Vang Vieng is (unfortunately or not) most well know for drinking, tubing and doing stupid things which could ultimately end in death (in 2012 alone, two people died each month). We arrived with mixed opinions and even unsure if tubing still existed, due to the multiple deaths in 2012 and the bar scene literally being burned to the ground by the government. We read various forums which said that it was now over and don’t go there or it still exists just the bars along the river have now gone and a new type of tourist has moved in.
We initially saw a few tuk tuks with tubes on their roof and heading to the start of the tubing route, but then after a walk around town we were left feeling a bit pessimistic again as it was a ghost town. Full of empty bars with raised up platforms with bed like seats and constant re-runs of Friends, Family Guy and South Park on the TVs.
We went for a walk down to the river to see if we could see any of the bars or tubers for that matter and were met with a sad sight. There was at least 3 burned down bars in the space of 100yards on the riverfront and provided a small insight into what the old tubing ways used to be like. We were then releaved to see groups of happy tubers floating down the river, with booze in hand of course. Utilising the passing canoe.
The next day we loaded our dry bag with our beer money and headed out to get our tubes. There was only one company renting the tubes (which from what i read is normal and changes weekly) and we paid about £5 for hire with a £3.50 deposit, which gets us a painted tractor tire and a tuk tuk upto the tubing start. We loaded up with beers from the nearby shop and hopped into our tuk tuk to meet our fellow tubers. We all set off together and casually chatted away, taking in the scenery and sipping beers whilst slowly floating down river. We kept floating past skeletons of bars and the infamous death slide, which we could easily see why it was given the name, given how shallow the water was. About quarter of the way we stopped at a cafe which sold refreshments, food and not beer out the back ‘wink wink’. So after a quick pitstop and re-stock we floated on again, meeting up with other tubers along the way, as well as thin speed boats coming up the river and people canoeing. Also a very friendly Lao local taking people rock climbing, who kindly informed us to watch out for water snakes biting our arses!! Thanks.
There was one bar (which i think is licensed and therefore official) near the end of the route and there was loads of people there, again chewing down on food and sipping a large beerlao, before re-stocking and setting off again. Certainly no slides or swings though. We finished the tubing in about 3/4 hours and it was a great experience, which i would happily return to and do again. After the day of tubing everyone heads to the irish bar and you can drunkenly natter on with the people you met on the river and find out when they are moving on to Luang Prabang or Vientiane.
The day after we were BIG fans of the Friends bars (as we named them) as they provided the perfect environment to nurse a hangover, watch Tv and eat junk food, just like home and can now totally see their appeal. Other than tubing and drinking in the friends bars, we didn’t really get upto much in Vang Vieng, we were tempted by the lagoon, but as we had done one in Luang Prabang, really weren’t too bothered, for Cheryl, Friends re-runs was much more appealing and for once i actually enjoyed watching it again and again.
So although it has vastly changed its style and lost all of the riverside bars pulling you in and giving free shots, the tubing scene is definitely still alive and has taken a different route (for now). As it will only be a matter of time before bars pop up, get licenses and make it what it was before, but just legit and safe, so that hopefully we can return and give the original style of tubing a go.
—Stay Classy World—ACastling—