaurants to get over her terrible hangover ("definitely never again buckets"), and I noticed that it's not quite true that all the restaurants are showing Friends constantly: about two are showing Family Guy constantly. That night back at our hotel, we got chatting to a nice Swedish guy called Jon, who I thought looked uncannily like my friend Colin from University. It was quite dark, and now I see the photos he's not that like, but there is a resemblance: Colin used to have hair too. Joanne's hangover the next day was even worse than from Tubing, and we spent the next couple of days in a drinking-hangover cycle, some of it with Cindy and Jackie, until we admitted we weren't going to get around to doing anything constructive here, and we had to cut our losses and run. Tubing had been fun, but this was killing us!

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on March 31, 2009 from Vang Vieng, Laos
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
tagged Buckets and Tubing

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Off to Langkawi

Ban Ao Nang, Thailand

I had a great day on the kayaking and elephant adventure. I thought I would celebrate by having a few ales on my "last" night in Thailand. I found a bar that was pretty much populated by foreigners, but decided more fun was to be had at the Reggae bar with my friends from last time. I was handed a flyer by one of the workers, which advertised "buckets" of alcohol for around six dollars each. Seeing that this is a bit of a tradition in Thailand, I thought I would indulge. Wow. Needless to say I thought is was a great idea to go with some of the girls to another bar down the road. Three of us on a scooter, and the driver had been drinking... I somehow got dragged by some random to another bar, where I met up with some of the boys that work at the Reggae Bar. I ended up spilling the bucket belonging to what I remember as being the Thai version of Mr T. I bought him another and one for myself as well. That's about the last thing that I remember.

I woke to an incessant banging on my door at about 10.30 the next day. I packed up my stuff and headed down to the travel agency. Turns out they had tried to rouse me at the prescribed time of 0630. I never heard a thing. No refunds available, I booked myself a new bus ticket for the next day, went back to the hotel, and slept and slept. I was so surprised to wake up with my wallet and camera on my person. I have a habit of putting my wallet down the front of my pants if I'm in a dodgy area. Must have worked. Although, for the second time, I souvenired a stubbie cooler, only to have it souvenired off me in return! It was a good night (from what I recall), but I didn't eat all the next day, and am still at a loss as to how I got home safe and sound. Lucky...

I'm in Langkowie, and am enjoying a quiet night in. I'll have to start looking around here tomorrow...

permalink written by  10bastards on October 23, 2009 from Ban Ao Nang, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand and Malaysia
tagged Buckets

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