Friday, 4 October 2013

It's called 'having a death wish...'

Tubing on the Nam Song River

Seven hours, torrential rain, spew-worthy roads, deathly cliff drops, a rusty van, 10 people and a whole lot of blasphemies.

Vang Vieng was designed for people who love an adrenaline kick and adventure rush. If you survive the harrowing journey up to the town, which trust me you may not, you can then launch yourself into a  a dodgy looking river. But, there is a way to make it through. BEX FYI: be safe, use your head, avoid the booze and you’ll be fine.

Vang Vieng has had a notorious reputation among backpackers as being the alternative party zone for those wanting to shun the stigma of Thai island parties- in my case I did both. 

It became the most unlikely party town hidden away in the hills of northern Laos. But it wasn’t the raving DJs or bucket cocktails that drew in the travellers,  it was the tubes... Hundreds of half naked, bronzed bodies grabbing a rubber ring and heading to the Nam Song river for a day of wet and wild fun. 

The potential 40 minute tube downstream turned into an all day activity not to be missed. Locals pulled in each rubber ring, and its occupant, from the fast flowing river and kept them entertained boogies and bucket beverages. 

The town itself is relatively small with everything you need in walking distance. This includes the many restaurants that show back to back episodes of Friends and Family Guy- a much needed home comfort. After months of no TV a little bit of Gunther is a welcome sight.

Back on the water with our boat buddies, Jen and I bobbed along listening to the R'n'B beats and avoided the electro shacks. We made our way downstream visiting the best of the watering holes as we went. Like Londoners on a bus we hopped on and off our tubes bypassing and overtaking while mingling with the locals. 

With sunshine in the sky, pumping music and a few games of volleyball (yes, I tried it again) the hours quickly tumbled away until sunset when it was time to clamber back into the tubes and float to the end of the line. 

With our new friends, the Dutch fishermen and American dudes, we linked up and bobbed down together while enjoying a game of “I have never...”(you’re never too old). The last remnants of our water adventure petered away to a backdrop of breath taking mountains and a colourful Asian sunset. Another of of those surreal “am I actually doing this moments” right there; a bunch of international strangers floating in rubber rings through a Laotian valley to a golden sunset, unreal.   

On the river there were no systems or safety measures, no lifeguards and no limits, which is probably why it is also no longer. It turns out that water slides and alcohol are a toxic combination and, after roughly 27 deaths during 2011, it was time to close down. So, two years on, the riverside bars have gone and the town's tubing industry is no more. 

Nevertheless, if a Laotian party scene is what you’re after, Vang Vieng can still be considered a hotspot. The town’s best bars, Smile and Sunset, still offer an outdoor chilling experience that’s perfect for supping on a Beer Laos

There’s also steep mountain ranges outside the town that are perfect for rock climbing, high rapids for kayaking and deep caves for exploring.

In true Asian style accommodation is cheap but only if you opt for a back alley guesthouse and avoid the main street rip offs.  A private room for two people costs on average 40,000kip (£3.25) per night. 

Van Vieng may have lost its former glory as the best outdoor party scene/best place to get some serious injuries, but it’s still got outdoor adventure to offer. After being so distracted by the tubing I may just have to go back to explore the rest...

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