Everything that the bus company spews out is complete bogus. The ride will take four hours: false, there will be a bathroom on board: false, the bus is air conditioned: false!
I found myself en route to Vang Vieng stuck on a four turned eight hour ride, sweating profusely, trying to relieve my throbbing head on a bus that was clearly not designed for these roads.
Rachel and I finally pulled into the town, which looked more like a local dump than one of the famed "must sees" outlined in all travel guides. It was an arena of dirt--dirt roads, dirt fields, dirt hills--all of which fluttered a few feet above ground to leave you with perfectly bronzed skin and lungs after a short jaunt through the center.
It was a question of fight or flight and the inherent answer was easy, but we were determined to stick it out and find the true gems of Vang Vieng, which we knew were lurking in the nearby hills. This town is a backpackers dream. Well, maybe not the town itself, but the nearby Nam Song River that runs through is. Every morning, backpackers rise with one thing on the mind, get an inner tube and get to the river. The tubing is a four kilometer stretch of river lined with janky bamboo bars complete with zip lines, slides, dive platforms and rope swings all leading into the water. While I'm not one for drinking, the average tourist is well schmammered within a few stops and somewhere around 22 people die a year from sheer alcohol related stupidity.
I was skeptical at first, but had to see what this whole tubing thing was about. I decked myself out in Vang Vieng's finest tubing attire, hot pink shorts and my waterproof money purse purchased from the local general store, and hit the river. Rachel and I ran into ten people from the slow boat at the first bar and joined them for the day's float. The bars were blasting Rihanna remixes and old school Blink 185, and I laughed at the old Laotian ladies, hunchbacked with canes in hand, siting below the bar bobbing their heads to the beat.
As we tubed downstream locals would throw water bottles attached to a rope at us and reel the whole lot of us into their riverside bar. I cared less about the alcohol and was really enamored with the river playground--rope swings galore, yes please! I caught my mind wandering off as I sat dangling my feet in the water and gazing at the massive flatirons jetting up hundreds of feet along the shore. Exotic trees and vines wound their way up along the rock and green moss draped from every branch. The top of the pinnacles were hidden in dense fog, making me think I was nothing short of residing in a Disney movie. This place was truly beautiful.
I returned from my day on the river with a collection of bracelets from each bar we stopped at snaking up my arm, and several new spray painted on tattoos, both essential backpacker badges for surviving tubing.
Ok, I have to admit, this dump of a town was growing on me, if anything the playground had definitely won me over.