What is tubing?

So we’d arrived. The main bridge in town makes bamboo scaffolding look like a bridge in Berlin. It’s made of scrap wood and is so rickety it looks like something you’d make on a boozy weekend with some mates. The locals though ride their motorbikes across it every day without hesitation. Welcome to Vang Vieng, a town of the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measures. My previous post talks about the happy pizza and whisky bucket good times in this city. But tubing is what puts this place on the map. This is like Cancun or Bali for the slightly more intellectual. Or just plain those who have travelled for so long the itch gets a bit harder to scratch. So lo and behold you find yourself in this bizarre little part of world. Frankly no one would be here without the tubing. While I had arguably the greatest day of my life riding around on a tiny 150cc motorbike, neither would’ve I. Perhaps that’s why Laos is so great. You can go with no expectations and have such a great time. Tubing basically takes a four or so kilometre stretch of the Mekong river, puts a bar virtually every 100 metres and puts you in the inner tube of a tractor tyre. You float along the river from bar to bar, stopping as you please. For a few dollars (or Kip) you get a Tuk Tuk ride and your rental of an inner tube. La Dolce Vita for a backpacker. Our journey began with some American guys. They were made redundant in January and were travelling till...

Why the pizza is happy in Laos

Laos is breathtakingly beautiful. If only because you’d never expect it to be. Luang Prabang up north is unmissable. Being the spiritual and to some extent governmental capital of Laos, there’s heaps to see. There’s antique stores full of old French et ceteras and Soviet era machinery. The few remaining French people cook up a storm in restaurants deserved of a Michelin Star. Or down the same street, you can have a mojito cocktail at a bar on the street, served by some crazy Lao guys dressed in cowboy regalia. Assumedly because you know, all western men are stereotypically cocktail drinking cowboys. Eventually though you grow tired of the place and it’s on with the new. So we decided to catch a bus to Van Vieng – home of tubing. Getting there is half the fun. When I say ‘bus’ I mean more like a Toyota mini van that seats about 12 in discomfort. Oh and like a Toyota because I later found out that they were called a Jinbei and I believe made in North Korea. So the voyage is already off to a flying start.┬áNo bus leaves Luang Prabang until every last seat is packed. Which kind of works pretty well with the general ‘try not to work too hard’ demeanour of the Lao people. But they will poke you with a stick to get another paying bum on an otherwise empty seat. Van Vieng is slap bang between Luang Prabang and the major capital Vientiane. You wouldn’t be able to fly there on a plane any bigger than a kite. The roads from Luang Prabang undulate...

Malaysian Top Gear is stuck in reverse

On my most recent jaunt overseas, I decided to stock up on reading material for several bus and plane rides. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Malaysian version of Top Gear -the April 2009 edition as it goes. After all it’s all basically the same content right, with a few local contributions? All was looking pretty good too until some well dressed, shiny domed, sensitive type named Donald Cheah starts the proceedings as editor. Warning: do not read Cheah’s editorials or any writings in confined spaces! In a rare, infact unprecedented display of solidarity, even my fiance agrees that the following is the most irrelevant and self indulgent editorial in the history of car magazines: “This is a motoring magazine, I know. But it has to be said that suicide, no matter how galantly potrayed and noble in Seven Pounds should have no place in the real world… I have to say this because I know how influential movies with big names can be, and I know there are quite a number of folks who read this magazine, even the younger susceptible set. So again, suicide, however ‘worthy’ the cause is and will always be wrong. There, I said it.” It’s almost a moot point that if he cares for the younger, more ‘susceptible’ readers maybe he wouldn’t overtly go out of his way to alienate those who are in a bad place. Let alone waste valuable magazine space with his degrading opinion. I can’t wait until next week when he shares his opinion on gays and abortion. A quick reminder Top Gear, why do people read car mags?...

riding motorbikes in Laos

For those of you who hesitate to ride a bike or haven’t before, for the love of god you must do it in Laos. It will provide you with the greatest experiences of your holiday. Without question, motorbiking around the caves of Vang Vieng was the best way to spend a day ever. Heaps of hippy types rented bikes for half the price and probably had half the fun. For 40,000 Lao Kip (approximately $8 Australian, $5 USD) we got a bike for the day in Van Vieng. Cheaper for a few days at a time. Probably more in Luang Prabang or Vientiane. You’d probably pay another 35,000 Kip to fill up the tank. Scared of riding? I’d never ridden a manual bike before, but it was easy enough. If you have a decent sense of balance and can drive a manual car, then you’ll be fine. What sort of bikes are they? Well in Vang Vieng, they were mostly fairly new Chinese ‘postie bikes’. A derivative of your standard, old school Asian Honda motorbike. They look dead average but they can really take a beating on the atrocious, badly rutted dirt and pebble roads. Some are fully automatic but the majority are four speed manuals no hand clutch – basically an auto clutch. Bear in mind, these are definitely not performance bikes. You could probably ride around in fourth all day if you want! The one we had had a replacement value of about $700. So that’s the worse-case scenario! Most bike rental places will get you to do a quick lap up and down the street to...

Two days in Vientiane

If Bangkok was the Melbourne or Sydney of Indochina then Vientiane, capital of Laos would be the Adelaide. Basically a flat, spread out, sleepy little town with Wats (Buddhist temples) in place of churches and plenty of them. Like Adelaide though, it has great food in abundance and you only need to scratch the surface to find a good time. Most people agree you can do Vientiane in 2 days. To be honest, they’re right. There’s no tubing, hiking, kayaking or going crazy. There’s plenty to look at though. So if you like to wander around and just take a place in at your own pace, then you will enjoy your time Vientiane. If you were say coming down from a crystal meth fueled bender, then welcome to hell. So if you find yourself in Vientiane, here’s a few things you have to do. The Scandinavian Bake and Pizza House is absolutely amazing. Without question one of the best pizzas I’ve had anywhere in the world in a long time. Great for lunch or dinner, or both! Word of warning though, the spicy pizza is not being modest. Those unseeded Lao chillies will bite your arse off. The Buddha Park is bizarre to say the least. It’s a good 30 odd kilometres out of town, or about 45 mins. It’s an interesting drive past all the consulates, the Lao Thai Friendship bridge and the daily grind for the locals. Apparently it was built in the fifties as some awkward merger between Hindu, Buddhism, concrete and Disneyland. Hey I said it was weird! There are some grotty Vietnamese restaurants crowded...

Something off with Malaysian airlines

Wasting time before getting on an international flight. What can you really do? Not much except check out the book store in the departure lounge really. So there I was at KLIA and I found, the International Jew by Henry Ford – in both condensed and full versions. This is a collection of anti-Jewish propaganda published in Henry’s hey day of the Model T Ford, that I’ve never really seen. Apparently Hitler did though. Apparently he took some inspiration from these little memoirs of the man from Michigan. While I wasn’t at all surprised to find such a publication in Malaysia (you should see the books about Malaysia in Singapore’s Changi airport), I kinda freaked out when I thought I subliminally saw a swastika during my in-flight movie on Malaysian airlines. So I stared at the seat in front of me ’till I saw something in the pattern. Lo and behold, there were loads of them (pic above is tilted right to it’s easier to see them). Very bizarre. Look I am not suggesting Malaysian Airlines are Jew haters or anything, but this really weirded me out. Especially on a long haul international flight. So if you’re an airline interior decorator, just remember to check for swastikas in your patterns before deploying them throughout your fleet! Luckily, they ain’t exactly partnered with El Al...