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We wanted to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a holiday we'd never forget - we reckon 6 months of travelling the world (from trekking on the Inca Trail and through the Amazon to riding an elephant in Thailand) should just about cover it!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Tubing down the Mekong in Vang Vieng

The bus journey to Vang Vieng takes a mere 4 hours from Vientiane - I don't think we could've handled another nerve-fraying all-dayer on a ramshackle local bus, so were grateful for the short journey time.
We were sad to leave Vientiane, but fickle tourists that we are, instantly fell in love with Vang Viene and it's setting, and Vientiane was forgotton almost immediately.
We stepped off the bus, attempted unsuccessfully to persuade a tuk-tuk driver to take us to a guesthouse (he told us to walk and promptly went back to sleep - so refreshing!) and started walking down to the riverside in search of accommodation. The sun was beating down on us and our packs are getting heavier by the day (plus I was carrying that huge chunk of antique wood under my arm too!) so we couldn't wait to find somewhere and settle down with a Beerlao (the local beverage).
We discovered a bamboo bridge, stumbled across it and collapsed at the nearest guesthouse. Unfortunately it was already full but the kindly landlady directed us to another cluster of bamboo huts nearby, where we agreed a price of 80,000 kip per night, which is a satifyingly cheap 7 quid between us. Nice!
Now the accommodation was basic - a bamboo room on stilts with a bed, mozzie net and small shower and toilet - but when the view is as amazing as the one we had it was an absolute steal. There was a hammock on our veranda, where you could kick back,relax and take in the stunning scenery - huge,steamy mountain ranges, lush green valleys, the Mekong river where cows and water buffalo were drinking and local children were playing on little wooden boats. It was one of the most idyllic scenes of th entire trip and we sat for a while drinking it all in, all too aware that in a few short weeks we'd be back in the ratrace of London life...
Shrugging off such depressing thoughts we explored the town, which took all of about 20 minutes. Vang Vieng is small, full of tourists (unfortunately, but as we are tourists too we are hardly in a position to complain) and is set up for fun, fun, fun...
We had a few refreshing beers (yep, I'm even drinking beer now like a real traveller) and bumped into Richard and Bongo for the umpteenth time. As everyone is doing a similar route it's not uncommon to come across the same faces in several different countries. We decided to make a plan for the next day - partaking of the local pastime...TUBING.
The next morning we had a full English to line our stomachs for the day ahead and joined the queue to go tubing. Although we'd seen various injured foreigners sheepishly hobbling around town the previous evening and blaming it all on the perilous tubing, we were undeterred and eagerly signed the disclaimer to say that yes, we could swim, and no, if one of us drowned/injured ourselves we wouldn't take legal action. We should have taken heed of the fact that the entire town looked like they should be on the set of casualty, such were the number of bandaged invalids. I did give Liam a knowing look as he happily signed away that yes he could swim and pointed out the lifejackets but he was full of male bravado and was having none of it. Little did we know what was to come...(cue ominous music)
For those of you not in the know, "tubing" involves floating down the Mekong river in a huge lorry tyre inner tube, being carried along by the current. The riverbanks are lined with myriad bars blaring out house music and have a general party atmosphere. The bar staff throw you a rope and pull you towards their bar, then when you are close enough they stick out a bamboo pole, you grab it, and they haul you into their bar.Genius! Cue lots of dancing, drinking, sliding down giant slides and swinging from zip lines. Brilliant fun, but with an air of danger - water, rocks, ropes and alcohol don't always mix so well...
We arrived, rubber rings in hand, and had a quick drink at the first bar for dutch courage before flinging ourselves into the murky water in our tubes. The water seemed relatively calm as we were carried gently upstream. I stopped worrying about Liam's lack of swimming skills as we had great fun being hauled from one bar to the next against a stunning backdrop of mountains and lush green forests,with all our favourite house tunes filling the air.
After several hours and several beers, we were happily dancing away at a bamboo bar on stilts above the river when I realised that all the tubes had gone.Had they been pinched by fellow travellers who'd swum to the bars then nabbed a tube without paying, or was it a cunning ploy by the tube owners so that people couldn't get their 7 quid deposits back? We'll never know...Noone seemed too bothered by this fact and insisted that we could easily swim or even wade to the next bar, which was only a few hundred metres away.
Bolstered by booze, we all agreed to wade through the shallow water to the next bar. As we climbed into the cold water, I was aware that the current here was much stronger, but we just lifted our feet and allowed the current to pull us along. There was quite a large group of us, and I was slightly ahead of Liam. Suddenly, the shallow water became really deep and my feet were swept from under me, forcing me to swim the rest of the way. Liam had been practising his swimming throughout the trip so I wasn't yet worried, but as I turned around I realised that Liam was in difficulty, thrashing about and going under the water. I quickly jumped back in, grabbed him and tried to keep his head above the surface whilst I was treading water. Unfortunately I never did finish my lifesaving certificate wearing PJ's in the school pool and found to my horror that I kept going under too, gulping huge mouthfuls of brown water. Catching sight of our friend Bongo I screamed at him to help me and luckily he quickly swam over and helped me drag Liam out. If is sounds dramatic, it was. Panting on the riverbank, we were all a little shaken, shocked at what had happened and how easily it could have turned to tragedy.
6 foot 4 Bongo had saved the day (with a little help from me, of course), and we were suddenly on some kind of adrenaline high at the realisation of the severity of what had just transpired. (We'd later find out that there are several drownings at this spot every year).
Relieved and charged up from our near-death experience, we all headed to the next bar to buy Bongo a celebratory beer, chinking bottles at our good fortune.....

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