Fear and Loathing in Vang Vieng, Laos

“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine and a whole multicolored collection of uppers, downers, laughers, screamers . . . Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge and I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon . . .”

—Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1971

“Be careful in Vang Vieng” they tell you. “Tourists die nearly every month” they say. With your backpack on your back, the heavy weight of it, a set of wings freeing you from your burdens rather than weighing you down, you set off for the bus. You’ve survived Bangkok, you’ve managed to navigate your way north, you hit the slowboat and survived a few days of unrelenting partying in Laos. You spin the cylinder again. How many times can you squeeze the trigger and get away with it? Every time – I’m invincible, you tell yourself. You have a lot of conversations with yourself – that’s not strange is it?

What invincible may look like – yes Miley Cyrus floaties

We walked about a mile from the bus station to a guesthouse that looked good. We dropped our bags off and had a seat, the restaurant area has two flatscreen tv’s which play nothing but Family Guy. The tables are all surrounded by hippy dippy pillows. Brittany loves this. I’m cramped and too large to be laying down to eat and drink. Brittany wants french fries and opens the menu. “Oh….” she says. I look over and realize the first two pages of the menu are every food item but each has an option to add Weed, Mushrooms, or Opium to it. Oh, and a kilo of weed costs 2,500,000 kip. At least Vang Vieng lives up to its reputation.

We spend the night rounding up the troops, finding the fellow travelers who we’ve been hanging out with for a few days from the slow boat ride from Thailand. They’ve all been tubing the night prior. They’re all giggling. They all seem quite out of it. One has a penis spraypainted on his back. Half are already asleep. It’s 8pm – Where the hell are we. I’m going to be completely honest. The only reason I remember half of what I do remember is because we had LOTS of cameras and video.

What "obscenely drunk" may look like

You pay your 115,000 kip (55,000 for the tube, 60,000 for deposit which you likely will be too waste faced to get back). This provides you with a rickshaw ride to the top of the river. You clutch your tube in your hands and approach the side of the river. A small boat sits there, it’s connected to the other side of the river by a cable. You gaze over and see the first two bars on the opposite riverbank. The ferryman, the Laos version of Charon, uses his long pole to usher you across the river Styx. The river flows fast. The music gets louder. People are dancing, playing beer pong, and having one hell of a time. It’s a lot to take in.

I used my royal wave and it freakin worked!

The boat hits the shore on the other side and we climb the stairs to the first bar, our tubes are tossed into a huge pile next to the stairs. We climb the stairs and reach the first of the challenges. The others pass with relative ease, a single pour of Lao whisky into their mouths and they receive a bracelet and a smile. The girl dispensing both eyeballs me and must have something against tall, devilishly handsome looking guys with big feet. She turns the bottle up and finishes it in my mouth (that’s what she said). “You’ve drank me dry!” She exclaims. As luck would have it she finds another bottle on the ground behind me and turns that one up until finished. She runs to get a new bottle for the other arrivals, but before I can escape the queue, she looks at me knowingly and says “Hey, I don’t think I’ve gotten you yet” and pours another mouthful of pain. By the time I’ve reached the bar, I’ve already drank a half bottle of whisky. And then, my friends, the drinking starts.

Yes, that’s snake, scorpion, centipede whisky. It’ll put lead in your pencil I tell ya what

See, those who have been to Vegas know the intensity of a town that never sleeps, you can drink and party 24 hours. Now what if you were in a town with very few laws where everyone starts at 1pm and the daylight ends at 6pm. That’s 5 hours of hardcore party time. It’s the difference between a Kenyan endurance runner, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime after you just slapped his girlfriend. Vang Vieng is a steroid fueled muscle man stepping on your throat choking out the last good sense you had.

Half Glasses do not constitute “a shot.” Goodbye good sense.

To be sure, the drinking itself was problematic. Cheap beers and beerpong tables were the start. Continue on and we start playing beer pong with buckets of whisky. Yeah. If that sounds like the dumbest thing since “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – directed by Michael Bay” then you’re right. After about 2 hours of that, we decided we needed to move, the next bar was just a walk, but as we had rented tubes, we’d be damned if we were going to use our legs for anything aside from flailing them about like an upside down turtle while we were in our tubes.

“What to Expect when You’re Expecting” left us woefully unprepared for this situation

The coolest thing about going from bar to bar (probably helps to be drunk) is that these guys at the bar toss bottles out into the water at you. The bottles are full of water and connected to a rope. So they’re literally fishing for drunks. This is the single coolest thing you’ll ever experience – money back guarentee on that my friends. As you rush along the river, probably only half in your broke as a joke tube, hitting rocks and occasional tree limbs, the life line sent from a bar where they give you free shots and play YMCA and Party in the USA is like a collect call from God. You don’t ask questions, you just accept the charges.

I’d like to use a lifeline!

The next bar went fairly uneventfully. If by uneventfully you mean AWESOMELY. See, the bars on the river can’t simply entice would-be drunkards by offering reasonably priced beverages. They also can’t entice you by offering illicit substances on the menu (they all do, so theres no competitive advantage – weed, mushrooms and opium are up for grabs everywhere). So what do you do for a bunch of drunk and likely high westerners on a river? Challenge them to a game of death! Almost ever bar has an attraction that combines the height of redneck stupidity – Drunk? Check. Platform thats super high? Yep! Trapese, Blob, Slide or Highdive into waters with rocks at unknown depths? Hey Jethro, Hold my beer and watch this!

After a run on the first 5 – 6 bars, you’ll notice 2 very apparent things. 1. You’ve lost 20,000kip because the tubes have to be returned by 6pm, and 2. You dont know how the hell to get home except to float down the river. And as you float down the river in the pitch black darkness, you remember in the back of your brain those travelers who have previously died on it. “Did they go over a waterfall?” You gesticulate in a loudly and alarmed manner. Don’t worry though, everyone else is too drunk to worry. Occasionally, you’ll lose an object in the river, you’ll hit the side of the river bank, rocks will start scraping your ass, or you run straight into a downed tree in the middle of the waters.

You’re uncomfortable anxiety causes everyone else to laugh, and you start running into others on the tubes. Where the hell are we? You wonder. Occasionally a Tuk Tuk driver stands at the side of the road and tries to throw you a line to pull you in, but you are too drunk to agree to an unreasonably high price like 5000 kip! (that’s like $.60) and so you float down the river. Eventually you wash up on the river bank under the bridges to the main bars, like some refugee washing up on the shores of america and you kiss the dirt, thanking whoever you worship that you made it out alive.

You might party that night at the bar that offers free buckets. You might do as I did and buy a burger and two sandwiches because you forgot to eat all day on account of the riotous time you were having. But in the end you’ll collapse, exhausted in your cheap hostel and promise NEVER AGAIN to go out on that river.

And when you wake up, sore, probably bleeding bruised and hungover, you’ll seek out breakfast. You’ll bring your camera out. You’ll start showing the pics to your mates at the table, and you’ll make the single worst and best decision of your life, you’ll go out on the river again.


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Comments (4)

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  1. susan says:

    ok, this one made me afraid, very afraid

  2. Spaghetti says:

    This make my night. I laughed, I cried. Hahah.

  3. That’s gold. You’ve captured the “feel” of VV. And everyone should be scared of tubing. Very scared…

    Now for the next step in surviving SE Asian parting. The full moon party! Bring on the glow paint!

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