Grandma was a sweetheart, making me breakfast ready to go at 6.30am.
On the way to the Stray meeting point I run into Patrick and the chick he scored last night walking him off. “Oh, she’s Dutch also,” he introduces us, like that’s supposed to create some sort of bond. We say an awkward sort of ‘Hi’.
At 7am we’re all back the bus again, and the road takes us through stunning limestone scenery. We stop in the middle, high up in the mountains and it gets pretty cold up here – though Luang Prabang cooled down quite a bit after last night’s heavy pouring; when the French and I walked back from Utopia, just after that first cloud had cleared, we had to take of our flipflops because otherwise we would have lost them in the violent river that the streets had turned into.
The view up here is breathtaking, comes right out of that famous romantic painting by Caspar David Friedrich – Wanderer above the sea of fog, with clouds creeping through the grim peaks of the Laos highlands.
Two hours later we enter the valley of Vang Vieng, the valley of falang, the valley of tubing and party-party, the fullmoon beach of Laos.
Two Australians have died already this year while tubing.
I believe I read it was in 1996 that a tourist first discovered tubing with his kids. They took the inner tire of a truck and floated down the river in it. More tourists came by and picked up on this fun passtime. Eventually swings were built and more and more people came. More and more backpackers came. And backpackers like a drink, thus bars were built alongside the river, each with a free, nay, manditory shot of laolao at entering. The buckets, I guess, came over from the southern Thai islands, like the partypackers must’ve.
James warns us to be very careful with ourselves because there isn’t a hospital in this town or the next, so when you do get injured you’re royally f’cked.
The local guide on the bus points me the way to the hostel I should find my friends at. He tells me he knows the place and is certain of the direction.
After walking that way until the end of town I start asking around again, and when two locals don’t know, so tell me “yes” and point further along the road, but three tell me to go back, I guess I’d better head the other way again, my 13k backpack starting to weigh a bit.
Sidenote: In Asia, it’s considered a disgrace if you don’t know the awnser to a question, of, say, directions. Rather lie and possibly send someone the wrong way. So when you are asking where to go and it looks like the person you asked isn’t confident, ask the next person, and a few more to make sure.
That’s where, in a little alley behind the Temple, I find it: Easy Go Hostel. An adorable little bamboo house, open front, pooltable right in the entance, a reception with someone asleep behind it and a board telling me the names of those checked in, with my friends amongst them.
I write my name, passportnumber, occupation and approximate departure date in their book and am shown to one of the downstairs rooms.
No one is there so I get ready to take a shower. But before I do Leila, Caitlin and Annie burst in, on their way to tubing. “Isn’t it too late for that now?” I ask, as I’ve heard you have to turn in your tube before 6pm to avoid the 60.000k fine. “No, but you don’t rent a tube anyway; that’s lame!”
So I jump on a tuktuk with them and we’re out. “Get ready for a party!”
We’re dropped off 15 minutes later, cross a wobbly bridge and are offered that first shot -which I sneakily pass- and get the bracelet that marks how many bars you’ve visited, worn as a sort of achievement.
The music is loud and obscene and wins it by far from all the places I’ve been before. Ah well, just roll with it.
We get a vodkabucket to share amongst us four to begin with.
Everywhere on the planking people are dancing and acting crazy and playing beerpong. We start a new hit: flip the cup, a sort of chucking-relay race. In no time we have more players than the table can fit and the buckets and beers come and go by the minute. But we’re having heaps of fun and I feel my head growing hazy…