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The Tubing Phenomena

LAOS | Monday, 18 June 2007 | Views [934]

Vang Viene is known for it's tubing industry. Specifically, tourists come from all over the world to sit in a large black tire inner-tube, and float down the swiftly moving Nam Sung River. There's over 10 different companies that rent out the tubes and organize tuk-tuk transport to the put in spot. This industry too, is run by a cartel. Of all the companies operating, they allow only one each day to actually sell the service, thus keeping the supply side and pricing artificially controlled and non-negotiable. We piled into a sawngthaew with 10 other tourists, with inner-tubes all latched up on top, quite a sight rolling down the road. We plopped into the cool, refreshing brown river water, not quite knowing what to expect. We flowed slowly past two "Island Bars" and soon realized the local Laos residents have transformed the river into an amusement water park, fueled by beer and Lao Lao. For our first stop, we were pulled in to shore by a lifesaving rope and a small boy, probably 12 years old. We were greeted by his mother who brought us "welcome shots" of Lao Lao (local rice whisky). We then ordered up a chilled big bottle of Beer Lao, and I scaled up the 8 meter bamboo structure up to a platform with a rope swing that extends over the muddy river. With my liquid courage I gripped the T shaped handle and launched myself over fellow tubers, eventually letting go and plunging into the river. It was 10:00am and already a great adrenaline pumping start to the day. Darrin and I both got in several good jumps, finished our Beer Lao and Lao Lao shots, and plunged back into the river for our next stop. Each successive Island Bar tried to one up the others (ah a glimpse of competitive differentiation) with a higher platform, or sporting activities, and drink specials. We chose the ones with the best tunes blasting from their speakers. We spent the rest of the day indulging in the river fun, and it was a complete family affair for the locals; old grannies and grampies were out hooting to tubing passer-byres, luring them into their bars, younger sons, daughters and grandchildren roping and hauling in customers with makeshift sticks, ropes and some even swimming in their customers on their tubes. Old grannies with big toothless grins would serve up the strong Lao Lao shotes, hard to refuse a drink from grannie (albeit strong nasty taste of sake gone bad). Good thing we had our life preservers with us. We finally made our way to the finish line down river, however the river was flowing it's fastest at that point, and we struggled to actually stop and pull ourselves out (honest- it was the fast flowing river and not our drunken state that caused us to struggle). We managed, pulling ourselves up through someone's chicken farm and rolled our tubes back through town to the return point. Thoroughly exhausted from the sun, drinking and floating all day, we did the unthinkable- yep, we plopped ourselves down in a restaurant with a big screen TV, ordered up a couple of pizzas and fruit shakes, and blended in with all the other backpackers for the rest of the day.

Tags: Adrenaline

 

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