Posted by: James Shannon | August 2, 2011

TV Bars And Tubing (And Everything In Between): Vang Vieng’s Claim To Fame (Or Infamy?)

After having a day to stretch my legs, explore Vang Vieng, and go caving (in a serendipitous moment), it was time to take part in the most ballyhooed, clichéd, vilified activity in all Southeast Asia … tubing the Nam Song River just north of town.  Anticipated, or throughly hated for its emphasis on getting ridiculously smashed (there’s watersports involved at some point, I promise!), there’s no acitivity that polarizes travellers more.

However,  I simply couldn’t pass through here without trying it at least once, I told myself … so I went … and had a freaking blast (the headache the next morning was killer though).  I can see why people hate it so much though, as it attracts more than its share of disrespectful, brainless idiots to this otherwise peaceful Laotian burg.

If you come here, do have fun, but keep your shirt on in town for Pete’s sake, avoid P.D.A’s, and try to set a limit and stay within it (i.e. don’t drink ’til you puke/black out, the locals don’t like it and it makes the rest of us look like infants in front of an entire culture).

/end rant

On with the pictures!  I didn’t dare take my camera with me the day I actually went tubing, as I didn’t have a dry bag, and the skimpy ones sold in town look like they could be outdone by a Ziploc sandwich bag!  So the following day, I walked the 3.5 km out of town to the tubing “put-in” site to take photos of the madness without unduly putting my camera at risk…

In addition to tubing, Vang Vieng is notorious for another thing in backpacker circles: the TV bar.  These, numbering 30+, and growing every year, show episodes of Friends and Family Guy all day! Some revile them for the overpriced and bad quality Western food that they serve; on the other hand, would you expect to get Laotian food exactly right, never having it much before? Of course not!

Leaving the TV bars behind, I made my way outta town, in search of that wild, crazy beast native to these parts, the falang tuber!

On my way past the local high school, a cow interrupts his grazing to ponder my existence/presence…

About 1.5km out of the town centre, I came across a sugar cane crushing machine, where some ladies were selling sugar cane juice in bags.  For 5,000 kip ($0.67 Canadian), I gave it a try … and I didn’t like it very much at all.  Like pop, but without the carbonation and cola/orange/lime/etc  flavouring!

Display case inside a shop at a Laotian day market … pretty sure some of their stock is … I dunno … ILLEGAL!  In case you have no idea what I speak of, there appears to be some ivory tusks (could be wrong though)!

Gorgeous view of the limestone karst mountains along the Nam Song River, as viewed from the main highway that I was walking along … notice the trash lying about in the bush?  Don’t be shocked, it is a pretty standard sight alongside most of SE Asia’s highways and byways … sigh …

Almost there!  Heading up the gravel road to the tubing “put-in” site…!

Contrary to popular belief, Q Bar is NOT the first bar on the river … this guy is!  Nobody was over there though, so feeling sorry for these folks, I went here first!

It all starts here at Q Bar … some people get so carried away with partying here that their tubes never touch the water!

Beers here cost 8,000-15,000 kip ($1-$1.85), you often get a free welcome shot of whiskey, and many foods (often labelled as “happy”; be aware this means it’s laced with marijuana and/or mushrooms) are on offer … a young partier’s paradise!

Newly arrived tubers walk across to a favourite bar on the opposite shore.  Many of these guys have been coming back here for days, even weeks!

 

These ladies, aiming to save a little money, opted to float down the river on their backs.  Laos, like Thailand, was at the height of dry season in mid-March, so stuff like this could be done more easily.  At any other time of the year, in rainy season especially, trying this could end in a drowning fatality.

In spite of all the drunken shenanigans erupting around them, a local family enjoys a cooling dip in the Nam Song river… the splash you see in the background comes from a backpacker diving off a giant swing (see the video above for more on this exhilirating, but dangerous attraction) into the water below.

Some people actually manage to do what was intended when this activity was started here about 15 years ago … actually tube down the river.  For those of you with your doubts, just ignore/avoid the idiots, have a few drinks, and savour the JOYS of floating down a bathtub warm, sparkling tropical river.  Don’t let the actions of a overly rowdy few stop you from enjoying one of the great pleasures of travelling in this part of SE Asia! 

Next photo essay:  We prepare to leave Vang Vieng, for the sleepy capital of this tiny nation, Vientiane. French food for cheap, here I come!

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