Jan 23 2013
The party is over in Vang Vieng, six months after the Lao government’s crackdown on the illegal bars that once lined the picturesque Nam Song. The change is so dramatic that people still arrive asking where the party has gone, shocked at the pace of change in a country not known for acting swiftly on anything. So what of tubing? We took a ride downriver in a tube to find out the situation on the river.
In high seasons of years gone by, approximately 400 people per day would tube down the river. That number has now dwindled to about 150.
The system for tubing is the same as it always was. Punters roll up to one of two sheds in town, pay 55,000 kip plus 60,000 kip deposit and sign away their right to sue if it all goes horribly wrong.
A tuk tuk driver promptly loads four to 12 people into the back of his vehicle as well as all the tubes and drives four kilometres north to the drop off point right next to the Vang Vieng Organic Farm, which in itself is worth a visit for a top-notch feed.
With dry bag and or dry pouch slung around their necks, the punters set off downriver in their tubes ready for action. Except, the action never comes.
The journey downriver starts off slowly and many must be hoping for that one bar that must still be open, thumbing its nose at the government crackdown. But the destroyed bars keep coming, one after another.
In locations where massive platforms once towered over the river there is nothing but the riverbank left. Every part of these structures has been demolished.
The famous water slide is gone as are the small huts, large platforms and zip lines. In parts, it’s as if no bars ever existed.
But those seeking a beer on the river need not worry. Many tubers stop at strategic points on the river bank to throw frisbees, play in the water and make new acquaintances, and at these stops, a local will inevitably find a way to sell beer.
About half way along the tubing course there is a shack called SCK Guesthouse. A sign out the front rather amusingly points out that they sell food. The bar is filled with people drinking beer and having a good time — the sole survivor of the Vang Vieng apocalypse. It’s a tame affair in this bar compared to the days of old and more in line with what the Lao government wants and expects.
The last two kilometres of the river is just karst mountains, gentle rapids, thousands of kayakers and a stunning sunset.
The party may well and truly be over in Vang Vieng, but those seeking to have fun with friends, drink a few beers and experience some great scenery should still come to Vang Vieng. Just forget the riverside bars.
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