Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tubing, Laos Style

Dec. 15th – Dec. 18th, by Jason

After all the cultural and archaeological fun of Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars, it was time to leave for Vang Vieng, to check out the backpacker tubing destination and also celebrate our traveling companion Caroline’s 28th Birthday! We woke up and were boarding a tuk tuk to the bus station around 6.45am and had tickets for the 7.30am bus in hand just before 7am (80,000 LAK for the local bus, 6.5 hours.)  It was a local bus, we were the only westerners on it and it was interesting to see the mix of people on board, from a man in business casual attire and a scarf to a young woman in tattered clothes with two children, eating beans off the floor that had fallen out of one of the bags of food they had placed in the aisle and broke open. The attendant left us alone the entire journey as he knew our destination, skipping us as he went around to check tickets a second time and also when he handed out the plastic bags to use in case you get nauseous (the man behind me made good use of them) as it was a windy ride for the first 3 hours or so. I think he left us alone mainly because his English was likely not very good, not because he was being rude to us. We arrived in Vang Vieng a little after 2pm. We found the main area of guest houses and checked into a place for a night as it was cheap, somewhat clean and had had enough of traveling. We had a late lunch then walked around to find a better place to stay for our two remaining nights. On the walk we ran into the girls (Sally, Caroline, and Trudy) and made plans for dinner and also got Caroline’s new Laos cell phone number (she lost her phone on the trek in Luang Prabang and had to get a new one, oops!) We found what seemed to be some nicer places along the river but they were full and therefore we could not take a look at a room. We then found a place, Doubkha Guest House, just up the road from the girls with nice, clean rooms, a huge bathroom and amazingly new and comfortable mattresses, all for 70,000 LAK/night (about USD 8.) In addition the owner was a middle aged Lao man who went to University of Tennessee for school and lived in TN for a total of 6 years (I believe) and loves American Football, it seems he’s always happy to welcome Americans to his place (we are the minority nationality on the backpacker circuit.)

Now, what they say in the guidebooks and on the internet is true, all the restaurants really do play Friends and Family Guy here. We headed to a restaurant playing Family Guy for dinner that was relatively crowded. The meal wasn’t horrible but also not great, something else you learn about Vang Vieng…they have great baguettes but otherwise the food is really just so so. Swiss retired in order to get his sleep for tubing while I joined the ladies for 1 drink at the Bamboo Bar down by the river (we walked across a super rickety bridge that I was certain would collapse and later saw three Lao guys riding their scooters across the damn thing.)

Wednesday morning (Caroline’s 28th Birthday…and for us, 4 months on the road!) we met up for breakfast and headed to the tube rental place. As of July 2009 they’ve now formed one tubing community “collective” that is sanctioned by the local police and tourism office and the only group you are allowed to rent a tube from for floating down the river. (You can, though, just hire a tuk tuk to the first bar and then swim down the river instead of renting a tube.) Now, if you’re planning to go, it’s (as of 17-Dec-2009) 55,000 LAK to rent a tube (includes one way ride to the start of the tubing area) and a 60,000 LAK deposit on the tube (which you get back if you return the tube before 6pm, only 40,000 LAK back if you return after 6pm and I saw the office closed at 8pm.) A dry bag can be rented for 20,000 LAK, but there seem to be some cheaper options for that. We took the tube up to the start and enjoyed an afternoon of bars catering to westerners, ropes, zip lines and slides for going into the water and of course a few beverages. A few select pictures follow:

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We made it back to the office about 5.45pm and returned all of our equipment and headed to our respective places to get cleaned up. Sally and Swiss stayed in to sleep and after a long search I eventually found Trudy and Caroline and delivered a birthday chocolate muffin to Caroline. Everyone was pretty exhausted (the combination of sun and drinks had taken it out of us) and so we headed to bed.

Thursday was a slow start for me, but I was up by 9am. Swiss was apparently inspired, though, and out at 7am to go write blog stuff, have breakfast, and eventually check email. I met Sally and Caroline for a late breakfast (at a Friends restaurant, where we watched 5 episodes. I can now check both of those off my list, although as a side commentary, it’s amazing to see some people spend ENTIRE DAYS in these places just mindlessly watching Friends or Family Guy!!) I spent the afternoon relaxing and catching up on a journal, organizing pictures, etc. We booked a bus ticket to Vientiane through our guest house and then spent the early evening at Sakura enjoying the free wifi and their delicious coffee/Baileys drinks. We had dinner and called it an evening. The next morning was spent at the wifi cafe getting caught up online, Swiss and Sally watched a movie (Jarhead), and we eventually jumped on our bus down to Vientiane around 1pm! A relaxing stop in the backpacker party capital of Vang Vieng!


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