‘Tubing’ is what Vang Vieng is famous for amongst backpackers. It basically involves hiring a rubber tube and floating down the river in it. There are bars along the side of the river and you’re thrown a plastic bottle tied to a long rope from the guys at the bar. As many people as possible then grab hold of the bottle and rope and you’re all pulled into the bar where everyone scrambles up. Your then given free shots and ridiculous amounts of alcohol considering your expected to basically swim a few miles home at the end of the day. There are also rope swings, slides, zip wires and big mud bath things so it had to be the best possible way to spend a birthday.
It all began really well. We picked up our tubes in town and got a tuck-tuck to the first bar by the river which seemed really organised and helpful. I was a bit nervous because I’d heard so many stories about people dying whilst tubing so this organisation made me feel alot better. The bar was packed and full with drunk, half naked people sitting on benches, sunbathing and swinging from the ropes in the trees.
We all stood there for a minute, scared and excited and just staring at what was happening. A makeshift table was outside the bar and a man with shaggy hair and a beard beckoned us forwards. ‘190 days tubing’ was painted on his chest in fluorescent paint and a girl covered in tattoos was stood by his side. She saw the bewildered expression on my face, ‘Your new shampoo, right?’ I know this sounds really stupid but I was momentarily stunned because just the day before I’d bought a new bottle of shampoo and wondered how she could possibly know. Was my hair super shiny and smelt fragrant like the bottle suggested?
It took me a moment to process her words but that moment was evidently far too long because she stared back at me like I was a complete idiot and gave me an extra large shot of something red, she obviously thought I needed it! She quickly explained the rules of tubing which can be basically summed up as ‘Get as drunk as you possibly can…get out the river at the end or you’ll get washed to sea…and oh yea, don’t die because we won’t be held responsible and you’re not insured to do this.’ I definitely needed another shot.
So we floated from bar to bar and ended up covered in spray paint at some point. It was the rainy season in Laos and although it was hot and sunny, the river was high and flowed pretty fast. I was kind of scared at first but it was surprisingly easy to get in and out of the bars, you just had to make sure no one stole your tube or you had to swim.
We were in one of the final bars when everything went a bit wrong. We’d been mud wrestling and around about this point we’d lost pretty much all of our belongings. Melissa was just about to go on a zip line but had to take her glasses off to go in so she wouldn’t be able to see. But in her blind state, Melissa didn’t realise she’d actually got on a rope swing, not a zip wire. She figured it would take a few seconds to get to the end of the zip wire and then let go. But she’d actually just got to the highest point on the rope swing and let go from about 30ft in the air and knocked herself out when she fell. She plunged into the water and didn’t reappear for what felt like forever. Then we saw the top of her back bob up but her head was still underwater. The current instantly swept her away and we all began shouting and screaming. She finally rolled over so that her face was out of the water but the rest of her body was sinking. The guys at the bar were great though and dived in within seconds. Melissa was paralysed for a few seconds so it took the guys a while to get her out and when the reached the steep, muddy bank she couldn’t walk and didn’t have a clue what was going on. It was so scary because for a split second I really thought she’d died. She had to go to hospital and then later leave Laos by herself and fly to Bangkok for a scan on her spine and get some proper medication.
The rest of us floated down the river, totally shocked and scared by what had happened. It was pitch black by the time we reached the end of the river and the current was so strong that I couldn’t get out. I thought I was going to get washed out to sea before a little girl, who must have been about 6, came in and pulled us all out. I couldn’t believe that someone so small could get so many people out and I felt terrible that I had nothing to give her as a thank you. I’d literally lost everything except my bikini.
We went out for a nice dinner and I had a big birthday cake. We then went to some bars and ended up in a club with lots of hammocks around the dance floor which was a bit weird but fun nevertheless.