March 7th 3:20pm - River+Bars+Tubes+Rope Swings=Vang Vieng, Laos

Nirvana equates makeshift bars lining an expansive river bordered by majestic mountains complete with rope swings/ zip lines, some comprising volleyball/badminton courts.

This paradise = Vang Vieng, Laos. Last summer two friends and I encountered Vang Vieng in all its brilliance. Tourists subsidize the city, which centers on a thriving tube rental service. Rental fee + deposit = a day drinking drifting down a river. One tourist’s money could also likely feed eighteen thousand nine hundred people a meal. With America’s lawsuits, liabilities, and residents suing neighbors because they almost broke an ankle while traipsing through a communal field behind the house, such a genius concept would never materialize. However, in Laos, the finest worst idea ever ensued. We conferred our currency to the correct organization and joined fellow tourists in a motorized tuk-tuk to the drop-off point at the Mekong River. Amid shrieks and yelps at the cold water, we commenced our expedition. A four-minute float resulted in a river bar. By river bar I mean wooden planks crafting platforms (seats), scattered wooden benches, and a wooden slab hoisted from the ground behind which a Laotian concocted Gin, Rum, Vodka, or Bacardi buckets. After ingratiating ourselves with alcohol, we would then ascend twenty to forty-foot trees by way of insecure wood wedges nailed into the trunk, position ourselves on miniature unsteady platforms, clutch the end of a rope swing as if it was God’s hand to Heaven, and propel ourselves in the air. While swinging over the river, we had to contrive some way to land while avoiding the masses floating on tubes, and hopefully simultaneously preserve our lives. Once our bodies slapped the river, a Laotian would hurl an inner tube, we’d clutch it and get hauled through the currents and in to every alcoholic’s ecstasy. At some moment, after free Thai Whiskey shots and drunken chanting to whatever music played, we would gather our souls and tubes and proceed down the river to the next inebriation instigation, aka bar. A factor I failed to reveal: the method from river to bar: as you soared toward a bar, in some feral demonstration of arm gesticulation, bellowing, and bounding about in the tube, a Laotian would take notice, bowl a bamboo pole to you, you’d hopefully clutch it, and the worker would drag you in until you could plot your path to land.After manifold alcohol buckets and launching ourselves into the Mekong River, one particular bar with its exploding American music especially appealed to us. After banshee-brandishing my arms about, Bamboo Man tossed me the pole and began to tow me in. My friend, caught in a current’s edge with nobody to snatch her, latched on to my legs. Bamboo Man was actually Bamboo Baby, a six-year-old who struggled to pull in two very generously proportioned (Laotians were midgets compared to our Goliath 5’7” and 5’11” heights) American girls ensnared by a current. He combated the Mekong, grunting, face pressed in exertion. He strained backwards, striving to draw us in, his beanpole legs rigid. And then he barreled headfirst into the river, like an unprepared eighty-year-old attempting to water-ski for the first time. The current corralled my friend and I and catapulted us downstream. My friend grasped onto a wooden pole supporting the bar’s platform, I gripped her like a sex-starved man with a woman’s nipple, and we plunged in and out of the water, determinately drowning, until some Herculean Laotian (5’2”) assisted us with his hand. It was quite possibly the best day of my life.

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