I woke up on the bus at 6am when we reached the Laos border and groggily got up along with everyone else, bought a visa and walked across the border. After waiting around for a while another, smaller and decidedly more rickety bus turned up to take me into town where I was dropped off by a restaurant and told that my bus to Vang Vieng would be along shortly. Out of everyone on the bus only two young Swedish girls were also heading to Vang Vieng but they werent very impressed by the menu at the restaurant and so went for a wander so I sat there by myself in the morning quiet trying to decide which of the slightly dodgy sounding dishes I wanted to buy and would be least likely to give me food poisoning.
After a few hours a small mini bus crammed full of people turned up and we started the trip to Vang Vieng. On the way it started raining and it was clear that it was the rainy season from the full lakes we passed by on occasion, some of which had huts on stilts built out over the edges. In places the road was in an appalling state because of the heavy rains and the countless lorries that were going up and down so what should have been a three hour journey took more like four and a half, but we made it eventually. I got chatting to a few people on the bus and most people seemed a little worried about the heavy rainfall with stories of the road becoming impassable and of a dangerous river to tube in.
This made me a little worried because I was here for one reason and one reason only, which is tubing. I had fond memories of floating down the Song river in blazing sunshine, getting very drunk at river side bars and then doing crazy swings into the water; so this heavy rain and gloomy stories were making me a little anxious.
When the bus stopped I quickly grabbed by bag and then headed back to the place I had stayed in before in Vang Vieng. It was a large room with an ensuite bathroom with hot water – all for £3.50! It was also one of the more expensive places!
After settling in and getting some Kip (the local currency) I headed down to one of the open plan restaurants/ bars and lay down on a comfy cushion to watch the “Family Guy” episode which was playing and to have a beer and food. After about half an hour Martyn walked past, who I had spend a few weeks with in Thailand a couple of months previously! Steve and Emma were here as well and by one of the most bizarre co-incidences ever they had also just arrived in Vang Vieng, although they were coming in from the north. I knew that they were coming to Vang Vieng but assumed that they would have been long gone by now. Steve soon set me right; apparently they went to Pi in Northern Thailand and spent a long time chilling there before moving onto Laos. It was there that they started travelling with a couple of Swedish guys who seemed nice and were quite possibly the most stereotypical stoners I have ever met (almost every sentence had the word “dude” in it somewhere). Anyway it was great meeting everyone and it really felt like everything had come together.
I went over to their table anyway and the plan seemed to be to have some weed shakes/pizza and generally to get stoned so I got myself a shake and sat back to watch tv. After a while the conversation faltered and the shake kicked in. A little while after that I found myself almost completely unable to move a muscle! I would think about getting up and somehow the actuality of doing so was a distant and unfeasible reality. I was completely out of it.
The others however were not too bad and after a couple of hours we all headed back down to Martyn & the Swedish guys place where we chilled and chatted for a while, while the others smoked some more weed. Eventually I ended up staggering to bed with an arrangement to meet the others in the morning to do some tubing.
Things went a little wrong in the morning. I got up and went down to the place where you could rent the tubes at the prescribed time but the group of people did not start turning up until 15 mins later. Then when almost everyone was there I realised that I was wearing my good flip flops which were made of leather, instead of my other plastic flip flips which could be safely used as paddles (yes, I have definitely done this before!). So I headed back to the guesthouse to change them and then went back to the tubing place – a total journey of about ten minutes.
When I got back I discovered that the others had already gone (there were sawinethaws constantly ferrying backpackers + tubes precariously perched on the roof), which was a little annoying but I jumped into the next available transport and headed down to the drop off point (the organic farm where I had stayed with the English girls). I was by now thinking that I would not see the others; reason being that the river although short, consists of many bars some of which everyone goes to and many of which some go to. Everyone still goes to the smaller bars, although it varies which ones that then changes the time it would potentially take to go to the main bar stops that everyone goes to!
Anyway I met this Scottish guy in the taxi who was also travelling by himself and paired up with him in the absence of the others. When we reached the river it was much faster flowing then I remembered back in the low season when I was last here and the water was also much deeper. We all got into our tubes anyway and then to my shock what used to be the first bar with a zip line had been completely destroyed by the flood waters of the exceptionally rainy season, although a new wooden platform had been constructed and a new swing was in the process of being created. We decided not to stop there but to go onto the next place, which previously had been non existent but now due to the troubles of the first bar, another bar had sprung up with a large swing.
We walked up the bank and who do we find but the group! It really was a stroke of luck and it was really good that I had managed to meet up with them. The Scottish guy joined us as well and we bought a beer. Afterwards we all headed on down river and on the way I noticed that a reed bank that used to be in the middle of the river had now been reduced to a series of sharp looking stalks sticking out the river. Before as well when the water level had been lower the river had gone around the small island of reeds in the river; now however the river was high enough that it was flowing over it as well and so some tubers went into the reeds, got stuck and had to free themselves by walking over the sharp looking reeds! Health and safety was not in play here!
We went to the volleyball court bar next which is the biggest and the best. This year all of the swings were being rebuilt with each bar competing to build the highest. The volleyball court bar used to be the highest but then another bar superseded it and so now it had built a much bigger one. It truly was a monster! I went on it, along with the others and it was truly terrifying when you standing about 30 meters above the river on a shaky looking wooden scaffolding in Laos and about to risk your life to a bit of rope that you have to hold onto. People do die in these waters – I believe a few a year – but it is this that partially gives you the rush! The lads in the group were pretty crazy with the swings with more then one at a time going on it on occasion!!
The bar was also in the process of building a huge water slide out of concrete, so at the moment it looked really unattractive but we were assured that in a few weeks it would be operational! Typical as I would be gone by then. They had also built a small dancefloor that was raised above the ground – this place was really going to town and it really showed how much the locals were making out of drunk backpackers!
After doing the swing I chilled out with the Scottish guy (I felt like I could not leave him now after finding the others as I had asked him originally to go down the river with me) while the others played some volleyball. I joined the game for a while towards the end before we headed on to the next bar (Mr Lao Laos it was bizarrely called). There wasn’t much there but it was still a popular place for some reason (again it did not exist when I was there before) and we ended up playing some boules which the bar randomly had a set of. Then it was onto our final bar; a place built into the side of a cliff with a huge craggy wall just right next door. It was truly reminiscent of something you would see on the film “The Beach” and really made you feel like you were somewhere exciting and interesting. Then all that remained was the journey back into town.
It was a different experience towards the end of the river as there were no bars and in the low season the river is really slow so you end up gently meandering downriver and even getting stuck on gravelbanks towards the end. This time however the river was quite a bit faster and at the point where we had to get out the river actually speeded up to the level that it was hard to stop at the bank and disembark!
After going back to our guesthouses we met up that evening and rejoined Emma who had not gone tubing that day as she could not swim. Steve, her boyfriend reassured her that night that she would be fine and so she agreed to go again when we next went. The night was moderately eventuful anyway. We ended up in a small bar/restaurant and some of us had some opium tea. I had never tried it before and so only decided to do a third. I was so thankful that that was the case as it just totally zoned me out and stopped my brain for working. I was literally just sitting there thinking and doing absolutely nothing and content to be so!
After a little while it started to wear off and we headed over to Bucket Bar over on the island out in the river, which is near to the town. When I had last been here Smile Bar had been the place to go and that still existed but now bizarrely Bucket Bar was it. They were both almost exactly the same and who knows why one is now in favour and not the other!? I was starting to feel like an old timer at this place. It was a cool night anyway. There was a big fire going in the middle of a seating area with little or no electric light in the open huts around. I got chatting to a few people and the group eventually headed over to one of the open huts and chilled out there for a while. It was a chilled out night.
The next day I woke up and was totally zoned from the opium tea I had drunk. My brain was literally not functioning at all, which I found slightly scary and also very boring as I could not focus on anything for a serious amount of time. I tried going on the internet but even gave up on that after a while.
I bumped into the Scottish guy from the previous days tubing in the middle of the day and for some reason he was stuck in Vang Vieng. I think he had lost his wallet or something – anyway he was meant to catch a flight out of the capital, Vientine, that day and he had no money to get there. Im afraid to say I did not give him the money at the time as I felt I could not afford it but I did give him something towards it!!
That evening I headed round to the group and ended up chilling in Martyns room with them all smoking weed and chilling out. I was in bed relatively early.
The next day the group went tubing again, although this time Emma came along as well. We all managed to make it into the tuk tuk as a group ok but then once on the river things went a little wrong. There was a misunderstanding and it meant that Emma ended up getting out at the first bar while the rest of us went on to the second, with the exception of Steve who managed to go into the first bar as well with Emma.
The second bar was quite lively, the weather was pretty good and the huge swing was getting a serious workout. Some backpackers of about 20 or so were amazingly good at the swing and doing it with holding on by their legs, doing back flips into the water, etc! When I did it I tried to do none of those things because I knew I would have seriously hurt myself! I did see one guy do a backflip wrong and belly flop onto the water from a serious height, but it was a well built guy so he seemed relatively unscathed.
We met these two UK girls at the bar along with a nice US guy and we all ended up going on down the river together to a place I had never been to before. It was the mud volleyball court bar! Clearly this place, which was essentially just a reasonably large shack with a couple of huts in the middle of a teak tree plantation by the river had seen the success of the main volleyball court bar and decided to do something similar. What they did though was have a net up in a small clearing of the young trees and then pools on either side that were up to waist height with watery mud. The bottom was really uneven to the extent that the water depth went from one inch to about 4 feet and there were also what felt like tree trunks under the water! Everyone was falling over each other and generally getting very much covered in mud. I joined in with the mayhem and managed to hurt my foot when I fell into one of the deeper bits and knocked my leg against a bit of tree trunk. (This gave me a bruised swelling that lasted for about 7 months!)
There was a slightly dodgy moment after this as it did not take too long before ppl tired of slipping round in the mud and retreated to the bar but three girls in bikinis remained rolling around in the mud with each other. I was standing with some Canadian guy I had met talking about the randomness of the situation when we noticed some older Chinese cameramen off to one side taking photos! They were clearly not tubing and had big expensive cameras with them, but this was not a bar that was on any road or easily accessible so clearly they had deliberately come here to take photos of scantily clad western women rolling around in the mud!!
After washing myself and others off with the hose (quite a good laugh) Martyn and the two Swedish guys did the huge zip line that was at this bar – at the same time! Three on a zip line was just totally crazy and I have no idea how they managed to not hurt each other when they came off! I did it but just by myself. Martyn offered to do it with me but I declined.
Next up it was a short hop down the river to the pumping volleyball court bar, where we bumped into Steve and Emma! It was a brilliant reunion and after a couple of swings we were on the crowded makeshift dancefloor, dancing the day away with the power of the buckets we had been drinking. It was at this point that I got an amazing photo of myself taken by some guy who was sitting on the edge of the overlooking wall where I was in the middle of the pure hedonism that is tubing of Vang Vieng.
That turned out to be the definite high point of the day. Afterwards we headed onto Mr Lao Laos for some more drinks, where, somehow we managed to lose Emma! Steve carried on without out her in the principle that we would probably bump into her again and because it is pretty much impossible to go back upriver and so we headed onto the final swing bar for a short period of time.
We left it a little late though and we should have taken the option at one of the bridges to get out and get a tuk tuk back as eventually it was just me, Martyn & Steve floating down in the river as the daylight faded. Soon it was really dark and it being Loas and there being hardly any houses by the side of the river the banks were soon just darker silhouettes against the dark sky. We were getting a little worried about ourselves and how we were to get out of the river in the right place and also because Emma was no-where to be found. Bearing in mind that she cannot swim it was not a great situation to say the least.
Eventually we found the getting out area, but there only a few distant lights of the bars and no direct lights onto the river so we were clawing at the banks trying to get out in darkness. I did not want to just jump into the river as I might have lost my tube and damaged the stuff in my slightly dodgy looking “waterproof” bag in the fast flowing water, so I was literally grabbing at the grass as went past the river bank. To my horror the grass was just coming away in my hand, I was carrying on down the river, I was drunk, it was really dark and the others had vanished! Eventually I managed to pull myself up, suddenly quite a bit sobered up from what felt a little like a narrow escape.
I met up with the others and everyone was in a bad mood. It turned out that Steve had managed to lose his and Emmas wallets on the river somehow. It looked like someone had knicked them from his waterproof bag at one of the bars. Then when we got back to the tubing place because we were late we had to pay a fine but of course Steves wallet was gone! This just worsened the mood. We soon went our separate ways back to our guesthouses.
I grabbed some food in a restaurant and then met up with the others. The mood of the group was not great and we headed down to Bucket bar for a bit, although not for long before everyone headed off to bed. None of the people we had met earlier on the river were around either, from what we could see. Also, for some reason as well the bar seemed to close really early – about 11.30pm! Im sure when I had been here before the bars had been open until about 2am!? Apparently there are periods when the authorities crack down on the party scene and this was one of them.
The next day was a washout in every respect. There was torrential rain all day, although there were still a few brave souls going out on the river. I stayed in one of the bars/restaurants watching non-stop episodes of Family Guy (some of which I had already seen by now) and nursing a hangover. I spent a bit of time on the internet as well and that’s pretty much all I did for the day. In the evening I was heading down to Martyn’s when I bumped into a group of guys coming back from the river. It was really late, completely dark, still raining and one of them had burst their tube! I met up with the group anyway and ended eating some dodgy looking magic mushrooms that they had bought. They tasted bad and did absolutely nothing. The group was still in a slightly down mood as well.
I had tried to persuade the others to go tubing again the following day as I was due to go in a couple of days and I wanted to get the most out of my remaining time. The others were here for a while though and so wanted to chill. It was also a matter of money as well as tubing is not especially cheap what with the hiring of the tubes (about 5 quid) and then the cost of drinking at the bars all day, but as I was coming towards the end of the travels I didn’t care so much. I was in debt by now anyway!
I went by myself down to the tubing place and in the tuk tuk down to the river met this UK couple and a Kiwi guy who were travelling together. They were not serious traveller types and the guys were slightly macho so it was soon reasonably clear that we were not really similar. We soon met this big group of English girls who were quite loud and excitable and again people who I did feel a huge amount in common with. Truth be told I was not totally in the mood for this as I had partied so much in previous days, but I was trying to make the most of the day so attempted to join in as best I could.
We all headed onto the mud volleyball court bar and the group started to separate out. The UK couple became couply and the Kiwi guy was trying to chat up a couple of girls and the group of English girls were on a mission to find the funniest flirter around so I was pretty much left to my own devices. I got chatting to a couple of other people but had a feeling that the day was not really working out.
Everyone ended up down in Mr Lao Laos towards the end of the day and I ended up getting really drunk. I did meet this nice group of people right at the end of the day but I was totally hammered by then and unable to conduct a conversation. The night started to come on and loads of drunken backpackers were still drunkenly dancing on the mud, but there was no-one left from the start of the day and so I called it a day and got the boat over to the far bank where it was possible to get a tuk tuk back into town.
It was my last night in Vang Vieng and so I met up with the others and we chilled out for a while smoking some weed and chatting. After a while I went to Bucket Bar with everyone but no-one had any money as Steve & Emma’s wallets were still missing and people were generally broke. People were making the effort for me which was really nice though and it was a chilled out end to my time.
I was up at 8am the next morning feeling incredibly rough and got on the bus to Vientine. The city was like a ghost town and I managed to dump my bags somewhere while I wandered round the city. I ended up down by the Mekong river again and marvelled at the sheer body of water and also at the sandbags that had been placed near to the river because of earlier flooding. It truly is one of the great rivers of the world. I sat in a bar by the river and had a coke in the sunshine. It was very peaceful.
Next it was a bus transfer down to the border where there was this old western man clearly leaching over this young Swiss girl and telling dirty/racist jokes to the totally uninterested bus. He became so extreme that he made the hour long journey a total nightmare and didn’t let up even when we got off the bus and were waiting at the border. Eventually I said something as he wouldn’t leave the poor girl along and he became angry and defensive. When we got onto the main bus with loads of other people I made sure to sit far away from him and then it was simply the matter of the long overnight journey back to Bangkok.
In many ways I was lucky with my trip to Vang Vieng. I met up with Steve, Emma, Martyn and their associated group. If I had not I could have ended up on my own for a good chunk of the time. I had gone back there in an attempt to recapture past glories but of course when you go back it is never as good as when you first went as your expectations are too high. By this stage of my travels as well I had been everywhere and done everything and was purely trying to find a party to finish up on, but I had also been on the go for so long I could not bring myself to chat to loads more random people and still be as exciting, funny and interesting as I had been just months before. It was all becoming a much of a muchness but I still really didn’t want to go home as I had no idea what that would be like or how I could possibly re-integrate myself back into normal society. I guess I put too much pressure on myself to have fun, rather then just relax into whatever happened and that is the reason why although I did have a lot of fun back in Laos, I also left with a feeling of slight disappointment.