Vang Vieng, Laos

“Do you want some motion sickness pills?” asked a concerned co-passenger.  “It’s not motion sickness.”  -Scotty 5 hours in to an 8 hour mini-bus journey…

Vang Vieng is a funny place.  It’s naturally beautiful.  Precipitous limestone mountains rise up like a stegosaurus’ back on the other side of a beautiful river.  There’s plenty of hiking, climbing, kayaking and other outdoor activities to keep you busy for days.  There’s also an abundance of very high quality cheap rooms ($5US for a double).  However people don’t come here to convene with the spirit of nature.  They come for one reason, drunken debauchery!

Upon arrival I quickly recovered from a 24 hour bout of sickness and rallied to go tubing.  Our friends Krystyna, Darell, and Ben had already been here for 2 days and we were happy to find that they hadn’t left yet.  We also met a delightful girl named Magda from Chile on the min-bus and we all decided that some river tubing was in order.

In Veng Vieng you rent a tube for the day (which costs about 3 times as much as if you just bought one), get in a tuk tuk and head upriver for a day of fun.  Val was expecting a quiet river experience with some caves and nature, what she got was a veritable MTV spring break on the river.  As we caught our first glimpse of the scene we burst into laughter, young travelers swung through the air like monkeys on high wires, bars lined the banks by the dozen, and there was more flesh on display than we ever thought possible in a country as conservative as Laos.

Darell and Ben immediately got us buckets of booze.  Val and I looked at each other and smiled, both seeming to get the telepathic message, “when in Rome!”  About three bars and perhaps 65 feet downriver later I mustered the courage to try one of the wire swings that catapult the brave into the water.  I’m not much for jumping of high things into water, but I figured this was a unique opportunity.  As I waited on the platform the swing broke, so I stood and waited, getting the full value of the terror to come.  Then a half drunk Laotion handed me the trapeze like handle and off I went.  “Agghhhh!”  Splash!  It was super fun and only slightly painful.  The alcohol and adrenaline combo was invigorating.  I’d managed to have  a real life experience right here in the most ridiculous situation we’d ever encountered out traveling.

Another few bars down we found the infamous “mud volleyball” pit.  As if getting wasted in drowning territory wasn’t a bad enough idea to start, mud volleyball ups the stakes.  Not only was the court slippery and filled with rocks, but the opaque water also hid a completely uneven and rutted floor that cannot be predicted.  Despite these very good reasons not to indulge we fully invested ourselves in a fierce competition.  Val smeared mud under each eye, flexed her muscles, and let out a roar that would have sent a lion packing.  I gave her the “you’re going down” symbol which only served to destabilize me and send me face first into the soil.  An hour long, gladiator like flirtation with possible broken fingers, tailbones, and jaws ensued.  We ended up covered from head to toe with mud, and despite all odds suffered no permanent injuries.

At this point we wanted to float for a while, which amounted to about 15 uninterrupted minutes on the water before it appeared.  Ahead loomed the largest swing on the river, dropping drunkards into the water from 50 feet in the air.  Next to it stood a water slide of equally epic proportions.  I swallowed hard, silently summoning the courage. I kept my intentions silent.  We sat on the dock and watched people go for it, some of the results were graceful, some were downright tragic.  I bought myself a beer, had my pinky painted gray (my entrance ticket) and climbed the rickety stairs.  Again I was forced to wait and let the trepidation flood in.  “Once in a lifetime, once in a lifetime,” I chanted to myself, and indeed the legal ramifications would make this impossible anywhere else.  “Aghhh!”  Splash!  -water swirls- “am I still alive? which way is up?” I wondered, then my head broke the surface.  My friends cheered and best of all was Val’s question, “who are you and what have you done with my boyfriend?!”

We drank in celebration, the others went off the swing too.  I felt like a million bucks and before we left I would test my courage one more time.  The rest of the day was pretty tame.  Darell, Krystyna, Val, and I went to a nice dinner and reflected on life and travels.  Then 9:00pm rolled around and it was time for Free Buckets at Bucket Bar.  We drank, we danced, we sweat, and best of all we serenaded the locals with the worst rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody ever imposed on human ears. Ben and Magda rejoined us and we drank the night away. It may not have been wholesome, but our day on the river was incredibly fun.  We had a great time.

The next couple of days were pretty tame.  We never did return to the river, despite intending too.  Darell, Krystyna, and Ben moved on to Vientiene, and though we followed just a few days behind, Veng Veing would sadly be the  last hurrah of the 5 Bananas, at least for a while.

“Sometimes you have to embrace your inner wanton Spring Breaker, and it is good… it is good…”  -Scotty Dusek, Veng Vieng, Laos


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Scott Dusek is a writer and photography originally from Seattle, Washingon.

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