Vang Vieng = tubing
It’s true that eight years ago when my brother went to Vang Vieng, tubing was in it’s prime. It was a Rite of Passage and to be honest I’d say the main reason people went to Laos was for that and the slow boat (I wouldn’t recommend this approach. The rest of Laos is also amazing. Blog posts to come). Back in the late 2000s the tubing experience was fuelled by buckets of alcohol from the vast number of bars that lined the Nam Song river. There were zip lines and slides cohersing the alcohol-soaked party people into the river in unsafe circumstances. Unfortunately every year many young people were passing away from either a mixture of alcohol, a concoction of drugs, lack of caution on the river or a mixture of all three. In 2012, the government ordered all of the bars to be torn down and thus stop the madness.
Over the past year or two some of the bars have begun to reappear but the result is a much calmer vibe with about one hundred and fifty people per day. There are no dangerous apparatuses in which to fling ones drunken body into the water and no buckets of alcohol, thus making Bucket Bar somewhat of a confusing name.
Off we go!
So onto the important part. What is tubing like these days? It’s floating down the Nam Song river in a rubber tube, wearing nothing but your swimming trunks and wearing a waterproof bag around your neck with a handful of money and a photo-taking device inside.
When I was there in mid-November 2014 there were four bars open on one side of the river. Apparently the day before four bars on the other side were open. Myself and a gang of friends paid 55,000 Kip (approximately 6 euro) and a deposit of 60,000 Kip that we wouldn’t get back if we arrived back after 6pm, to rent a large rubber tube.
We were driven down to the river, tubes and all, and let free into the slowly
flowing water. As I set off I was given an eager push from a few local children as they wanted to see me race down the river. We got to enjoy the good weather, relish at the beautiful scenery, and have chats with friends while floating along the Nam Song with not a care in the world. The first bar was only a few hundred metres from our starting point so we hopped out to join the crowd that had gathered at only 12pm. At this bar we chatted, had some beers, danced a little in the sun, and walked under the shower of cold water. Each bar had a different selling point. One had a narrow tree trunk cast across a three metre hole with a metre full of mucky water at the bottom. Eager tourists donned boxing gloves and slid themselves into the middle to face a worthy apponent, usually with both of them ending face down in the water below. We also played flip cup and happily downed our drinks to refresh us on the hot day. I played musical tubes at Bucket Bar and decided not to dash for a tube as the competition got fiercer and resulted in a girl getting a bloody nose after a guy clearly wanted the tube more than her! At the last bar we chilled and danced in the open air.
There was the option to follow the river for another forty minutes or so to the end of the tubing experience but I’m not sure that happens much. Too much fun is to be had dancing in little more than your birthday suit! We hopped in a taxi to bring us back to the town and return the tubes.
Another attraction in Vang Vieng is the blue lagoon. Some people weren’t impressed with it as they said it wasn’t a lagoon but I loved it there. What’s not to like about crystal clear water on a roasting hot day? It has a huge tree to jump off into the water. I managed to jump from the higher branch at about seven metres high. My friends below gave up on filming as I took quite a while to build up the courage. Let’s just say I don’t need to do it again! Swings hang low to the water so you can relax and kick your feet while watching the other brave jumpers. A rope dangles off a tree so you can fling your body into the water in oh-so-graceful leaps and there’s grass and mats a plenty to lie on.
If you go to the blue lagoon, don’t dare to cycle in the blistering heat if you’re not a regular cyclist. We had to pick up a dehydrated, sweaty, exhausted girl on the dirt track on the way there.
In general Vang Vieng town is pretty cute. It’s nice and small and chilled. Sakura bar is a top spot for party goers and you can sample an array of cheap, Asian cuisine in the many restaurants (with cushions for chairs) that play box sets of Friends on repeat.
Where I stayed:
As myself and Orna preferred not to book accommodation before arriving, we found that the popular Central Backpackers was full. A short walk next door to Sisavang was perfect. We paid a mere seven euro altogether for a large private room with double bed, single bed, ensuite, and balcony. Had we chosen a smaller room with one double bed it would have cost five euro total a night. Not bad even if you wanted to stay there alone. The Internet was non existent in the bedrooms but they did a cheap and cheerful laundry service.
The capital of Laos was our next stop. It’s not much to talk about. It’s more expensive than the rest of Laos and hasn’t got many attractions. I wouldn’t recommend stopping here unless you had to get a Vietnamese visa at the embassy like we did. But if you found yourself wanting to break up your trip then I’d recommend staying at Sihome Backpackers. The rooms have air con and there’s a movie room.