Welcome to Vang Vieng. On your right you'll see the river, popular for tubing in, on your left you'll see opium dealers posed as sugarcane stands, and straight in front you'll find a cafe with a TV playing Friends. Yes. Vang Vieng is quite the backpacker hotspot, nestled a little more than halway between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. A perfect town for breaking up the bus ride, it's a tragedy to see what years of rowdy backpacker demands amounts to.
We began our day of tubing just like any other tuber (extreme sarcasm) - a 9am 3km bike ride to the organic farm for a breakfast of mulberry pancakes, fresh goat cheese on baguettes, and fresh fruit juice.
By 12:30pm we decided the tubing course must be well and active by now. Wrong. We were tubers numbers 15 and 16... We should have known not to start so early. How silly of us to think anyone else would be awake and on the river at that hour. Nevertheless, we jumped on a tuk tuk for a ride upstream, tubes in hand. We were immediately greeted by about 20 bars -- all of which hosted a free shot with the purchase of a drink. Oh -- and no jumping off the rope swing until you buy a drink! (Because that always ends well...). So we jumped on our tubes in the chilly, rather stagnant water and began our journey downstream. In the wet season the route takes about an hour. In the dry season...it was going to take a much longer time.
Two seconds after jumping on our tubes we quickly realized that "Tubing in the Vang Vieng" does not mean tubing at all; it means floating from riverside bar to bar. We desperately tried to avoid this but the bartenders were not taking no for an answer so we spent the first 30minutes dodging plastic-bottles-attached-to-ropes being thrown at us with the hopes of reeling us into their bars. How this Pirates of the Caribbean-esque village of bars started, I have no idea. It's truly unique, and worth youtubing the title of this blog to find some videos to see for yourself.
The next two hours dragged on very slowly and we realized that maybe the bar part wasn't so bad after all...we would have used far less muscles as holding on to a plastic bottle wouldn't have taken too much effort. Paddling with our hands down a 4 inch deep river dodging large rocks on the other hand...
Around 3pm we passed a sign saying "2km to end of tubing." Not so bad, right? We must have gone 4km at this point. About an hour into this 2km 'drift' we realized no one, and I mean no one, has probably ever actually tubed the entire 'tubing route' distance. Instead of dodging rocks and bars we now encountered an entire water buffalo herd lounging in the middle of the river, a kayaking tour group, and motor boats. This was far more dangerous than dodging roped plastic bottles. And the water was dead still. Just as Kelly began to 'float' by the herd a big daddy water buffalo stood up. "This is it," I thought, "I'm going to have to explain to the tubing authorities that not only did we not support their bar businesses, but we also tried to tube the entire river route...at which point my friend was attacked by a water buffalo." They would never believe us. But lucky for us the water buffalo was merely walking over to protect the calves, and we continued on down the river dodging kayaks and motorboats until we finally reached the end. 4:30pm. I'd probably recommend just hitting up the riverside bars by foot in the late afternoon and foregoing the $6 tube rental fee next time.