There are lessons to learn on our travels and no matter how much travel experience we have, we are always prone to make mistakes. So here is where travel went badly wrong for me, and I’m warning you to be careful too! I’m not proud of my horrendous time in the wonderful town of Vang Vieng! Things all went wrong for me in Vang Vieng and for this reason my memories of Laos are rather negative and jaded, apart from the fact that I was there with a top mate of mine. I’m not going to tell you how to go tubing, I’m going to tell you my story and how NOT to go tubing in Vang Vieng Laos…
So all was going well in Laos after some border mishaps and myself and my travel buddy Chaz Fitsimmons (a real Belfast Boy) made it to the dreamy magic of Vang Vieng. We found a hostel, some food and a Happy Hour on Beer Lao. Sorted! Then we met up with an English guy called Nick and a Spanish girl called Marina. We partied the night away in the many bars in Vang Vieng including the magic “Island Bars” where I met a dude from Hong Kong called Steven and a Northern Irish girl from Fermanagh, it was all like being 17 again. It a great social night out with endless fun. Flame diving and drinking buckets of whiskey in the bucket bar and we planned to do the tubing the next day. Again, all good so far! I got back to the hostel and slept.
Then we woke up early morning and had to move hostels, we got sorted and also ended up having a French baguette and Irish Coffee breakfast to get ready for the day of tubing! Our English mate Nick had rounded up a few others and while Chaz and I played pool in a bar in Vang Vieng, they came to pick us up in a truck to go tubing. We didn’t pay a penny so far and had arrived at the first bar of the tubing. Free shot on arrival. Too good to be true really, we still hadn’t paid anything but Chaz and I got on the beer at this bar, which is when I first bought a drink.
What followed was just an awesome few hours. I met tons of new people and we were having fun, “tubing” but hold on…we weren’t really tubing yet. We had played mud volleyball, danced away and thrown frisbees at cans. It was time to go tubing. You might have heard that “tubing” is really just drinking, and that proved to be the case. You will spend more time in the bars than on the tubes.
Earlier in the day I had bought a green waterproof “Tubing Bag” for my wallet and my camera (plus one spare memory card). That was all I needed for the day – wallet and camera. The stupidest thing I did was I brought ALL my cards and money with me (including my Hong Kong ID card and my currency in HK Dollars, US Dollars and Laos Kipp). The reason I brought it all was I didn’t trust leaving it in the hostel. First mistake was bringing it all with me. Second mistake was buying that green bag. By the time bar four arrived, as I was reeling myself in on the tube, I got distracted by a stupid green bottle on a rope which I thought was my waterproof bag. As I reached for it, I lost my way into the bar and turned round to swim across. It all happened very quick and the currents on the stream are fast, believe me. Once something disappears down the river, it’s gone. My green waterproof bag (which was attached round my neck) had disappeared forever.
Going with it was my entire money and credit cards for the entire trip, plus 3 other ID cards and my camera full of memories of photos and videos. Oh dear! And I was now stranded in a bar in Vang Vieng. With other people of course. I met up with Chaz again in the bar and he too had lost his wallet but kept his phone. He luckily didn’t bring all his cards with him and I still have no idea why I risked taking everything into the river that day. Maybe to teach myself a lesson and realise I was wrong. I trusted myself more than I trusted the hostel, and I was wrong to do that.
My mate Chaz bought me a drink in that next bar as did an Irish girl and then I drank water, grasping a pair of flip flops and my travelling Northern Ireland flag. It was odd to me.
While my camera and wallet were busy floating away on the Nam Song, I managed to grasp on and keep a flag (my travelling Northern Ireland flag) and a pair of flip flops. I didn’t even want the flip flops. Later I would learn I also picked up an ear infection from swimming in vain after a wallet I couldn’t even see. I had lost my entire money for this trip. I was lucky my passport was back at the hostel and that I was safe and well.
As everyone else partied in the fourth or fifth bar, I simply walked alone alongside the river looking in vain for my wallet and camera. I knew it was gone forever. Travelling on a budget, I had blown the lot on one day of tubing. After walking for a while I realised I was in the middle of nowhere and it was getting dark.
A local Laos girl called Micky runs over to me and asks what the problem is. “I have nothing left here – any chance of a lift back to Vang Vieng?” I said and the heroine that she was she headed over to a remote garage, pulled out a scooter, told her friends she was giving me a lift and on the back of the scooter I went, flying through the rainy, wet, drizzly Laos countryside wondering what the hell I had done today. I wanted to give up travel in an instant. That was it – I was done with travel. I didn’t even have any money now – to pay the hostel or to get out of Vang Vieng. A popular Norwegian, Arnie’s Hostel Nam Song Gardens was next door to mine and I sat with him, he gave me a free beer and listened to my story. We’ll end things there, how did I recover and ever want to travel again after this? And how did I get money to stay the night and continue my trip? A story for another day, my friends…
Lessons to learn about the dangers of tubing in Vang Vieng, LAOS:
– ONLY take money with you. BELIEVE ME – that’s all you need!!
– DON’T take – a camera, keys to hostel rooms, wallets, credit cards, passports (as you can see I still have photos of the tubing experience thanks to Chaz and friends so a camera is not an essential – leave it behind and enjoy the party)
– DON’T take a waterproof bag – they are useless!
– Try not to drink too much alcohol (easier said than done)
– Try not to take drugs (there are lots available)
So in closing, head to Vang Vieng and enjoy it, but BE CAREFUL! People die in the river ever year, at least I survived, at the end of the day, it’s only money…
With thanks to – My comrade, buddy, and fellow Northern Irishman Chaz Fitzsimmons. (Keep er lit 😉 )
** To cap it all off and ruin a horrendous trip, I lost my blue hat just before leaving Vang Vieng. My Blue hat had travelled the world with me (and is in the above photo). I then deleted an e-mail address for a US guy who sent me photos of Vang Vieng, meaning I have no photos of my own from my entire time Tubing and afterwards! Plus I got an ear infection in the Nam Song…it really was a lesson in how not to go tubing in Vang Vieng Laos…on with the show, don’t stop living – it’s still a lifestyle of travel!
Key Song – It has to be the Oasis tune, “Where Did It All Go Wrong?”:
My Videos (I don’t Have any of the tubing…):
Arrival in Vang Vieng, LAOS:
The Bucket Bar on the island in Vang Vieng. Pure madness:
Tubing in Vang Vieng Laos – oh the madness…