The aftermath is appalling. Dishevelled youths limp and shuffle through the streets, their bodies daubed in blue permanent marker, their eyes bloodshot and their bodies aching. It's early morning in Vang Vieng, Laos and the backpacker community is recovering from yesterday's tubing shenanigans.
Tubing involves hiring an inflated tractor inner-tube, plonking yourself in it and floating down the Nam Song river. This sounds like good, wholesome fun. But of course, it is anything but. The jump-off point for the day is also the first bar and there are many more to come. Our experience began in unusually reticent fashion - it seemed that nobody wanted to be the first to take the plunge. Bronzed and beautiful bodies piled up at the starting line until, inspired by a couple of guys somersaulting directly into the river, people took to the water.
Either side of the riverbank promotional staff attempt to entice you into their premises with the promise of extremely cheap buckets, icy beers and even free bananas. Once the sales patter has worked its charm, a weighted rope is thrown in your direction. Having grabbed it, you are dragged over to the steps where you park your vehicle before indulging in some reckless drinking.
Vouchers are utterly redundant on the river (everything ends up soaked) so free drink offers are written on people's bodies in indelible ink. Staff attach home-made bandanas to people scrawled with original philosophical thoughts such as 'your mother never complains' and engage increasingly inebriated travellers in bucket throwing competitions. The whole thing is sound tracked by a typically woeful selection of R&Band dance 'classics' piped through shoddily crackling speakers.
In a blatant disregard for the health and safety of their patrons, each bar also offers an absurdly unsafe route into the water. These all involve climbing onto a rickety platform and launching yourself from a minimum height of thirty feet. As it's dry season, the river is not nearly as deep as it might be. It's not very clear either, so throwing yourself into the murky water is an act of faith which requires gargantuan levels of alcohol. Further ridiculous behaviour can be witnessed at the mudbath volleyball and a tug-of-war which takes place on the banks of a swamp: the losers get dragged in.
Those of you who know me will be aware that this sounds like my worst nightmare. I was almost certainly the oldest person at the river, lack confidence in my swimming ability and am utterly paranoid about everyone being more lithe, buff and beautiful than me. But having lost my vest and being forced to get into the same state of undress as everyone else, and then having smashed a whisky bucket down in the second bar, inhibitions were lost. I swang by my legs on a trapeze over the water, zip-lined, volleyballed (badly) and lost at tug of war. I sank beer after beer, talked to strangers, cut my foot, grazed my tummy and had a playfight with a child. An absolutely brilliant day.
Unfortunately (but certainly not uniquely) i really hurt myself. Towards the end of our aquatic pub-crawl we stopped for a drink in a bar with a massive waterslide. It appeared to be made from bricks and made smooth with ceramic bath tiles - alarm bells should've been ringing. With scant regard for my own well-being i dragged myself to the summit, launched myself from the top and was spat out high above the Nam Song. I landed awkwardly, my legs at strange angles. Subsequently i have been almost unable to walk. My knee ligaments have been strained and my suffering can only be alleviated by the consumption of unsafe amounts of painkillers. At least my pain is not as bad of that of a guy who landed on his back and spent the next two days coughing up blood. Ouch.