The Day I…Threw $1000 US Dollars into the Nam Song River in Laos

money in the river in laos

Oops! The day I threw $1000 US Dollars into the Nam Song River in Laos.

I almost didn’t want to write about this travel mishap, but I said recently it’s a “no holds barred” on here so all the crazy “The Day I…” stories are going up!! It happened and I’m embarrassed by it, but looking back it was about a year ago now and I’m not angry anymore. I learnt a lesson, I was stupid and life goes on. Yes, one day in Laos in 2012 I threw $1000 US Dollars into the Nam Song River in Laos. Literally. Here’s what happened.

jonny blair and chaz fitsimmons

Partying in Van Vieng at the tubing before I threw $1000 US into the river…

I touched on this story before on my post about how not to go tubing in Laos. I was backpacking in Vang Vieng, Laos with my travel buddy Chaz (top lad, a Belfast Boy in the true sense of the words and a global nomad like myself). We had a crazy night out in the Bucket Bar. But I was still underspending on this trip, Laos is cheap. Anyway the big day to go tubing arrived and we were with a fellow backpacker, Nick from England, we roomed with him and caught a truck from Vientiane with him.

vang vieng laos

My travel buddies Chaz and Nick in happier times in Vang Vieng!

We had a decent breakfast which for some reason included whiskeys to get in the mood for the day. Major mistake. Nick then gets together a group of other lads he’s met and we wait for him in a Pool Bar. They turn up at the Pool Bar in a people filled tuk tuk and Chaz and I jump in. We are taken to the start of the tubing. A small wooden boat takes us across. We are greeted with a shot on arrival and I buy a beer. For some stupid reason, I didn’t trust the hostel I stayed in and I trusted myself more. I took my entire wallet, all my credit cards, my Hong Kong ID card, my extra cash in US Dollars, Thai Baht and Hong Kong Dollars, my camera and yesterday’s memory card for my camera. Major mistake.

pool bar

The pool bar in Vang Vieng, Laos.

I put all these valuables in a green tubing bag which went round my neck. Major mistake. After that first shot and beer at the first bar, I could stop the story there. I was caught in the moment from there on in. I was 32 at the time, acting like a 16 year old all over again and partying. Meeting people, drinking competitions, playing volleyball in the mud, throwing frisbees, dancing, all sorts of things. I sometimes think it was coming and I got what I deserved as I should be older and wiser, but I wasn’t. I was loving it.

losing a grand in vang vieng laos

LOVING it and PARTYING in Vang Vieng, but just after these photos I chucked a grand in the river…

After the third bar, more shots, more dancing etc. and then I headed on the tube on the river and I was floating downstream. It was a strong current. As I reached for the rope for the next bar I couldn’t quite get to it. The rope had a green sprite bottle attached to it. I remember that much. I got the green bottle and my green plastic waterproof bag tangled. I always thought I was a decent swimmer, but I wasn’t this time. The currents had got me – I was totally soaked and all I was trying to do now was swim across to safety. The tube had gone and without me knowing it, so had my green bag with all my stuff in it. I had basically just thrown all my money into the river for the rest of my trip. That was everything I had of physical importance on this trip except my passport. It was actually more than $1000 US in the end with the money it cost me to replace the camera, the wallet, the cards, the phone calls. I don’t even want to know how much money I wasted. Before doing the tubing, I had planned to head north to Luang Prabang and into China. That had now changed. I blagged a free water in the next bar and walked alone along the river path until I found a local Laos girl who was willing to give me a ride back home to where I was staying. Her name was Micky and she kindly took me back for free through the pissing rain on the back of her scooter. I was down and out. Chaos in Laos.

foot infection laos

Chaz’s foot infection from Laos. Ouch!

On the same day my mate Chaz slid on some rocks or platforms and got a foot infection. I also picked up an ear infection and the day after that I lost my favourite blue hat. My travel plans changed in an instant and I had to contact family in the end to get some money sent while my girlfriend booked me a flight back to Hong Kong the following week from Bangkok. I was down and out, embarrassed and I actually wanted to give up travelling. Yes I really did. That day I said “it’s over” I’m not going to travel again.

I was gutted and I went home to my hostel that night and just lay down on my own and drifted to sleep. Within 48 hours I had left Laos behind.

However when I look back on it now, life is all about fate and this event changed my fate. I visited Angkor Wat, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh instead. I hadn’t planned to head to either. On my Cambodia part of the tour I met a LOVELY couple from Cork in Ireland – Helen and Anthony. All because I wanted out of Vang Vieng due to my mishap. If the mishap hadn’t happened, I would never have met them, I wouldn’t have been backpacking in Cambodia (an extra country for me – as I had never been before) and I wouldn’t have found time in a hostel in between to promote my travel blog on Kirsty and Poi’s “No Place to Be” site. Come to think of it, it was that very interview that alerted a few other travel bloggers of the potential of my website.

Perhaps it was meant to be then, perhaps I lost $1000 US in the Nam Song and it will work out for the best. Life’s funny like that…

Tubing in Vang Vieng in Laos is fun. But it’s also very dangerous. Lots of people die in the Nam Song River, at least they did until the tubing in Vang Vieng was stopped last year (if rumours are to be believed).

As I sipped a final beer with Chaz in Vientiane before catching a night bus we parted and said “see you somewhere, sometime mate”. It hadn’t been a great few days, but I was glad I had Chaz as a travel buddy to help out.

Lessons learned:
– Trust the hostel I’m staying in
– Don’t take a camera with your important memory cards in it
– Save your photos just before you do any water related activity
– Never take all the money you have to the same place – disperse your money
– Do the same with credit cards
– If you are taking money out with you, only take some (I actually knew this – and used this tactic in South America – I just forgot in Laos…)
– Oh and lastly, get some… travel insurance (I didn’t have any – I could probably have got a bit of money back on it, having researched afterwards). I’ll mention travel insurance properly again sometime and my views on it, for now get searching in the Nam Song for all that money!! There’s gold in them waters and it was once mine…

Safe travels…I won’t be back in Laos in a hurry.