Saturday, July 26, 2008


I had been intending on writing an entry cataloging our ever increasing list of injuries on this trip. (I brought, as did Adam, a travel first aid kit, which, like him, I've restocked twice already!) But having gotten to Vang Vieng and left, and been tubing twice it seems redundant. We've had a lot of minor scrapes, twisted ankles, deepish cuts that won't heal etc., but considering I'm still alive after what's happened to me in the last couple of days I no longer consider them worth discussing.

To set the scene: We left Luang Prabang a few Dutch friends heavier than we arrived with and headed towards Vang Vieng on a bus to go tubing.

Tubing is what people go to this town for. One is given a large inflatable donut into which one's rear is placed. One then floats down the river. This is rainy season so the river is quite fast. Along the way there are bars. These bars have employees who's job it is to throw you a rubber ring on a rope which you hopefully catch and then pull you ashore. Then it's a walk through ankle deep mud to a wooden dance floor (which just happened to be playing the best music I've heard in any pub or club since we left home) on which drunk tubers (and I don't mean potatoes) are dancing, most if not all smeared from head to toe in the same slimy muck on which this bar is built. The regular reader will remember my previous diatribe on the bucket phenomenon so there's no need to repeat that here, but they sell them on every bar on the way down. The more astute readers will have already beaten me to the conclusion of this simple equation: Danger.

The first day we engaged ourselves in this pursuit we had just gotten off a 7 hour bus journey and were on the banks of the river not an hour after arriving, tubes in hand. We get dragged in at the first bar where the buzz is palpable, get covered in mud (although on a number of occasions I was acused of being 'too' clean) and get drunk. The next logical step seemed to be to climb a twenty five foot overhanging stairs on the river to zip line, drunk and sans lifejackets, into the drink. Again we're thrown a rubber ring and again, down to nothing but luck we make it back ashore, laughing and giggling about our lack of respect for our own lives. We then, sun still up at this point, hit the river again and float maybe a kilometer to the next place we like the look/sound of. It was here I realised that my safety wasn't exactly guaranteed on this trip, twice I narrowly avoided some rocks none of which looked friendly or particularly merciful. You're ability to steer is almost non existent in rainy season (and drunk season) and the current is surprisingly strong. Anyway getting aboard this bar was more difficult but we all managed.

It could have been the thrill of simply living until that point under the circumstances or maybe it was just a nice day to be wet and caked in Lao mud drunk but the reality of this sort of thing gets away from you. In my case it was brought sharply back to the fore as, while I was standing on a deck that overhung the river made entirely of bamboo (a structural component I'd come to trust since hitting the road as it had never let me down before and it's used all over the place here) COLLAPSED while I was in mid conversation with one of our new Nederlander friends (a charming girl called Carmen) and fell ass over teakettle maybe 15 feet into the river below - again drunk, again with no lifejacket. Maybe it was the diving course we did but for some reason I was really calm as it was happening. I remember thinking, okay just exhale when you get under and you'll be fine. It was only when I was back ashore that I began to panic, laughing of course, and drinking again of course, but a little panicked all the same.

Amazing fact: One of the Lao workers there swam almost into the middle of this insane current to get one of my flip flops that had come off during this fall. I couldn't thank him enough but he didn't seem to think it was worth mentioning. He also replaced Carmen's now soaked cigarettes. You'd think saving our lives was enough...

Anyway just discussing what had happened kept us there until sun down and the only way back was in the tube so now, drunk, caked in mud and a little freaked (but glad to be alive) we set off in the dark towards.... towards.... Actually we were about a half a kilometre away, in the pitch dark, floating in the heaving water when we realised we didn't know where we were supposed to go, or what to look out for. Further, serious panic ensues, punctuated by hysterical laughter and then just when you think it's going to get rough a little Lao kid comes out and drags you shore. Don't ask me how they haven't lost more people doing this, and they've lost a good few I hear.

The kid wants money of course but I'm happy to give it. I get my wallet from the dry bag and give him two of whatever notes I have in my wallet. The only English they know is 'one more' but screw it, one more it is, I'm alive aren't I?

Evil scenes all around as the tubers come back in the dark, a bridge gave way to a hole somehow deep enough for the guy behind me to get his knee through once but not back again and when it looked like we need some serious outside help we somehow managed between the three of us to snap the bridge plank and get him out. All I can say is made the first beer afterwards go down like water.

Gluttons as we are for all things, punishment included, we decided to try it again the next day (now yesterday) and things were going well. Well that is until we got smashed and left it a bit late to jump back in the river. So in the dark for the second time in a row we're floating towards what we presume is help and realize we've taken a left down a different route. Our group of ten or twelve got broken up by the bridge I mentioned above, the one we broke a trapped (Irish) tuber out of the night before and some how, don't ask me, I end up holding on to a reed alone in the raging water. It was impossible to climb alone, Thank God I had a life jacket, so I call up to the people passing to get me some help. And then a guy called Paddy, who I'll never forget, climbs down the bridge pillars to help me. I really couldn't do it at first, but thanks to him I somehow manage, knowing it's do or die, to get onto the foothold he had. That one wasn't funny when it was over and still I get a bit chilled by the thought of what might have happened if I hadn't been able to hold on. My right arm and foot are both severely bruised from the climb up but it's a good lesson.

All that said: best days we've had so far.

I should mention also that Laos is absolutely the most beautiful country I've ever seen. The road south is winds unbelievably and cuts through valleys and sheer cliff faces and there doesn't seem to be a flat patch of grass in all directions. I was wondering what it was that makes this sort of scene so appealing to the human eye and I couldn't really answer but I guess you see more when you're surrounded vertically with the landscape and maybe it has something to do with bringing the view from heaven right down to the ground.

Two more pictures taken from the balcony outside our room in the clearly well named Grand View Guesthouse.

This is the kitchen of the place we stayed on the first day of our slowboat into Laos. I wouldn't put in any walls either if I lived beside that.

And here is the corresponding video from our place in Vang Vieng.

1 comment:

Carmen said...

That was great! Hilarious to read it again, especially the part where we fell backwards into that river. Reminds me of a really good time :)