Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…tubing in Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is little more than a small mountain town roughly halfway between Luang Prabang and Vientiane but thanks to a river, a multitude of bars and some rubber tubes, backpackers have turned it into something that has made Laos famous but for all the wrong reasons.

I have no idea who these people are

Until not too long ago there was bar after bar after bar along the river, each pulling in tubers and then sending them back to the water, slightly more drunk, often through ridiculous systems like diving boards, zip lines and death slides. This all stopped a few years ago when, apparently, the American and Australian governments put pressure on Laos to ban it because of all the drunken idiots who were being killed on the route.

For a while it closed but, as I write this in early 2014 (what?), it’s open again. It was a very pared down version — officially only four bars, but the tuk-tuk drivers take you to “Bar Zero” and there’s also an extra bar at the end (making it six in total, but without breaking any rules or anything see?).

After paying a small fee and putting down a deposit that diminishes the later you bring your tube back to town, you get in a tuk-tuk and go to the river where there are hundreds and hundreds of tubes piled up.

At the first bar, sorry the zeroth bar, there was a ‘team’ of ‘people’ giving out free shots of local ‘whisky’, free string bracelets and trying to encourage people to get drunk and ‘have fun’. I accepted their free drink, probably bought a beer and then bumped into some Canadians who I’d spoken to in Luang Prabang.


The rest of the day was pleasant. Generally staying at a bar for a drink or two — usually including one shot, and another bracelet, poured by an eight-year-old girl — and then gently bobbing along the river until the next bar. Most bars tried to differentiate themselves from others, probably a hark to bygone days when that was necessary, with things like basketball hoops, volleyball courts or some other gimmick. People made use of them, but they were keen enough to leave when their mates got bored.

The locals were keen to see us. This is because we saw none except those making money out of us and the one guy on the river bank, almost perfectly camouflaged, who one girl in our group said ‘everyone wave to the guy over there’ before they realised he wasn’t waving but wanking furiously over them in their pretty bikinis.

At one point I fell off my tube and had to swim after it to get it back but, despite the reports, there were no noticeable deaths on my trip, mainly because of my charmed bracelets, probably. Safety precautions have made relics of the death traps previously used by drunks and nowadays it’s nothing more than a pub crawl with a twist.


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One Response

  1. Dave says:

    Congratulations on making it sound even bleaker than I remembered it being already!

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