Hidden away deep in the Laos jungle is a little town called Vang Vieng. It is a small river town nestled along the Mekong River that is enclosed by surrounding mountains, almost resembling a South-East Asian Switzerland.
With tubing as its most famous attraction, thousands of backpackers gather every Summer to out-drink each other whilst floating down the river. Multiple bars line the river so of course a day of tubing details a makeshift pub crawl.
Only you don’t crawl, you float.
We started the day with casual drinks at the hostel. After acquiring a locally brewed bottle of whiskey (that costs a mere $1 USD) we met some other fellow travellers before heading up the river in a tuk tuk.
The first bar was a great ice breaker. The bartenders served drinks and hosted drinking games simultaneously. We played the classics; flip cup, ‘never have I ever’ and the ultimate necessity; what’s a party without beer pong, right?
As we floated down the river on our way to the next bar, I took in my surroundings. The compelling green of the endless mountains and the harshly fresh air consumed my attention and interest. I watched a local lady walking alongside the mountain gathering tea leaves and wading through the thick tea bushes she had become entangled in.
My appreciation of the Mekong was suddenly interrupted by a local Laos man screaming at me from the river’s edge whilst vigorously shaking a water bottle in his hand. I don’t know if it was the cheap whiskey that had numbed my brain or the fact that he was speaking in the native Laotian tongue but his efforts to enlighten me were fruitless.
The current had just started to pick up when I realised what was wrong. As people were parking their tubes at the next bar, I was floating away from the river bank and had become swept up in a current that was heading down stream. Maybe I should have stayed closer to the other backpackers.
My tube continued off course and down the path of the forceful gush of water. At this point the man’s tone had turned anxious now as he screamed at me, still waving the water bottle in the air. Water sprayed in my face as I approached a relatively large drop in the water. I knew that if I went over the drop, there would be no way to get back.
The deafening gushes of water were interrupted by a sudden “plonk.” The man had thrown a water bottle to me that had a string attached to it. With out a second thought, I grabbed on to the water bottle and the man pulled. Fighting the rocks that surfaced along the river and the strong, narrow canal of water that had formed, he pulled me closer to the river bank.
Suddenly I noticed several other locals were firing bottles into the water like missiles, plonking on the water’s surface and dragging drunken backpackers towards their little retreat along the side of the river. Watching a mix of locals and tourists happily interacting, I saw a man at the top bar commentating two backpackers being pulled in as if it was a boat race whilst other travelers gave the locals respite and started throwing the bottles into the water to pull their friends to safety.
If that’s not an advertisement for Laos Bottled Water then I don’t know what is!