Tubing has been dubbed by ibackpackers.com as a near-sacred “rite of passage” for the thousands of travellers who, since the new millennium, have been reeled in by the prospect of a boozy odyssey down the Mekong in all manner of exciting (and, ahem, dangerous!) ways. Since the turn of the 21st century, the hallowed Vang Vieng of Laos has been a crucial stop along the well-worn backpacker’s party trail through Southeast Asia.
Make no mistake; tubing offers a very different kind of journey than the retreat-like rumination that some vacationers claim their Southeast Asian trip to be. Tubing, by nature, is wet, loud and drunk. However, since the Laos government boy- cotted tubing by closing down each and every one of Vang Vieng’s bucket bars, which were used to facilitate the rubber rings and all the madness they brought bobbing along the Mekong with them, tubing has all but disappeared from the inventories of travellers heading to Laos (although we suspect a great many still show up, cursing their out-of-date copies of Lonely Planet as they search in vain for a slice of Happy Pizza).
Today, however, one Chiang Mai expat is seeking to revive this not so distant revelry by providing a more leisurely (and safe) tubing experience right here in Northern Thailand – that is, if the infamous traveller + inflatable tube combo will allow for it.
Fellow intern Anna and I spent a recent Sunday checking out the brand new Chiang Mai Tubing and Beach Club firsthand. There we met manager Chris, 29, who has lived in Thailand for ten years now. Chris hails from the southeast coast of England and finds himself often missing the seaside, having spent so much of his time in Thailand working in the North (he and wife Katae founded a successful Thai lantern factory which now exports the decorative goodies to several countries worldwide). “I only get to go to the beach once a year,” Chris told us. “So I decided to bring the South to the North, so to speak.”
Located in lovely Mae Ho Pra, just north of Chiang Mai city, the club provides a perfect day of chilled-out fun and hopes to attract both travellers and expats alike – anyone looking for a break from the daily hustle will find relief here. There’s no rush; grab some friends, leave the city by minibus at your chosen departure time, enjoy the scenic drive to Mae Ho Pra, arrive within the hour at the club and jump into a tube. You’ll enjoy between one and a half to three hours floating down the Mae Nam Ping waterway (depending on your chosen speed – i.e. how gutsy you are when given a rubber ring and a river to play with!), and arrive at the exit point with plenty of time to spare. Wriggle out of that ring, unwind and kick back – there’s food and drink, as well as hammocks and plenty of good company.
It’s a real and rather paradoxical joy to dip your toes in the cool white sand (yes – sand in Chiang Mai!) and chill out with a drink at one of the island-style beach huts dotted around the club. All of this whilst taking in the breathtaking northern landscape, characterised as it is by mountains and dams. Chris, who together with a dedicated network of friends and family began to build the club from scratch back in December of last year, “started out as a backpacker” and “knows that market well.” However, at the club “everyone is welcome as a customer” and it is in this vein that Chris and the team look forward to introducing people of all ages and backgrounds to the joys of tubing.
All-inclusive trips start at only 500 baht per person. Find out more about the Chiang Mai Tubing and Beach Club at www.chiangmaitubing.com, or book now by calling 080 064 4649.