Tell any backpacker that you’re visiting Laos and they’ll fire this question at you: “are you going tubing in VangVieng?!” What started off as a few travelers floating on inner tubes down the river with local children has turned into an infamous floating bar crawl. How it works is you stop by the tubing office to pay admission and a deposit for renting an inner tube. A tuktuk drives up to the start of the Nom Song River and drops you off. At this point you can hop on your floating device and coast along the rapid river to find a specific bar or just follow the crowd. The first bar on the water was pretty bumping, so we decided to stop. As we climbed the stairs, we saw a water gun filled with whiskey to welcome the party people in. The crowd consisted of fun-loving backpackers decked out in neon colored clothing, spray-painted bodies, and buckets of drinks in hand. Everyone was chilling and talking when someone shouted “whiskey train!” We stepped back and observed a mass of travelers assemble into a line sitting on the floor while bar employees ran up and down the train pouring Tiger whiskey into the thirsty travelers’ mouths. When the crowd started dwindling, we grabbed our tubes and crossed to the second bar where Lao guys threw out ropes to pull us in. We spent a bit of time here dancing in the rain before our crew moved on to the next spot. We decided to travel to the “bar with a slide” so our group could give it a go. This bar had a huge waterslide, lots of dancing platforms, and a volleyball mudpit. After getting the waterslide fix, our final bar stop was at Mr. LaoLao where the rain was pouring and the music was rocking. Kim and I started the party by dancing on the platforms to lure tubers in. Mr. LaoLao’s was cranking out a killer playlist filled with Chris Brown, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha and passing out headbands sporting “I Love Laos.” When the sun started to set, we organized our group to cross the river, get a tuktuk back into town, and return with tubes in hand to receive our $40,000 deposit back. Let’s just say easier said than done. We made it back muddy, soaked, and exhausted after surviving our totally tube-ular adventure.
Three years ago, a friend of ours taught English to monks at Wat Chedi Luang, right in the center of Chiang Mai, Thailand and suggested we pay a visit during our stay. So of course we visited Wat Chedi Luang and spent the afternoon participating in their Monk Chat Program. The purpose of the program is to educate Western visitors on Buddhism and monk life while also allowing the monks to practice their conversational English and interact with people from different cultures and religions.
A monk named Minx greeted us and invited us to sit across a table from him to talk. We began by talking about the daily life of a monk and the Buddhist system. For example, young men can enter the Buddhist system as a monk as young as age seven and can stay for a varying amount of time (as short as a few weeks or as long as a lifetime). During our two hours chatting with Minx and a few other monks we pretty much covered all the bases: politics, religion, sports, music, food, language, weather, education, and travel. We enjoyed when the monks explained to us that English tongue twisters are difficult for them, such as “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” However, I think the funniest moment was when Minx suddenly reached under his orange robe and pulled a cell phone out of a little zippered pocket. True fact: Many monks text message and have Facebooks. It’s interesting how monks can live such similar and different lives than us at the same time.
About a week later, we had another unexpected encounter with a monk in Laos. While chatting with the guy named Dao working the night shift at the reception desk of our hotel, we discovered that he recently just left the monk system. He went to monk school from age 16 until less than a month ago and was experiencing a complete change of lifestyle. Dao explained to me the types of things monks are not allowed to do such as touch women, have girlfriends, play sports, wear normal clothes, dance, drink alcohol, or smoke. We were surprised that monks were not allowed to dance and asked Dao if he wanted to dance. He said that he really wanted to but that he never has before and he didn’t know how. So of course, we cranked up the music, hit the open space in the hotel lobby, and showed our new friend/ex-monk how to dance. It was one of the most heartwarming moments to teach a 23-year-old man to dance for the very first time in his life and see the huge smile across his face. However, the best part was that it put an even bigger smile on our faces.