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Let’s go Tubing!

Vang Vieng = tubing

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Orna missed the stop off point for the first bar and had to be rescued!

A History
It’s true that eight years ago when my brother went to Vang Vieng, tubing was in it’s prime. It was a Rite of Passage and to be honest I’d say the main reason people went to Laos was for that and the slow boat (I wouldn’t recommend this approach. The rest of Laos is also amazing. Blog posts to come). Back in the late 2000s the tubing experience was fuelled by buckets of alcohol from the vast number of bars that lined the Nam Song river. There were zip lines and slides cohersing the alcohol-soaked party people into the river in unsafe circumstances. Unfortunately every year many young people were passing away from either a mixture of alcohol, a concoction of drugs, lack of caution on the river or a mixture of all three. In 2012, the government ordered all of the bars to be torn down and thus stop the madness.

Over the past year or two some of the bars have begun to reappear but the result is a much calmer vibe with about one hundred and fifty people per day. There are no dangerous apparatuses in which to fling ones drunken body into the water and no buckets of alcohol, thus making Bucket Bar somewhat of a confusing name.

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Our flip cup team

Off we go!
So onto the important part. What is tubing like these days? It’s floating down the Nam Song river in a rubber tube, wearing nothing but your swimming trunks and wearing a waterproof bag around your neck with a handful of money and a photo-taking device inside.

When I was there in mid-November 2014 there were four bars open on one side of the river. Apparently the day before four bars on the other side were open. Myself and a gang of friends paid 55,000 Kip (approximately 6 euro) and a deposit of 60,000 Kip that we wouldn’t get back if we arrived back after 6pm, to rent a large rubber tube. 

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Friends

We were driven down to the river, tubes and all, and let free into the slowly
flowing water. As I set off I was given an eager push from a few local children as they wanted to see me race down the river. We got to enjoy the good weather, relish at the beautiful scenery, and have chats with friends while floating along the Nam Song with not a care in the world. The first bar was only a few hundred metres from our starting point so we hopped out to join the crowd that had gathered at only 12pm. At this bar we chatted, had some beers, danced a little in the sun, and walked under the shower of cold water. Each bar had a different selling point. One had a narrow tree trunk cast across a three metre hole with a metre full of mucky water at the bottom. Eager tourists donned boxing gloves and slid themselves into the middle to face a worthy apponent, usually with both of them ending face down in the water below. We also played flip cup and happily downed our drinks to refresh us on the hot day. I played musical tubes at Bucket Bar and decided not to dash for a tube as the competition got fiercer and resulted in a girl getting a bloody nose after a guy clearly wanted the tube more than her! At the last bar we chilled and danced in the open air.

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On the river

There was the option to follow the river for another forty minutes or so to the end of the tubing experience but I’m not sure that happens much. Too much fun is to be had dancing in little more than your birthday suit! We hopped in a taxi to bring us back to the town and return the tubes.

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One of the brave

Blue Lagoon
Another attraction in Vang Vieng is the blue lagoon. Some people weren’t impressed with it as they said it wasn’t a lagoon but I loved it there. What’s not to like about crystal clear water on a roasting hot day? It has a huge tree to jump off into the water. I managed to jump from the higher branch at about seven metres high. My friends below gave up on filming as I took quite a while to build up the courage. Let’s just say I don’t need to do it again! Swings hang low to the water so you can relax and kick your feet while watching the other brave jumpers. A rope dangles off a tree so you can fling your body into the water in oh-so-graceful leaps and there’s grass and mats a plenty to lie on.

Top Tip:
If you go to the blue lagoon, don’t dare to cycle in the blistering heat if you’re not a regular cyclist. We had to pick up a dehydrated, sweaty, exhausted girl on the dirt track on the way there. 

In general Vang Vieng town is pretty cute. It’s nice and small and chilled. Sakura bar is a top spot for party goers and you can sample an array of cheap, Asian cuisine in the many restaurants (with cushions for chairs) that play box sets of Friends on repeat.

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Local children

Where I stayed:
As myself and Orna preferred not to book accommodation before arriving, we found that the popular Central Backpackers was full. A short walk next door to Sisavang was perfect. We paid a mere seven euro altogether for a large private room with double bed, single bed, ensuite, and balcony. Had we chosen a smaller room with one double bed it would have cost five euro total a night. Not bad even if you wanted to stay there alone. The Internet was non existent in the bedrooms but they did a cheap and cheerful laundry service.

Vientiane
The capital of Laos was our next stop. It’s not much to talk about. It’s more expensive than the rest of Laos and hasn’t got many attractions. I wouldn’t recommend stopping here unless you had to get a Vietnamese visa at the embassy like we did. But if you found yourself wanting to break up your trip then I’d recommend staying at Sihome Backpackers. The rooms have air con and there’s a movie room.

Luang Prabang in Laos

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Girl's shoes abandoned at the night market

Luang Prabang definitely shows off it’s French influences. The quaint Laotian town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it has a certain look to obtain. Most of the restaurant and guesthouse signs have yellow-gold raised wooden lettering on a brown wooden background. There is a never ending supply of cute restaurants and cafes to tickle your fancy.

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The night market

Luang Prabang Night Market
Having come from eye-level markets in Thailand with each vendor having their own upright stall space, the low tents with produce displayed on the ground at Luang Prabang were a new, somewhat unusual sight for my eyes. At first glance it seemed quite a drab place but once I entered the long tunnel of tents, I was emersed. Clothes and bags were in their plenty, as well as jewellery made out of used bullets. It was easier to bargain for a good price here than in Thailand. So much so that I had bargained and agreed a good price for a bag for my friend before she’d even seen it. Thank goodness she liked it and bought it!

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Veggie food (apologies about the blur)

Street food
A few alleys filled with street vendors lay just off the night market. There was barbecued meat on sticks, and veggies galore. I filled a bowl full of vegetarian delights–noodles, rice, spring rolls, and prawn crackers. It cost 1 euro 50 cent. Definitely worth it!

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One of the pools at the falls


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Kuang Si waterfall


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A quiet reverie

Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si waterfall was a spectacular sight of clear turquoise water. It’s about a forty-five minute tuk tuk/sawngteaw ride outside of Luang Prabang. The price we paid included the driver waiting for us until we returned at a premeditated time. Perfectly clean turquoise pools sit at the bottom of the waterfall with thick branches to jump off. A bridge at the bottom was the perfect spot for photo opportunities and to see the water cascading down the cliff face. Myself and a slew of others followed two Irish friends who had been at the falls a few days previous. We trekked up the left side of the waterfall and when we reached the top we began to make our ascent down it (yes, down the actual watery waterfall, full of it’s rocks and water). At first a little gate led the way, then as we went further down, short metal rods stuck out of the rocks to guide us down to a private pool where we jumped off rocks a few metres high. Of course we had great fun and many GoPro videos of energetic jumps were shot.

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Hilltop view

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Young girls selling at the bottom; Orna's temple outfit, aka my scarf; view from the top

Hilltop view at Wat Com Si Temple
We climbed a couple of hundred steps up to the banjaxed-looking temple in the centre of Luang Prabang to get a view of the city and Mekong river. It was a few kip to get up there. The view was nice, but probably better to go at sunset. We bought little doll keyrings off two girls at the bottom. They told us we were beautiful with gorgeous smiles. Sometimes I’m not sure if they actually mean it or are just reaming off something they have been thought or thought to believe.

I didn’t quite make it up at the crack of dawn to watch the daily Alms Giving Ceremony where monks get donations of food from the public. Monks rely on getting food from the local people and Luang Prabang has become famous for tourists to ogle them in their daily activity. Part of me was glad I didn’t go to watch.

A night on the town
A few of us decided to do as the tourists do and go to Utopia bar. It’s a cool, chilled venue with good music to dance to. Which I did. It also has a beach volleyball court. That I didn’t do. After a dance and a few gin and tonics, we went on the Luang Prabang Rite of Passage–the bowling alley. It’s the only place that stays open after 12pm in the town so it was an absolute must. A bunch of drunk tourists bowling and drinking more beer was exactly what it was, with those more intoxicated playing atrociously!

Relax, Relax, Relax
One day I only left our room to eat dinner downstairs. I was feeling a little ‘off’ and probably getting worn out from the hectic travel plans. My lovely, dear friend Orna was kind enough to bring me breakfast in bed, snacks for our movie afternoon, and a takeaway dinner. It was definitely a much-needed pyjama day. I think when you’re travelling you can get caught up in the adventure of it all and forget that a day of rest can be just as good.

Getting lost
For quite a small town I found it difficult to find my way around. If it wasn’t for the three others I was with I would have been constantly lost. My confusion was a combination of water bordering three sides of the town and the identical signage. Thanks guys!

If in Laos, this town is definitely worth a trip.

Where I stayed:
We wandered around to try find somewhere with a reasonable price. We eventually followed a guy on a motorbike that had two beds in a room for 5 euro each so we went with it. I wouldn’t recommend it though. The toilets were smelly and we had to scale the gates when we got back from our late night out.