Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos (in 2020 and beyond)
UPDATE 2020: South East Asia has always been a backpacking hub, no doubt about it. Booze flows from Khao San Road to the best clubs in Bali, the best full moon parties rave and sometimes, just sometimes, you get to float down the Mekong river in an inner tube, getting pulled into wooden shacks as you go down for free shots and plenty of buckets – welcome to tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos. A place quite like no other. ‘Tubing’ became a rite-of-passage for all travellers on the banana pancake trail of SE Asia. Until 27 deaths in a month, and the party stopped.
So, in 2020. Tubing is still possible, albeit a little toned down. BUT, don’t forget to also visit the Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng. AMAZING!
Is Tubing Cancelled in 2020?
First of all, the elephant in the room. When I first moved to live in Thailand back in 2010, tubing in Laos was in full flow. Drugs, alcohol, 24 hours parties. IT WAS WILD. It was a little too wild. And the deaths mounted up. So in 2012, after 6 Australians died in one 10 day period (27 in a month or so), foreign governments began asking what the hell was going on in Vang Vieng. Laos couldn’t take the bad PR. And tubing was cancelled. So from 2012 to 2014/2015, there was no tubing.
Of course, when people want to party, you can’t stop them. And tubing began to return. So now, YES YOU CAN GO TUBING IN LAOS IN 2020. It’s not what it was pre-2012, but perhaps that’s a good thing. More information below.
What is tubing in Vang Vieng?
It has more legitimate definitions elsewhere but in Vang Vieng, Laos it involves you renting a tire innertube for the day, heading down to the Mekong river, and floating down the river past the various bars, rope swings and diving boards. Each bar offers free shots to entice you in, as you float down the river, some Laotian guys will throw you a rope, you grab the rope and get pulled into the bar. Order some drinks, and carry on down the river. Absolute madness. Drugs were prevalent, the swings and slides were a death-trap, and it was perhaps the wildest backpacker experience on the continent, if not the world.
Tubing in Vang Vieng in 2020; How Does It Work?
The premise of tubing in 2020 is the same before the ban. You rent a tube, float down the Mekong, get drunk. However, since the Government’s involvement, now only 4 bats can open at one-time down the river, swings and slides are banned, as are the drugs (which were always illegal, but now are ACTUALLY almost illegal). So yes, it’s still a wild, day-drinking, bender. But one without the deaths. An improvement, I’d say.
- You arrive in Vang Vieng, sort out your guest-house or hotel.
- The next morning go to Haley’s Coffee in the village centre (the town is tiny), you rent your tubes opposite that. You can’t miss it.
- Rent your tube ($7), pay your deposit for the tube ($7), sign the waiver and supply your passport number.
- Hop in the free tuk-tuk to the start point
- Float down the river. When the local guys throw you a rope, grab it, they’ll pull you in, drink. Repeat.
- You can hop back in your tube to the next bar, and repeat.
- If you want your deposit back, bring your tube back before 8pm (at least half the people, me included, miss this).
Is there anything else to see and do in Vang Vieng?
SHORT ANSWER. YES. You can visit the Blue Lagoon on a day-trip either independently, or book a tour and save the hassle. You can book it for about $25 here.
Besides getting ridiculously drunk? Yes actually, although 99% of the people you see here won’t know about it! Check out the blue lagoon, a beautiful area to chill, eat a bit and jump in the crystal clear blue waters – really nice. Also, the scenery around the area is breathtaking, so rent a scooter or a bicycle ($6) and spend a day exploring.
How to get to the Blue Lagoon: This can be quite tricky! Either get a tuk-tuk to take you (about $13) or rent a bike and drive yourself. If you drive yourself, which I’d recommend, prepare to be fooled by Blue Lagoon imposters! Drive out of Vang Vieng, cross a bridge (pay $2) and keep going straight, straight, straight – ignore all the signs for other Blue Lagoons until you finally reach it. You won’t have had to take any major turns, just keep going straight and you’ll know by the restaurants, other tuk-tuks and tourists when you’ve actually made it to the real one!
How long should you stay in Vang Vieng?
In my opinion, 2 days – one day to explore (either cycling or blue lagoon), one day to go tubing and then get out as soon as possible! It’s great, crazy fun but one day really is enough. So many people spend (waste?) a week or more here, doing the same thing every day and if that’s your thing, then, by all means, stay longer. But in my opinion, you didn’t come to Asia just to get drunk with a load of other white people (at least I hope you didn’t!).
Where Can You Go Tubing in Laos? How do you get to Vang Vieng?
Thankfully you can now book your tickets to Vang Vieng, and around Laos, online (at last!). You can do that HERE.
From Luang Prabang to the north it’s about a 6-hour bus ride. You can take the local bus ($11, 7-8 hours) or the tourist bus ($15, 5-6 hours).
From Vientiane in the south, it’s only 3 hours away. Again you can take the local bus ($10, 4 hours) or the tourist minivans ($12, 3 hours).
You can book these tickets yourself at the bus station or at any of the 10 zillion booking agent stalls in Vientiane or Luang Prabang, or using my link above (recommended). It works out cheaper to go through an agent, the commission they earn is less than the taxi fare for you to get to the station and back to book it for yourself. You can generally book on the same day you want to go, but doing it the day before is better if you’re on a tight schedule, just in case it’s full.
Tips to Survive Tubing in Laos;
- Don’t buy a wet bag there, they cost a couple of dollars but they don’t work. Buy a wet bag in advance.
- To rent the tube you need to pay around $6 with another $6 deposit. You don’t get the deposit back if you bring it back late at night, which you will. So be aware.
- The first 4 bars are the most popular, and they’re all within a couple of hundred metres of each other so you don’t even need a tube, you can easily swim that section. If I was to do it again, I’d prob give the tube a miss.
- People honestly die here every year so just be careful. Most people die from being so drunk they pass out and drown in the river OR showing off and doing crazy rope swings into shallow water. Don’t be that guy.
- Lay off the drugs! There are so many mushrooms, opium and weed kicking around here you’d almost think it’s legal – it’s not. But that’s not where my advice stems from, after 4 buckets and 6 beers before 5 pm, the last thing you need when you’re trying to swim is imaging huge sharks attacking you and aliens kidnapping you. If you have to dabble, don’t do it when tubing.
Thoughts on Tubing in Vang Vieng?
In conclusion folks, Vang Vieng seems like a sort of rite-of-passage for the south-east Asian backpacking crew, it really is great fun but it’s not the real Laos, that’s for sure. So enjoy it, go crazy but don’t linger, go and see the real Asia after you’ve got your booze hit. Happy travels!
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