On this day in 2011…Winning a BRIT Award in Vang Vieng; an introduction #Otdi2011


Leaving the hostel, we moved to our new headquarters and our home for next couple of days, Otherside Bungalows. For little under £3 a night we got our self our own private twin-bed bungalow, constructed of wood. There must’ve been atleast 10 other bungalows, but aside from them there was very little else except for the fields that stretched towards the mountains on one side, with the flowing river to the other. It was peaceful, but was also comforting to know the mayhem was only a few planks of wood away.

The bridge to The Otherside
The bridge to The Otherside

After dumping our stuff off we were keen to get going with some of this tubing malarkey. Back on the original side of the river, we walked through the main strip and saw the Chilean Girls (and their Mother), who were renting out kayaks for the day. We arranged to meet them later on the river, but never saw them again. Shame really, as I really thought we all shared something worth reconvening for. I won’t forget the sparkle in the eye of the eldest sister when I played the part of the affable fool. It’s been a long time since a girl gave me that look. A certain shared look, the odd glance, a reminder of true meaning in a region full of fake local salesmen with smiles and promises at a cost. Being from Southern Chile, they may even have a word for it; Mamihlapinatapai – “Two people looking at each other each hoping the other will do what both desire but neither is willing to do” (Urbandictionary.com). In England it’s known simply as keeping your head down and suppressing all feelings deep within.

But anyways back to the job at hand. Once we’d picked up our rubber tyres (commonly know in the West as ‘donuts’), we got ourselves on the next truck that was heading up the river to the starting point. Without delay, we grabbed a few beers and took to the stream in tubes that at one stage in their life cycle were inner lining of a tractor wheel. The first bar we jumped out at, or rather dragged into by one of the guys throwing ropes out for you to catch to be pulled in, had a selection of whiskeys in bottles with snakes and scorpions in. On the deck, we played table tennis and drank whiskey in the morning sun, while more and more people started pouring downstream. Afterwards, we got back in our tubes and drifted further down stream until we came to one with a trapeze and huge water slide (probably from the same former London council-run leisure centre as the Slush Puppie machines in Chiang Mai). This place really was the nuts and after a go on both, and a few more drinks, we set off on our way again. We were using this first day as a way of just getting a feel for the place and it was going well. It felt amazing being this pissed at 11am floating down the stream, beer in hand while Feel The Love, Generation played from one of the many surrounding bars. It’s a semi-shit song, but I think its release in 2005 was a much-needed one, as it was at a time when with all the terror and pessimism. This was of course, my drunken nostalgia kicking in but it felt good. Than disaster struck. Ben was calling up to me from downstream. He was out of his tube and walking towards the banks. He had lost his camera and with a helping hand from the locals was searching the water in the same way police search for dead bodies or criminal evidence. The search proved fruitless, and we were gutted. Although all the photos had been backed up on his computer the night before, it was the only waterproof camera we had. Well that was my selfish reason to be annoyed. Ben’s was perhaps worse as he had lost a very expensive camera.

After a good search, we had to concede defeat that it was gone, something neither of us took too kindly to. Oh well, it was lost now and without the tool that people rely upon to prove just how good a time they’re having on holiday gone from our possession, we could now concentrate on actually having a good time. No pressure to base our fun around getting pictures. After a few more whiskey shots, this more positive slant began to reign supreme amongst our thoughts. The local whiskey here, Whiskey Lao, is actually manufactured locally and by locally I mean in peoples bathtubs and sinks. I mean I’m sure it’s hygienic, but the problem is that consistency between brewers is rarely achieved and as a result alcohol levels fluctuate massively from shot to shot. You could be inadvertently necking 80% shots for fun before realizing you’ve shat your pants or worse, struggling for air on the bottom of the river bed.

Although we were having a great old time with some cool people, the River did not seem as packed as it had appeared on several photos and YouTube clips that I had been scrawling through on the internet at work over the past couple of months in anticipation. It was strange considering it was high season, and the town was overrun with backpackers. We had to be back by 6pm to drop the tubes off and collect our washing from a launderette before it closed so began our descent back down, stopping off for a joint and a drink at a Bob Marley themed venue with some Canadian girls. After this we jumped back in our tube, eager to make our deadline.

Although, we just simply had to make a visit to the Illution Bar, which appeared to be the last of the drinking dens before the long stretch back to town. The PA system, with the distortion on full effect, blaring out the incoherent promotions from the local owner gave the place some form of appeal. Plus, they had mushroom shakes. My only experience with mushrooms came a few years ago when me and a good mate sat atop an old Georgian town house just off Tottenham Court Road, watching planes coming into London’s City Airport, trying to analyze the motives of the people on board for taking that flight. The rooftop of a 6 storey building is no place to be experimenting with drugs, especially if making your debut with an infamous hallucinogenic. The Shroom Shakes were actually quite nice, and our party loving spirit was quickly noted by the owner who handed us the role of chief promoters, along with the microphone for the PA. We were heroes, bringing the crowds in. This is where I belonged, with the microphone to peoples hearts and minds. Making our 6pm curfew, time was not on our side, but the drugs were and that’s what came up trumps. For our hard work, we were rewarded with a joint to take downstream with us. So there we where, pleasantly stoned drifting down towards Vang Vieng, passing the smoke to and fro. Even in our state we had to be careful of river police. We had been warned of marijuana being handed out to tourists only for police turning up shortly after and detaining you until you coughed up $500. Similar to the warnings we received in Pakbang. This you could not haggle as they received almost as much for arresting you and getting a conviction.

Water and drugs are in my blood, even as we speak. They go hand-in-hand with each other. Right hand, water. Left hand, a perfectly rolled jigger. But the mushroom’s in my stomach are all new to me. I’ve several aqua-related experiences with other drugs.

I’ve heard that one of the big risks facing anybody on ecstasy, is drinking too much water, and effectively drowning themselves on the dance floor in Oceana (that’s the name of a club and a key date on the Peter Andre/David Hasselhoff/Pat Sharp tour – although the irony of drowning at Oceana was not lost on me). However, I have come close to drowning several times when high, and I am keen to explore the relationship between this self-inflicted artificial euphoria with H20. The first time I ever dropped a Gary Ablett was in the summer of 2006, Benicassim Music Festival. After scoring some with my dear friend who had discovered them a few months earlier at university, we paraded around the campsite meeting fellow campers as the sun set behind the mountains that sandwiched us against the sea. After exchanging our pleasantries with anybody and everybody, we gathered the rest of our group and headed down to the beach. It was our first night, and we’d only been there hours, but this was the best place on earth. The beach was littered with large groups, small groups and nomads all clustered around small fires and music systems (or the odd roving acoustic guitar player). We decided it was time for a swim and in minutes we had joined the dozen or so people in the Mediterranean, happily basking under the moonlight. It was a happy time, and we swore we could see Morocco.

“Well let’s go and find out” I said.

In retrospect, we both thought it and simultaneously decided the optimum outcome would only be achieved if we swam out to Morocco. Just in case you think this story ends with us washed up on the beaches of Morocco, it doesn’t. I just wanted to nip that in the bud, before you get your hopes raised. Besides, why would we go to Morocco when we had The Strokes doing their sound check about ½ mile inshore (it was the night before the festival and in my opinion the best). But we did swim out far. Really far. Far enough that we could no longer hear the music or the laughter on the beach. Just the two of us out at sea, with only the lights and campfires in the distance as our guide back. It was only when we started humming the jaws song that the attractiveness of our surroundings began to fade.

Fast forward a year and it is the night before the AC Milan vs Liverpool Champions League final 2007 and the city, Liverpool where I was studying, was buzzing. We had headed to a house party that was thrown by some friends of ours. Term had finished, and these were the last days of our second year of university. We decided the “night was still young” at 3am and we should “go to the 24 hour ASDA and pick up some more booze”. Clearly the night was still young. So young in fact, we needed to rely on ASDA and it’s anti-social opening times. After picking up booze, and the weed (which at 4am, for a student district, is harder to get than a Happy First Communion card or Frozen peas surprisingly) we all piled back to another friends house. Now really stoned, and with it offsetting the serotonin fueled buzz I had endured for the past few hours, I decided I needed to head upstairs. While pissing the remains of my night away, I stared dreamily at the bath. Dreaming of how nice it would be to get in. Now most dreams I have when asleep are just a jumble of images, where one minute I am speaking to somebody and then next, I’m speaking to the same person, but it’s somebody else. I’ve never dreamed of scoring at Wembley. I’ve fantasised about it of course. But dreamt about it? No. I’m positive Martin Luther King was being hypothetical when he made that famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in ‘63.

But this I could actually imagine doing, I was actually dreaming about having a bath.

Next thing I know, somebody is banging on the door waking me up instantly. I’m in the bath. Fully clothed. The water is pouring over the edges, the taps are running on full. Panicking, I open the door only to be greeted with “What the fuck is going on in here. The kitchen downstairs is completely flooded!” Yes, this is more like my dreams. The bathroom floor was submerged and the soapy water (I had even went as far as add bubble bath) was filtering through to downstairs, where there was now a gaping hole in the kitchen ceiling, with water gushing through it. I head down, and some of the other guests are standing, bemused as one of the housemates feebly attempts to catch the waterfall with a saucepan. Some cannot help but snigger, while pretending to look busy. “It’s not funny; the roof’s going to collapse”. Now when somebody says “it’s not funny” in these situations, it’s fair to say it most probably is. But this wasn’t funny, this was serious. Well for me anyways. We eventually stopped the flooding and cleared up the mess. Luckily all the other housemates were too whacked to get up and investigate what all the commotion was about.

The following day, the lads of the house invited me over for the Liverpool game. Yes, they invited me over. I was expecting to walk in and be given a kick ‘in, but it was cool. I spent half the time watching the game, the other half praying the Kitchen roof didn’t collapse under the damp rotting wooden floor boards.

Another year on, and after Man Utd beat Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League Final, me and a good friend again find ourselves at another house party. But this time struggling to find any magic dust, shamelessly resort to gobbling a whole pack of pro plus just “for a laugh”. After opening a bedroom door we discover a room full of prancing hippies out of their heads. I think this was the room of the housemate who was under strict instructions from the rest “now, when everybody arrives, it is imperative you and your friends stay in your room. You’re aloud a drink, but just remember, stay in your room”. We bought everything they had to sell. It was a great remainder of the evening. The next day was spent suffering the worst come down. Normally, you have the world of sleep to find solace in and live out your nightmare. The dozen or so Pro Plus made sure that didn’t happen. Maybe, Champions League finals have about as much of a positive relationship with reckless drug taking as does the presence of water.

After drifting for what seemed like hours (probably minutes) the charm of floating down a stream in a tube began to wear off and our satisfaction with novelty was being replaced by a mild, although good humoured paranoia, which led to “get us out of this” being the general view. As if by magic a little sign with the sacred words “Tuk Tuk this way” painted on it, came into view on one of the grassy banks. It pointed up towards the woods. Result! Next thing, we’re climbing this hill on our hands and knees (tubes around our necks), spurred on by the fact the alternative of tripping out in the middle of a river surrounded by nothing more than woodland and the odd shanty town. We get to the top and there is a smiling Laotian who has probably seen this scene a thousand times. We get in the back of his truck, while he puts our tubes on the top. Ben asks him if he “takes wet money?” but then stops. Given the guys niche market, its obvious that he “only knows wet money”. It was good to be riding back now, although we did feel somewhat like the village idiots being brought back after attempting to show off, but ending up requiring the help of the emergency services. It was a humbling experience, and I could somehow relate it to that guy who campaigned against the war but then was taken hostage and was only released after the British Forces rescued him and he had to make a grovelling statement of gratitude. I could have sworn he drove us around town several times, just so the public could get a good look at the two idiots in the back of his truck. His catch.

The ‘Shroom Shakes had taken hold now but it really kicked in as we crossed the little bridge back to Otherside. Halfway across the bridge split in two, one leading to our place, the other leading to another set of bungalows. It was this one we needed to head to as it had a launderette were we had left our clothes. It was hear the shakes really took hold, and all of I sudden I was propelled to the Brit Awards where me and Ben were going up to the stage to collect our award. I was taking long confident strides on the ramp (bridge) leading up towards the stage (launderette) while nodding in appreciation to all the smiling and cheering faces below (the rocks on the river bed) and saluting the guys who had won the Best International Group earlier in the evening (a group of Chinese lads coming the other way). I turned to Ben and hugged him. We had done it! Although shit, I hadn’t prepared a speech and there were far too many people to thank. Although, once up there was no silver statue, no James Corden or Chris Evans and no stage. Just a little Laotian with a plastic bag with my clothes in it. Just for effect, and irony, I attached it on a stick and hung it over my back like one of those tramps in cartoons. Had I had more time, I would have looked for a red pen to draw the red polka dots on it, just for maximum authenticity.

Looking back, I had all the time in the world, but for now we needed to go back to Otherside and start work on our ‘difficult second album’.

We got distracted by a little pill Ben found on his bed. What the hell was it? Were did it come from? It’s good that we were in such high spirits to find its mysterious presence hilarious. Had we not been as hyper, it could have set us off on a paranoid frenzy that we were being set up and nobody needs that. We quickly discarded it, had a shower and put a clean shirt on.

Really buzzing now, we crossed the bridge back over the river into town; I would love to remember some of our conversations as the only thing I can remember is us struggling to walk due to an infliction of rib aching laughter. Back on the main road, we heard a cheerful “Hey guys”. We spun round and saw Aussie Paul. Paul from the Mekong River trip. But than again we had met Kiwi Paul last night, so don’t get confused. Paul, from Australia, that will do. Better still, Aussie Paul. Anyways he’s called us over to his table for a drink. Why not? He was a sound guy and we had bonded with him over many subjects on the second day of the boat trip and so we gratefully headed over to him. We talked about a number of things, me and Ben really trying our best not to slip up and let on that we were comfortably on another planet in some galaxy far, far away.

At one stage, I was talking and half way through, totally forgot what I was talking about and then when I remembered, realized it was not relevant whatsoever to what he had asked of me. It was a shame really as he had liked us and now probably just saw us as a spin off to all the other head cases here which had often been the catalyst of his polemic on the boat. To be fair, he was probably in better position to judge our character now more than ever. It could have been a lot worse though, as I was only seconds away from asking him where he’d got his single dreadlocked ponytail from. But luckily came to my sense that this was the mushrooms vision of Aussie Paul and of course this bald guy did not have one dreadlock coming from the back of his head and over his left shoulder. But I tell you, I was close and that would certainly have been game over. On the boat trip he had wanted a photo with us and shook our hands and wished us all the best with great pleasure in his voice. Now as we departed, I wondered if he felt the same. To be honest, a meeting between a sober man and two lads on mushrooms could have gone a lot, lot worse.

After some food, we crossed another bridge to what appeared to be an island separated from the main river bank, connected only by a couple of bridges. We made friends with a few lads from Weymouth who were also on a mightily fine trip at Rock Bar were we listened to Red Hot Chili Peppers while also getting our first dose of fire throwing, something that would soon become as familiar, as well as tedious, as Pad Thai curry and Lady Boys. At one stage, Ben lost his flip flops and we spent ages searching for them (again, probably minutes, if not seconds) and after giving up, he looked down and they were exactly where he had left them, exactly where both of us had been looking. I know what your thinking, if this makes this bloke’s travel stories, he must have had one shit time. But the point of this little story is strange things turn up, as with the pill on Ben’s bed, when on such substances. We left the open air club and all headed to one of the many restaurants showing Friends, where we woke up on the comfy sofas, joint in hand, shortly after closing time.


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