The number one reason why most backpackers add Laos to their list of places to visit in South East Asia is to go tubing in Vang Vieng. Yes it really is as simple as it sounds – get dropped at point A, insert yourself in an inner tube, and float down the Mekong River to point B. That is until you add in the dozens of bars that line the river, rope swings, slides, zip lines and lots and lots of buckets.
The town (if you want to call it that) exists for solely for the purpose of entertaining tourists who are here to go tubing. There are only a few main streets full of restaurants serving “farang” food, bars with happy hours all night long, and store after store selling t-shirts with the slogan, “Tubing in Vang Viene”
Accommodation here is plentiful and cheap. We decided to splurge and spend a whopping $13 for a large room with hot water shower and our own private balcony overlooking the Mekong River. It is definitely worth the splurge here since accommodations in Vientiane do not come close in comparison.
There are a few caves and waterfalls worth checking out if you’ve arrived early in the day and won’t be tubing right away. Scooters can be rented fairly cheaply in town and can take you to all the main attractions.
But enough about that, what you really want to know about is tubing, right? If you’ve spent a day already in town, you have come to see that’s a ghost town until about 6pm in the evenings – and that’s because the river bars are packed all day long. It’s like nothing you can imagine – bar after bar selling or giving away free booze, body paint and free bandanas, and crazy rope swings and slides that all try to out-do one another. The cost of the tube for the day is 55,000 kip plus a 60,000 kip deposit. If you’re looking to save a few bucks, you can really share one tube between two people since you never have to float very far between bars.
You’ll want to start out early in the day since the tubes have to be back by 6 pm. We started at noon, and wished we had started earlier. It may seem weird to start drinking so early in the day, but once you show up and see the party it will be the last thing on your mind. It’s easy to spend several hours at the first few bars since before even venturing at all down the river. Like anything, just be mindful of that fact that swimming and drinking don’t always mix and every year someone dies here.
You can technically tube all the way from where you get dropped off back to town, but it’s a heck of a long stretch after the bars end – you’ll need at least an hour or so after you pass Last Bar. The easier option is to grab a tuk-tuk whenever you’re down to get back into town so you don’t lose your deposit. After a day of tubing, the party continues on into the evening at either Oh-la-la bar or Rock Bar across the river.
Unless you’re pressed for time, once you’ve gone tubing once, you will most likely be hitting it up again a second day. It may just be the most fun I’ve ever head for less than $10.