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Andy’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 06 Jan 2007

Location: Vang Vieng, Laos

MapVANG VIENG - WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR OLD CAR TYRE TUBE?
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It's taken me five years to reach this point. I can remember (barely) a particularly debaucherous party at a uni mates house at the beginning of my second year. In the morning i sat chatting to a friend called Martha who has seemingly been everywhere possible to travel. She told a me a tale of a particular river pursuit in Laos and i never forgot it.

I've wanted to 'tube' ever since and Vang Vieng was the place to do it. The whole morning i acted as if i constantly needed the loo, i was just so excited.

Tubing is the most fun you can have with the inner tube of a car tyre which is certainly saying something - some of my best childhood memories involved car tubes!

The pursuirt is also environmentally friendly. Double bonus. Whoever the budding entrepeneur was that devised hiring out used and abandoned tyre tubes to backpackers with too much money, and convincing them to float down rivers was a genius i'd like to meet. The bright spark who then saw a business opportunity in the travellers floating down the river and started selling them beers is another.

Ruth and I hitched a lift via tuk tuk 3km up stream to the launch point, strapped our belongings around the tube and plunged in. It was gorgeous weather for it and we laid back enjoying the sun, warmth and stunning scenery in front of us. "What were people doing back home?" we thought. Stuck on the M25? Queuing in Tesco's? Taking cover from the rain? "Who cares, there's a bar up ahead! Quick"

Around the first bend lay our initial pit stop. One of many. A lao woman stood on the bank with a bamboo stick and pulled me in. Ruth maneuvred too late and drifted off with a worried look on her face. I was too busy chugging my first beer to notice but thankfully the woman ran downstream to fetch her and she joined me moments later. We both then plucked up some dutch courage for the zipwire which hung from a small, rickety tree out into the river.

Fantastic fun, though the moment we hit the water it was necessary to start swimming as the current was strong and threatened to take you to the next bar 'sans tube'. Plus we had read tubing can be ever so slightly dangerous and a number of people had died doing this pursuit - during the rainy season though when the river is swollen and fast.

The rest of the day was spent in a largely similar fashion. Drifting lazily down the river, stopping at bars pumping out loud music, drinking beer whilst sitting on small wooden cubby holes and taking turns swinging on the huge contraptions that launched us into the middle of the river (or a group of inattentive tubers).

One of the swings was called the Flying Fox. The big one. A behemoth on the river. Climbing the ladder was bad enough. Poor Ruth stood at the top of the platform for a good five minutes muttering expletives. I launched immediately - i wish i could put this down to bravery but alas the drag on the line was too strong and i lost my footing.

It was here we met a group of Brits and Aussies. Nat, Phil, Mick, Kayley, Jules and Gem who we stayed with for the rest of the journey, which, after stopping at yet another bar and drinking a bottle of lao lao (moonshine - horrid stuff) continued in darkness.

None of us had any ideas where to stop tubing. There is a split in the river down by the centre of town creating an island upon which are a number of bars and small guesthouses. This was our destination - the left bank of the right split. Try remembering that after a few beers and many more shots. Even the threat of a dangerous left stream was not enough to clear our brains. In the end some random woman dragged us in cold, shivering and with sore bums after traversing shallow rocks - which felt similar to a Laos bus journey actually. We all stood outside warming ourselves on a fire at the woman's bar and then went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and use the toilet. Two hours without a lavatory! All because someone told me not to relieve myself in the river if i did not want a fish to swim 'upstream' (as it were) and clamp onto a place i will not elaborate on in this blog.

Afterwards we all met up in one of the bars and continued the main theme of the day.

It was a fantastic day. Relaxing, loads of fun and different. So enjoyable in fact that i planned to repeat the endeavour after exploring Vang Vieng's other offerings.