Virtual meanderings

Riding the tube, Vang Vieng style

    Tubing is the attraction of Vang Vieng. Remember the old saying “When in Rome do what the Romans do”?  So, when in Vang Vieng you simply have to try the tubing! (Note: how come that no local Lao person ever goes tubing then? Shouldn’t this ring some bells in one’s head? “Interesting River Tube”, huh? Lessee…)

Tubing, Vang Vieng Laos

Tubing, Vang Vieng Laos


      The tubing experience is, hm…. perhaps a bit inflated. I don’t mean to say it is just hot air, but simply that it is somewhat overblown. OK, enough stupid puns. “Tubing” is basically going down the Nam Song river in an inflated tractor inner tire (and buying a T-shirt telling the world what you did afterwards… if you survived it, that is). Just type “vang vieng tubing” in Google and enjoy…

Google Search - Tubing Deaths

I do not think I will get tired any time soon of praising the beauty of Lao scenery. And Vang Vieng is a rare beauty – even by the Lao standards (did I say yet that Laos is the most beautiful country in South Eash Asia and possibly the whole world? I guess I did.)

In the tubing, Vang Vieng

In the tubing, Vang Vieng

Courtesy: author

     So, enjoying this unsurpassed beauty from the unique perspective of a tractor tube  going downstream is the main reason why tubing has become such a tourist magnet in Vang Vieng. Right? Right?? Riight… the fact that the tubing crowd is made of Brits, Australians and Dutch people in their late teens or early twenties should make you think twice about that. What you do not see on the picture are the multitude of open air bars on both banks of the river where the tuber (tubist? tubitian? teletubby? tuborg? ) can stop to have a drink, dance, and do all kinds of “fun” things (mud pits with the buddies, anyone?). Then jump back on the tube (if some other evil tuborg did not steal it while one was not watching) and proceed further downstream.

But first things first. To enjoy tubing, you go to the main office downtown where you are given a tube (if you lose it, there goes your $25 deposit), and you are loaded on the back of a truck with some other tubing wannabies. The truck takes you five kilometers upstream outside Vang Vieng – and leaves you at the river bank, at what one might call “the ground zero” river bar.

Going down the river in a tractor tire may seem extreme – white water rafting on steroids of sorts. But despite all the suspense I put into the post thus far, it’s time to admit that tubing could be a deceptively relaxed experience too. What you make of it depends on two factors – yourself and the river. That very day the river was quite calm – although there may be times after a heavy rain when it is a different story. The tubing newbie that I were, I was in no rush for extremeties either. So in the river I went, and began to slowly glide downstream.  Instead of stopping at any of the bars, which played annoyingly loud music, I was just floating…, and floating…, and floating… enjoying the gorgeous view which changed with every river turn. Everyone else was behind me upstream, enjoying the bars. I had this whole beauty just to myself.

Nam Song Rive, Vang Vieng

Nam Song River, Vang Vieng


   Things were looking really good. Too good. But if you recall an earlier post about the ferry trip from Koh Phi Phi to Phuket, all good things come at a price.

Having spend about fourty minutes into the river, I was already nearing Vang Vieng – when all of a sudden I noticed a sign saying this was the place to get out. There was not a single person to help me out of the water. And some help would come in handy. Really. It was not clear at all how to get out. Having just realized that, it next dawned on me that whatever I did, I had to act fast. If I passed the exit spot, it would be extremely problematic to get out of the water at all. Soon after, in Vang Vieng town proper,  the river got channeled between masonry walls all the way through town – making it impossible to get out (oh, and the river current got much faster there). Nice!

I was  a mere 3 or 4 meters away from the bank. But the tube is no boat and I had no paddles to counter the river current or change direction either – just my hands. Hands had worked fine upstream while gliding slowly and graciously down the river. But here time was too little – “pounding” the waters barehanded would mean that I’d pass by the exit spot and be sorry about it. With no other option available, I jumped into the water in the hope that I’d touch the river bottom – after all, I was just meters from the bank. But there was no bottom. The water was at least two meters deep, or maybe twenty – you could not tell from looking because the water was muddy to the point of being impenetrable. I began swimming towards the exit spot using one hand and holding the tube with my other hand. I hardly managed to grab some bush branches before the current would drag me away donwstream – and was able to get out of the water! I’d barely made it.

     Tubing is supposed to be a repetitive affair – if you are still alive, you go back upstream and do it all over. Having just gone through the “fight for the exit,” however, I just called it a day, and surrendered my tube and my life jacket (which is mandatory and this is why only one person out of twenty would wear it). I’d gotten more than enough tubing emotions to tell a story.
     It was then that I realized that my mobile phone had stopped working. I had taken the phone on the river to take photos on the way down. Despite having put it into a Ziploc bag, the jump into the current and the swim to the shore had caused some water to get inside the Ziploc. And to round it all up, a couple of hours later I also realized that in addition to ruining my phone, the muddy water had given me a sore throat and ears.

So, I started anticipating the next “gift of the river gods” – the pink eye. Because, you see, walking around Vang Vieng, I had already seen an awful lot of tourists with pink eye (conjunctivitis). It was one of those things that you do not notice at first – but then you eventually start paying attention to. Given the fact that every one in Vang Vieng did the tubing in the muddy water, its origin could be no more evident.

While doing some online reserach for this post I came across a similar story – some people had not been so lucky to get out of the river on time. Check it out, it will surely help you grasp the situation better.

Vang Vieng, Laos

More Nam Song scenery

        Note: When I returned home from the trip, I had my phone examined and it turned out that the water had damaged the motherboard beyond repair. So, that tubing fun in the Nam Song did cost me about $480. As well as many interesting photos. Extreme?


One response to “Riding the tube, Vang Vieng style

  1. Pingback: La Countryside « mastercopycat

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