Ah, how refreshing it is to find a place so unrestrained by rules and regulations that the hero pastime involves hiring an innertube, taking a tuk tuk ride a couple of kms upstream to a raging torent of swollen brown wet season river, swigging down some free Lao Lao rice whisky then hurling yourself downstream in your tube paddling furiously to catch the rope being thrown to you by one of the many bars along the way. What? Drunk people, swollen rivers, rain and impending darkness are a recipe for disaster? Oh you and your rules.

Vang Vieng certainly steps it up a notch compared to the rest of peaceful, baguette-baring, temple-tastic Laos.

I found myself once again having that high and mighty debate in my mind as to whether 'party tourism' is a good thing.

On the one hand, a place like Vang Vieng just 'gives the people what they want'; crazy drunken watersports (the likes of which would be illegal back home) and a dry place to lie down and watch back to back episodes of Friends whilst you drink BeerLao and order hamburgers.

It plays up to this kind of teenage luxury ideal to invite the farang dollar, and make whoopee with it, but on the other hand, the locals have to put up with the antics of soggy drunkards stumbling down the middle of the road in nothing but their togs, mud, and a spattering of spray paint looking for a kebab or somewhere to puke. I'm not going to pretend I havent been there, but its still a dubious exchange, especially for the locals who don't have a stake in it.

But it worked for us. We hired Tubes. We got to the starting point. Then we realised we only had 35,000 Kip on us (eg, only enough for two beers). Several hours, a few new friends and a few buckets later I was bombing off the waterslide, whirlpooling down the river and cutting shapes on the bamboo platform dancefloors. The moral highground was no where to be found. But oh it was fun.

As the sun was going down and the tubes were rapidly disappearing, we made haste - there's a few gatecrashers who just swim it in then knick off with a tube when no ones looking, and we didnt want to miss out and lose our deposit.

We floated the 3-4km back down the river in near darkness, and were ambushed by a group of midget bandits (you may call them children) who jumped off an overhanging footbridge and guided us into the reeds then demanded 50,000 kip for their efforts. When we told them we had no money they pushed us back into the rapids. Cheeky little vermin.

We joined Tubes and I paddled furiously down the speeding river, in the dark, to get back to shore near the starting point, whilst Joe did nothing but drag his enormous falves like some sort of anchor. After being dragged under several trees, we finally came to a stop, slipped up the muddy hill and returned our tubes, late, and in my excitement and rapture, I thought Joe had collected my desposit, which he hadn't. So I guess Vang Vieng has the last laugh this time.

Number of hours in the Tube: 5
Number of bars visited: 4
Number of bars we meant to visit but i missed the rope: 6 (nearly 7, some tiny lao woman in a lifejacket sidestroked out to pull me in, bless. It wasnt the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me, but its defintely in my top 20).