Despite a government crackdown in 2012 due to a few casual deaths here and there, the Vang Vieng tubing scene in Laos is alive and kicking. In a nutshell, tubing is when you float down a river in an inflatable ring, visiting bars along the river which will throw you a line to pull yourself in. Tubing can be booked through your hostel for about 65,000 kip (about £5.50 in 2020) and that includes hostel pick up and drop off and your inflatable ring. This is the ultimate guide to tubing in Vang Vieng!
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After hearing about the 27 deaths from one year alone, I was picturing a raging rumba rapids death trap, being thrown off my tube and hitting my head on a rock and drowning, so for anyone else having this idea, the Nam Song river is in fact a slow meander. It did get a tad shallow in some parts and I got what I thought was an incredibly big kick up the bum, which turned out to be a rather large rock in a shallow area.
In the “good old days” there used to be 11 bars, whereas now there are only three. Bring your own booze for the times when you are just floating down the river with no access to a bar and make sure you have a dry bag for your phone, clothes, flip flops and wallet, which can be bought from lots of shops along the main road in Vang Vieng.
It is a short walk from the drop off point down to the river and then from the last bar up to the transport. The floating time between the starting point and the first bar is roughly about five minutes. Then 45 minutes to the second bar, and then 10 minutes to the last bar. The first bar is floating on the river and quickly starts to sink under the water, groaning under the weight of all the tubers, but don’t worry this adds to the whole fun of it. Although a water snake did find its way onto the bar as well because of this, and that wasn’t quite as fun. There is also a ladder to climb and jump into the water which is about 3m tall. Just be careful as there was a girl in the group who did a balloon and then jumped into the water and passed out and had to be rescued.
The second bar is a bit more chilled out and you can buy food there, we had the chicken burger with chips, which was very good and will help you sober up if needed! There are also rafts out in the water, which you can sit and chill on.
If you are a thrill-seeker and want to get that adrenaline pumping, then the last bar has a volleyball net, a zip line and fire limbo. I had a great time playing volleyball with about 20 other people including a very aggressive Scotsman.
The whole experience takes about seven hours, leaving at 12pm and getting back after sunset. It was a really fun day and the perfect way to meet other people, as you end up floating down the river with a new group of people every time. You also get to see some incredibly beautiful scenery. If your travels take you past Vang Vieng, then make sure you add this activity to your itinerary.
Guide to tubing in Vang Vieng: The thing to do if you are a backpacker
What to bring
- Suncream but apply some before, I REPEAT BEFORE you start drinking
- Sunglasses – bear in mind that you might lose them falling off your tube, so don’t bring your most prized pair
- Money – only as much as you intend to spend
- A dry bag to keep your stuff in, it is probably also a good idea to bring one of those dry bags for your phone as well if you want to take photos on the river – or just don’t bring your phone at all
- A wireless speaker to go in your dry bag to keep the party going between bars
- A rubbish bag. Please do not throw your empty cans in the river, please take them with you and dispose of properly
What to wear
Wear your swimsuit under some lightweight clothes that will fit easily into your dry bag – Laos is conservative, so you don’t want to be walking through town wearing just your swimsuit. Wear flip flops for the walk down to the river as it is rocky.
- Please make sure that you are a strong swimmer if you go tubing. It is quite shallow most of the way, but it is deep by some of the bars and you will probably fall off at some point
- I would not advise drinking until you are paralytic as we all know that drunkeness and water can equal disaster for some (for me it’s drunkeness and trains, but that’s a story for another day)
- Be very careful on the zip lines – a friend of mine tried it and somehow managed to cut his head, which bled, a lot
- Balloons are sold freely so just take it easy will you?
- Big jumps whilst blottoed is not the most intelligent decision
What was the best drinking activity you did on your travels? Let me know in the comments below!