South East Asia is a backpacking hub, no doubt about it. Booze flows, 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. So….
What is tubing?
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.
Some tips when tubing:
- Don’t buy a wet bag there, they cost a couple of dollars but they don’t work. Put your camera in one of these bad boys and say goodbye to your camera!
- 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’s 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 5pm, 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 don’t it when tubing.
Is there anything else to see and do in Vang Vieng?
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 ($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 bride (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 majore turns, just keep going straight and you’ll know by the restaurants, other tuktuks 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, one day to tube 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!).
How do you get to Vang Vieng?
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. 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.
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!