Whether you’re ‘soul searching’ on a year off, cultivating a plume of dreadlocks, or an accountant-gone-wild, South-East Asia holds an endless banquet of hedonism, stuffed with marathon happy-hours and non-existent safety regulations. Here are some highlights.
Beach life. Nha Trang, Vietnam
If Shanghai is deemed the Paris of the East then surely the Vietnamese beach town of Nha Trang’s spangled high-rise hotels and riotous nightlife render it the Magaluf of the East? Nha Trang earned its debauched stripes during the Vietnam War where it was a stop-off for American soldiers on leave. It has since evolved and the Sailing Club, situated on the town’s prized 4km beach, is a launching pad for banana boating, paragliding and more.
By day an innocent sailing establishment, but come night the stabilizers are removed and Sailing Club becomes a popular nightspot with beach parties every Saturday. Elsewhere the backpacker hub Red Apple Bar serves up an imperial sized cocktail simply titled ‘the Bucket’, a multi-litre shrine to spirits. Pending a recovery, you can visit the nearby Vinpearl amusement park which, like Dr.Evil’s volcano lair, has its own island.
If you ever need to resurge from the swirls of hedonism and add some culture to your diet, rent a motorcycle and head inland to experience the rugged Ho Chi Minh Highway, made famous by James ‘I wanna be forever young’ May and assorted Top Gear cronies. Alternatively, get your grill on at local hot-spot Lac Canh Restaurant which serves raw meat and fish marinated in traditional spices to be tossed onto your table-top bbq.
Hedonist rating: ***
In the tube. Vang Vieng, Laos
The four hour bus ride from Lao’s capital, Vientiane, to the hedonistic outpost of Vang Vieng is treacherous; the road winds tipsily through mountains while branches scrape against the bus like the gnarled limbs of the undead. Why is it then that I count myself more fortunate to have survived the tubing itself than this near-suicidal crusade?
For those not acquainted, tubing constitutes perching on an inflatable ring and offering yourself to the mercy of the river. As you float downstream clusters of flimsy wooden bars jut out, seemingly constructed by Ewoks because of the rope swings and zip-wires hanging menacingly from their skeletal rafters. Each ready to ensnare the drunken traveller.
Besides the $1 cocktail buckets and free shots of local whiskey, every bar has a unique feature, from beer pong to mud wrestling, to attract people. Sceptical? Then you can look forward to being roped in by the bartenders’ homemade lassos.
Staggeringly, this marathon bender is merely the warm up and night time sees the unveiling of bingeing establishments like the Bucket Bar. Where, with such slogans as “Get Bucked at the Fucket Bar,’ you know it’s not going to be an evening aperitif at the Grand Hyatt.
Hedonist rating: *****
Rambo Returns. Phonm Penh, Cambodia
Menus have a funny knack of legitimising things. In Cambodia’s capital, Phonm Penh, when you are confronted by a laminated sheet of paper in a cafe, offering opium tea, magic mushroom milkshakes and marijuana pizzas you feel like Pablo Escobar quantifying amounts for a drug run. Similarly, the nearby Air Borne shooting range has a menu wrought with guns ranging from Ak47s ($40 for 30 bullets) to the bone-shaking RPG Rocket Launcher($200 for 1 RPG), all available to shoot. Suddenly you become Rambo, equipping yourself for a solo mission to depose a sinister Asian dictator.
A claustrophobic half-hour tuk-tuk drive from the city centre, the firing range is owned by the Cambodian military, meaning your gratuitous pumping of a 12-gauge shotgun is occasionally interrupted by camouflaged regiments marching past. Although you shoot at paper targets, off-menu requests can see the targets being replaced by livestock such as geese($10), cows($100) and even alligators. Well, it is one alternative to the zoo.
Back in the city, you can drown such memories in Sharky’s Bar, the expat den of decadence has a long-standing drinking challenge to sink your teeth into. To finish three hollowed-out mortar rounds, each containing 12 separate shots, in one night. Side-effects may vary.
Hedonist rating: ****
Lunar gathering .Koh Phangan, Thailand
Worshipped by witches, a friend of the werewolves and, in the case of Koh Phangan, the full moon is an excuse to get biblically drunk. Its imminent arrival heralds the trafficking of face-pounding sound systems and an exodus of 20,000 intrepid travellers to the small Thai island. With local hotels capacity touching 5,000 book months ahead for accommodation, the ever-fashionable Cocohut is a good starting bet. Otherwise be prepared for a night on the sand, where the morning aftermath is the stuff of Omaha Landing, Dunkirk.
On the hallowed ground of Haad Rin beach, professional partiers gather around the paint stations to get kitted out before entering the melee, money strapped to their chests like grenades. Besides the mandatory team of international DJs, you can expect some blazing entertainment in the form of professional fire-twirlers, jugglers and a barrage from an old acquaintance, the cheap cocktail bucket. Anyone looking to dabble in the realm of narcotics be wary, all is not as it seems and the ‘happy pill’ you’re taking could be bovine steroids or, even worse, the red pill from the Matrix- then you’d be in all kinds of shit.
Hedonist rating: ****