Sitting outside an internet cafe my second day in Vang Vieng I met a British guy who asked me if I had been tubing yet. I told him no but I had heard a lot about it here and wasn't sure that it was something I would enjoy. I have been tubing elsewhere in the world and floating down a stream in the middle of nowhere is always a relaxing experience. You can even tote a cooler full of beer behind your tube while you sit back and relax for the day and just let the scenery pass you by. My impression of what tubing in Vang Vieng had to offer however was somewhat different. My suspicions were confirmed when the British guy to whom I was speaking told me “Hands down, it will be the best day of your life!” I stared at him for a moment to see if he was being serious. I said “I hardly doubt that. I have had a pretty amazing life and somehow I don't imagine that tubing down this river that I have heard so much about will turn out to be the best day of my life.” His response, “You won't believe it. Hands down it will be the best day of your life.” I quickly recalled my last day in Tonsai, Thailand where in my current thoughts, I don't think there are many days that can ever live up to that day. I won't get into too many specifics but I have to say that there aren't many days that will ever compare to that one in my book. If tubing here comes even close, I will rebuke all I have said, but somehow I don't think it will.
After another day of exploring more caves, this time on my own and this time in a much more adventurous fashion, I found myself with nothing to do for the remainder of the afternoon. The sun had finally emerged from the clouds so I decided to give this tubing thing a try and find out if it was as horrible as I expected. Originally I had thought I could come here and not go on this tubing adventure thus setting me apart from all of the other travelers in the area. I have never met anyone else who came to Vang Vieng and didn't go tubing. I thought it might set me apart from everyone else as being above and beyond ordinary. Here I was however with nothing else to do so I paid a few dollars for a tube and a lift upstream.
My suspicions were immediately confirmed with there being a small shack selling drinks right where you are dropped off along the shore of the river. A few people who had shared the tuk tuk with me on the way up stopped off and had their first drink. The party had begun. I passed the bar and plopped down in my tube and silently floated away. After an entire minute of silence, I began to hear the music. Loud dance music blasting through the air and screaming and whooping and yelling from further on downstream. As I floated closer, I could never have imagined that the state of things along this amazing and scenic river could be as bad as it was. Bar after bar lined the shores as all of the tubers made it a priority to spend the day bar hopping all the way down the river till they could no longer comprehend where they even were. Each bar was equipped with massive rope swings departing from platforms about twenty five feet in the air where they each launched the drunken tubers high into the sky. It was a new experience that most of these people never had before.
Now, I am all for rope swings and even tubing down rivers with a few beers in hand. I stopped at the least obnoxious bar I could see, went straight past the alcohol and took a few turns on the rope swing. After a few swings in between the already drunken people at 2:00 in the afternoon I made my way back to my tube with the decision that there would be no more stopping and even purchasing a beer at any of these places would be against so many principals that I believe in.
Most everyone reading this knows that I am an avid outdoor enthusiast and whitewater kayaker. What I as most people enjoy about being out in nature is getting away from the crowds, the loud music and the sounds of everyday life. Whenever I am kayaking on a river where commercial rafting takes place, it takes away from everything that is so wonderful about being on that river. Vang Vieng is the epitome of how our society can take a place so pure in it's beauty and turn it into a circus or disney world type of attraction. It wasn't good enough for the backpackers to come here to float down a river in one of the most beautiful settings I have ever seen. They couldn't just come here to enjoy the incredible surrounding mountains and streams with the small thatched hut villages scattered along the shores. No, they had to turn it into Spring Break 365 day a year! God forbid you aren't stoned and drunk to actually enjoy something. For me to have had a drink at any of these bars would be condoning the destruction of this stunning place and I wasn't having any part of it. It has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and I wish I had by passed the entire tubing experience here. What I saw was 100 times worse than I could have imagined and I felt sorry for the lost souls who actually believed that this was “Hands down, the best day of their lives.”