Monthly Archives: April 2012

Tubing in the Vang Vieng

Standard

Before doing any research into Laos, I knew about one thing: tubing. While I’m not a big party girl, the notorious tube ride through the bar-studded Nam Song river in Vang Vieng intrigued me, and I knew I had to try it out.

While Vientiane may be the capital of Laos, Vang Vieng is definitely the country’s party capital and one of the top party destinations in all of Southeast Asia. While just a small town in the middle of nowhere, travelers flock to Vang Vieng for the cheap alcohol, easy drugs (think marijuana, mushrooms and opium) and a general outlet for unrestrained hedonism, which in the end boils down to one main event: tubing.

Ready with our tubes at the start of the river

The process is very simple. Starting around noon, you head to the town’s lone tube provider where you register your name and pay 55,000 kip (about $7) plus a 60,000 kip ($7.50) deposit for an inflated inner tube. A covered pick-up truck then drops you off at the start of the river where you have until 6 p. m. to make it back down to return the tube and retrieve your deposit money.

Now, if one were to just enjoy a leisurely tube ride down the river, the ride would take roughly two to three hours, depending on water levels. However, no one goes to Vang Vieng just to tube down the river. Instead, bars blasting dance music and offering water toys and games surround you on both shores, competing for your attention. If you want to come ashore, you simply grab one of the stringed water bottles and the bar staff will reel you in, often offering you free shots of homemade whiskey upon arrival.

What could be a better idea than combining alcohol, drugs and water sports in a country with virtually no safety regulations?

Vang Vieng Tubing

Tubing down the river!

If it sounds a bit dangerous to you, that’s because it is. In fact, several people die or are injured EVERY MONTH while tubing, often due to landing on hidden rocks while jumping in the water or drowning. In addition to sheets and towels, my room at Pan’s Place guest house came with a detailed advice book, which I like to call the “How to enjoy Vang Vieng and Not Die” book, including information on the dangers of tubing, the legality (or technically, non legality) of the drug scene and fun stories of people who have died while tubing. English expat owner Chris also offered up his own advice, such as, make sure you wear shoes.

“Stitches in this town are $7 a stitch, and they don’t use anesthetic,” he told us.

As you can probably gather from my tone, I was not a very active participant in the debauchery. First, as previously stated, I’m naturally not a big party girl. But second, and most importantly, I value my life and meeting St. Peter because I broke my neck jumping onto a hidden rock in shallow water while half out of my mind is not how I’d like to go.

But the reality is, tubing is super fun, even sober!

While I only had one drink throughout my entire journey, I loved visiting the bars, playing mud volleyball, shooting cans with slingshots, and yes, even jumping into the water off a few zip lines. Though I had not originally planned to do this, after watching all three of my travel buddies plus several Laos children swing into the water unharmed, I took my chances. And it was super fun! I did, however, draw the line at the massive “Slide of Death.”

After a few hours of fun, we were determined to actually enjoy the tube ride to the end, which was an estimated two hours further down the river after the last bar (loudly noted, “LAST BAR”). Problem was, thousands of shallow rocks a mere inches underneath us made the ride down more of an uncomfortable walk down, and we eventually gave up and took a tuk tuk back to town.

Altogether a fun experience. Remember kids, if you’re going to get drunk and go tubing down a river, always remember to wear your shoes :).

Scenes from Luang Prabang

Standard

Framed by both the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang is full of picturesque river views, in addition to its quaint streets and beautiful Buddhist temples. In my five days there I thoroughly enjoyed myself, rising early to watch the monks collecting food alms at 6 a.m. or climbing up 100 meters to the Phu Si temple to catch the sunrise. Just renting a bicycle and cycling around the town was relaxing, while stumbling upon a charming bamboo bridge and discovering the quiet Laos village across the river was one of the highlights of my trip.

Luang Prabang also has some great day sights outside the city, including the cascading, mint-green Tat Kuang Si waterfalls or the Pak Ou caves, where breathtaking limestone cliffs surround a cave full of Buddha statues.

I think Luang Prabang, however, is best described in pictures :).

The temple outside the Royal Palace Museum, a representation of traditional Laos temple architecture

Monks Collecting Alms

Monks collecting alms early in the morning

Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls

A section of the Tat Kuang Si cascading waterfalls

North end of Luang Prabang

View of the north end of Luang Prabang from across the river

Phu Si Sunrise

Sunrise from the Phu Si Temple

Pak Ou Boats

Boats near the Pak Ou caves

Laos Village

Street scene from a small village outside Luang Prabang

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Laos: An Introduction

Standard

Laos Flag

Temples, caves, monks and waterfalls, Laos made for an interesting three weeks, though I must admit, a difficult three weeks.

I’m not going to lie, Laos was not my favorite country. Perhaps it’s the fact that I had food poisoning at least four times. Or maybe I just encountered too many obnoxious drunken tourists. Or maybe because I spent my last day in Laos stranded in the middle of nowhere with no money that I am in no rush to go back. 

Whatever the case, I did find some truly incredible moments in Laos, as well as some absolutely stunning scenery

Officially independent from France since 1953, Laos is a communist, agricultural country that has seen better days. And sadly, many of its current problems are the result of our decisions made during the Vietnam War.  

Though officially a neutral territory during the war, the United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs of Laos between 1964 and 1973, during what was called the “Secret War.” The bombardments were meant to prevent the Northern Vietnamese from using Laos to reach South Vietnam,  but sadly, about 30 percent of those bombs never exploded, littering much of the country with potential explosives that have killed and maimed countless people ever since. In fact, Laos is considered to be the most heavily bombed country in the world.

Laos is very poor, and since many of those bombs were dropped on farmland, it continues to be so. While efforts are being made to clear the land to make it safe again, the process is slow, and growing up with the constant threat of unexploded ordnances (UXOs) has become a way of life for Laos people. In fact, Laos children have to be taught not to play with “bombies,” the same way other children in the world are taught not to talk to strangers. Others have been interviewed saying things like they don’t think “that many” die every year from the UXOs, because to them, this is the norm.

Traveling throughout Laos is not easy. English and infrastructure are extremely limited. Trains are non-existent, so travel requires taking long, often bumpy and windey roads, where pit stops literally mean stopping by the bushes at the side of the road (no joke).  On one occasion, we had to stop twice on our six-hour journey from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan so the girl seated behind me could vomit. Though I generally have a strong stomach, I nearly joined her.

On the other hand, Laos has some of the coolest caves I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s unique French-influenced Buddhist culture also makes for some truly charming places as well, especially Luang Prabang. The following posts are a collection of photos and stories sharing my best and worst experiences in Laos.