Vangvieng had a bit of a reputation. Adventurers who had forded the Mekong before and returned to Korea told of a kind of dark partyland filled with drugs and terror. In this lucid, bacchanalian hellscape people were forever blasted out of their gourds on cheap, bathroom-brew LSD and radioactive mushrooms, swirling through life in a semi-permanent haze that left them brain-damaged and covered in body paint. It was a town insomuch as people sometimes lived there, but really it was a gateway to the river of sin and villainy.
The river was a gurgling, slow-moving pleasure obstacle course surrounded everywhere in jimmied-together shacks full of bargain booze and drunk foreigners. A shop in town would rent you a large, poorly maintained tube, which you then took to ride down the river. Locals, who were really just personified manifestations of human desire and low will power, would hook your tube as you floated by, make a margarita in your mouth, load your capillaries full of hallucinogens, and shove you back out into the rapids.
We imagined a sort of outdoor opium den, clouds of dark purple smoke puffing up into the sky in the shape of psychedelic dragons over the prone bodies and lolling tongues of dozens of foreign corpses. It was widely known that the town boasted an impressive death rate, as addled backpackers leapt from rickety bridges and fraying rope swings directly on to piles of jagged rocks while screaming, one supposes, “I AM THE ARCHBISHOP OF THE TUBE KINGDOM!”