vang vieng - Where's Byrne?

vang vieng

29.09.2011 – 03.10.2011 Sunny 35 °C

Vang Vieng, a bit like Vientiene, didn’t look that impressive. Laos in general is very flat and has more trees than I’ve ever seen. It’s a very poor country, a lot worse off than Thailand and Malaysia. We’d only really come here to go tubing anyway so wasn’t expecting too much. A while into our four-hour journey north, we got chatting to an Aussie couple, Ross and Penny and a guy from South Africa, Jason who all seemed like good people. We arranged to catch up later on. We found a gaff for 40,000kp a night (£3 ish) which was clean and comfortable and went for a wander, taking advantage of our arriving at a reasonable time of day for once.  Walking around we saw a place offering cooking lessons for a fiver with ‘Chef Khan’. For £5 how bad could it be? It also included a trip to the market in the morning to buy the ingredients so we booked up with him. Later that day we arranged to go tubing with the gang the next morning so we had our weekend sorted.

Tubing. I was a bit apprehensive at first when James told me about tubing. Floating down a smelly river in a rubber ring whilst getting drunk didn’t sound all that great to me but as it happened, it was. It was bloody brilliant. We queued up with the rest of the tourists to rent our rubber rings. 65,000kp plus 50,000kp deposit (total 115,000 or £9 ish) which you got back when you returned your tube. Or maybe it should be if you returned your tube. Read on…

On the tuktuk drive there we met Dan from San Fran and a couple from Southampton, whose names escape me. The Southampton two had been the day before and were giving all sorts of hints and tips, like being careful not to get hit by the ropes with glass Coca Cola bottles attached when floating along the river as the Laos goblin bar workers don’t look where they’re throwing them etc. A quick boat ride across the river, I realised why we were told not to bring anything you didn’t want to get wet or lose. The bottom of the boat was full of water with half a plastic coke bottle floating on top which I can only presume was used for bailing out.

At the first bar we were made to drink a shot of whisky before we were allowed in which I point blank refused, it was 1pm and I hadn’t even had a beer yet. After a few BeerLao’s I was starting to feel it and got roped into a game of flipcup where you do a double shot of beer, put the plastic cup on the edge of the table upside down, and flip it in one go to try and get it to sit on its bottom, next player goes, five people on a team and the first team to do all their shots, wins. We won 2 games to 1 and the other team, including James had to do shots of whisky. Thank fuck for that. I was then attacked with spray paint by some ugly girl that worked there and reluctantly agreed to have the word ‘SLUT’ sprayed up my back 4 times in yellow paint. I looked good. Another beer and it was time for our first tube ride across to the next bar.

I watched the people’s technique in front of me and thought ‘this isn’t so hard’. I laid my ring on the water, flopped into it and pushed off from some tree thing. That was it, I was tubing. I was so impressed with myself for not falling in that I forgot to paddle and started to float, with the strong current carrying me, in the centre rather than to the bar on the other side. That’s when I had a glass coke bottle chucked at me which I grabbed and I started to be pulled in, when I looked up it was by a small Laos fella that looked like an extra from Lord of the Rings. I got to the edge, climbed up and I was done. Relief. Three more BeerLao’s and by this time I stomached shots of Whisky and some rank 80% proof Vodka so I was well away. As we were drinking, we sat on a table of eight where we met Daphne and Aya, an Israeli couple who worked in Israeli intelligence for MOSAD, Ross and Penny from the bus, me and B and finally James and Sam from San Fran. We got into a discussion about nationalities and how we owned Australia’s asses etc when I decided to proclaim that nearly every American I’ve ever met had been a knobhead, forgetting Sam was indeed from San Fran and had a massive yank accent to match it. I don’t think he was impressed as he got up and walked off. Onto the next bar then a?

Bar three. We made it to the next bar no probs as it was on the same side of the river, no coke bottle throwing goblins needed this time. As we got onto dry land I realised James wasn’t with us so we stood for a minute or so to wait for him, I said to Ross and Aya, ‘when he comes floating around, give him a big applause to embarrass him’ which they agreed to. He came round in his ring with his camera going taking a video. Thinking of his camera, I stepped down to help him onto the bank or take his camera in case he dropped it, as I did my standing foot slipped, I bashed my thigh into the concrete bank and went head first into the river. Great job. To their credit James, Aya and Ross waited to see if I’d hurt myself before breaking into uncontrollable laughter. Good of them, I wouldn’t have been able to have the same control they displayed. Luckily I didn’t seriously hurt myself, I didn’t feel the pain at the time anyway, just my ankle was throbbing a bit. I did lob my flip-flops though, I’d been slipping in them for weeks where the grip had worn.

More BeerLao and a shot from a bottle each containing Wasps, Beetles and a fucking Cobra, yes a Cobra, and I was now unable to make coherent sentences. I’ve been informed since I then did the YMCA as loud as I could, actions and all followed by I don’t speak Americano (they are on YouTube). Err, next bar then?

Bar four. We stumbled down to the riverbank where approximately ten of us had three tubes as all the rest had been stolen. We were warned of this before hand, apparently the guys who rent you the tubes come down later in the day and steal them so you lose your deposit. Fucking sneaky Russians. I jumped in one of the rings proclaiming, because I had a drybag (that wasn’t even mine – it was Ross’s and he asked me to look after it? No idea why) I had to have a ring. No one argued. I made B swim next to me (who said chivalry was dead?) and joined forces with the other two rings and hangers-on. The ten of us were hanging on to three rings floating down the river. Luckily I had some fit bird grabbing onto my leg, which was good, we both got something out of it, I got a feel and she didn’t die. The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember getting spray attacked by some rottweiler, she was going around spraying everyone’s arse blue, their actual arse too, not their shorts or bikini bottoms. Then I remember it was dark and pissing it down and all the tubes had been nicked by the Laos monsters so we had to get a tuk tuk back. I remember falling over again on the way to the waiting area, slipping straight on my back and cracking my head, laying in a puddle in the rain groaning until Ross came and helped me up, followed by a short tuk tuk ride back to town, after which I’m told I ran from the truck (still pissing it down) thinking I was legging it and not paying when in fact I had already paid for six of us, followed again by me stealing a new pair of flip-flops from outside an internet café. I was wearing them until Hong Kong. They were too small but were free so I stuck with them. I insisted we went out to continue drinking, resulting in the consumption of even more BeerLao and four chicken baguettes at which point I remember admitting defeat and asking B to take me home, as I no longer knew who I was. It was 10:30.

Verdict: What a day that was, I thoroughly enjoyed it, loads of birds in bikinis to perve at, free shots everywhere, beer was cold and cheap, drinking games were fun and we met new friends who have offered to put us up in Australia. Nice.

Cooking Lessons. Following a days recovery from tubing we got up nice and early ready to head to the market with Chef Khan. After a bumpy ten minute ride in his van we got out and had a walk around. I’ve been to some markets in my life and seen a lot but what was available to buy there, I didn’t expect. The usual meat and fish were there, some of which were still alive in buckets and tanks, fruit, vegetables and herbs and spices, Red Squirrels, Rats, Frogs and Snake steaks. What?! Red Squirrels, Rats, Frogs and Snake steaks? Yes, you read that right. With the most disturbing fact all these being dead except the frogs, they were tied in groups of four with a piece of wire around each foot. Where they were all trying to hop in different directions to break free, the wire was cutting into their foot which resulted in blood leaking out of the wound and onto the sheet they were left on. Why not put them in a fucking bucket? Why do they have to put them through pain before they’re boiled for soup or gutted and grilled? Barbaric bastards. The Snake was black and green and available in slices. It was a big Snake, really wide so must have been a few feet long. Poor sod.

After the market we arranged with Mr Khan to return at lunchtime to create our masterpieces and went back to bed. So at around twelve Me, B and James strolled down to Mr K’s kitchen and were joined by Daphne and Aya, the Israeli couple we met tubing. Although the kitchen was the type of place a British health inspector prays he will find, all our ingredients were laid out on plates and it was clear what was what. I knocked up some Spring Rolls and a Sweet and Sour Chicken – surprisingly easy and was the best in my humble opinion. B cooked Pad Thai and Penang Chicken, James a Green Curry and Fried Rice, Daphne Chicken Laap (a traditional Laos dish) and Tempura Vegetables and Aya creating a dark noodle dish, the name of which escapes me and a Papaya Salad. We sat down and ate a bit of each. The Laap was vile, not because the way it was cooked, because it’s cold minced chicken with mint and spices. Need I say more? The Papaya Salad was so hot it burnt away half my taste buds and I didn’t go mad on the Penang Chicken, just because it was so creamy, there was half a bucket of coconut milk in it. Everything else was fit to serve in a restaurant, seriously. It’s so easy too. Verdict: Well worth a fiver. Good job Chef Khan!

We wasted the rest of the day watching films in a bar until it was time for Tottenham vs Arsenal. I don’t want to turn this into a football related rant so I won’t go on about our win and three wins and a draw in our last four meetings with Arsenal. Was a great game. Next morning we headed for Don Det. Daphne and Aya were going back to China and James headed off to Hanoi. We arranged to meet James again in Vietnam as our paths would be crossing on the coast.

Have enjoyed Vang Vieng but if the tubing doesn’t sound your thing give it a miss as you can do these cooking courses anywhere and the town itself is nothing special.

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