The Dangers of Vang Vieng
Even with it's magnificent karst landscape remeniscent of a gigantic Halong Bay on land, its hidden lagoons, caves and river views like that of crouching tiger hidden dragon; Vang Viengs attention goes to the backpackers and holiday makers activity of choice... Tubing.
This involves hiring out the inner tube of a tractor tyre, getting a tuk tuk up stream a few KM's and using your tyre to float down stream, stopping along several bars on the way. Now being the money cautious budget travellers that we are we spent a day tubing... Without the tube! I will have you know that we saved ourselves £12, now that's budget travelling! We opted for the method of floating on our backs, swimming and walking down the river (which was most of the time as it's the dry season and the water level was only waist deep). As you pass each bar they throw you a plastic bottle attached to a rope so that they can pull you in. Some bars were kitted out with slides that shoot you back into the river and swings that are designed like trapezes. They were a great load of fun and on one of them you drop from a height of my house into a deep part of the river.
Taking part in activities like this in a country like Laos is going to have it's consequences with the mix of strong alcohol and swings into the river at great height, and with no health and safety regulations it was no suprise we were to witness such a tragedy. So these trapeze swings are used by climbing a ladder to the launch pad, where you stand 20metres high from the water, you hang from a trapeze bar, swing forward and let go when you reach the climax of the swing, so you drop (relatively safely) into a deep part of the river. What happened in this case was that two guys swung at the same time, which I thought was ridiculously stupid in the first place because if they were to both let go at the same time one could land on top of the other. Well what did happened was worse... Neither let go at the climax point, so of course the trapeze began to swing back toward the launch tower. Others had previously done the same and then let go on it's second return. However, on this occassion one of the guys for a reason only he will know, let go on it's return to the launch tower. Instead of dropping straight down, he flew at a 45 degree angle from the momentum, and his ragdoll body slammed into the log supports of the tower and the riverside which may have only been a foot deep. Looking down at where he landed we were devastated to see he was floating at the surface of the water FACE DOWN unconscious! The decking of the bar was a good 15-20ft high and so jumping from there onto the shallow shores of the river wouldn't have been a good idea, so I ran to the back of where the bar was, to the top of the river bank, and ran down the stones and mud of the bank barefoot as I had kicked my flipflops off while running knowing they'd slow me down or cause me to injure myself.
From the moment of the guys impact a good 20 seconds had passed until me and some other tuber reached him, he was still face down. The other tuber got to him first and pulled him round and a little more onto dry land. As he did this blood was pouring from his ear and his entire body went into a fit and started convulsing. All I could do was stand helplessly and pray that I wasn't witnessing this guys final moments of life. I remember realizing how scared I was of watching him die right infront if me. As others gathered, a rather messy attempt was made of controlling and ordering the disaster. Being in a country as poor as Laos meant you couldn't simply request an ambulance, a tuk tuk had to be called and even this took about half an hour to arrive. The fate of this guy is unknown but if he was in a serious condition, which was very likely, he would have to be flown to the capital Vientiane or even Bangkok to recieve treatment.
How I felt in those few moments is something I know I never want to feel again. To feel so helpless and scared that someones condition could be made worse because I don't know what to do was very frightening. Even though incidents like this only come around once in a blue moon I definately want to be better prepared with basic first aid training.
Despite this traumatic experience we managed to enjoy our 2 days here which was mostly spent watching back-to-back episodes of family guy and friends which are shown all day everyday in various TV bars around town, truelly amazing way to help a backpacker feel at home and unwind. With Fay only just starting to recover from her Christmas food poisoning and the horror of tubing this was indeed the perfect remedy :)