When I’d previously mentioned that I’d be travelling Laos to people of a similar age group, the first thing they would tend to ask was if I’d be going tubing in Vang Vieng. Tubing in Vang Vieng basically involves floating down the Nam Song river during the day, surrounded by gorgeous scenery whilst stopping off at various bars drinking yourself into utter oblivion.
Over the years, I had read news stories and heard some rather interesting tales of the day-drinking phenomenon. Previously there had been a lot more bars open and tubing-related deaths were not uncommon. However the Laotian government made some huge changes in 2012, making tubing much safer and more controlled. With these recent changes, I was keen to check it out myself, despite the negativity surrounding it in the press. And as a Brit who enjoys the occasional (ahem) day drinking session, there was no denying that a day spent on a river stopping off at bamboo bars for frozen vodka slushies sounded tempting to say the least.
Taking advice from other travellers, I decided only to bring myself, my purse to buy alcohol and a pair of sunglasses. Unfortunately this meant I was unable to take photos whilst tubing, although I’ve pinched a couple from some friends we made travelling Laos. This appeared to be a wise idea though, as I ended up losing my sunglasses (wah) and two of my friends lost their purses. In fact, most people I spoke to after our tubing session ended up losing something in that river, whether it be their dignity, mind or belongings.
Tubing cost 55,000 kip and you had to give a deposit of 60,000 kip for the actual tube. If you handed the tube in before 6pm, you would get the full deposit back. If you handed it in before 8pm you would get 40,000 kip back and any time after you would get zilch. You could also rent a dry bag to keep your belongings as safe as possible. My clothes and purse inside the bag however ended up getting more and more drenched as the day stretched on as it was constantly being opened and closed up.
I immediately felt a wave of excitement as we hopped off our tubes and into the first bar. There was music, dancing and beach volleyball – and this was only the first stop! Some people you could see were already absolutely plastered – I’d recommend trying to pace yourself so that you last all day and don’t make (too much) of a fool of yourself. It was so enjoyable to drink and socialise with everyone under the sun, whilst also having the opportunity to appreciate the stunning surroundings of Vang Vieng. The sad thing is that it seems that most people don’t take the time to really take a look around and let sink in just how beautiful the place is. I’m sure this is another reason why tubing in Vang Vieng has such a bad reputation.
As the day progressed and more drinks were drunk, I weirdly felt a slight pang of shame at how much of a great time I was having. It was a day of pure hedonistic revelry and there was no denying that my 22 year old self was absolutely loving it. Heck, I even wanted to go again another day, which we did indeed end up doing for Australia day (perfect excuse). The different bars had different games to play and lots of fun things to do, for example one bar even had games of mud wrestling, although I steered well clear of that – it looked so very dangerous!
It was only in the last bar that I met another traveller (who we happened to end up travelling with for the next week or so!) who informed me that certain shots were free if directly requested. At the time, I was irritated that I could have been saving a sizeable chunk of money on drink, but looking back it was probably best that I didn’t know! We didn’t make it to the end of the route unfortunately and had to grab a tuk tuk from the last bar to take us back to the centre of town. We didn’t get back by 6 either so only got 40,000 kip back instead of the 60,000 kip, but we weren’t too fussed at the time.
Tubing was for me personally, a really amazingly fun experience and it was better than I had imagined. It’s definitely for the party animals and pleasure-seekers out there, and of course wouldn’t be to everyone’s liking. If passing through Laos I’d definitely recommend at least trying a day of it. I did meet quite a lot of people who stayed in Vang Vieng for about a week or so and ended up tubing every day there. This, I think is too much especially in Vang Vieng when there’s so much more to do other than day drinking. We explored various caves, chilled at a lagoon and even one day just took a hike round the beautiful fields and jungles. Kayaking day trips were also recommended by other travellers, but we ended up saving that for southern Laos.
My only slight criticism is that the day of ‘tubing’ actually didn’t involve much tubing at all. We spent most our time in the bars, and probably only about half an hour or so on the actual river. So for a real experience of tubing it might be a better idea to rent one for the day somewhere else in Laos, for example down in Si Phan Don (four thousand islands) where we saw it advertised.