When you think of backpacking excesses, debauchery, drunkenness and generally the sort of behaviour that gives us more cultured travellers who happen to carry their belongings on their back a bad name the place Vang Vieng won’t be far from a mention. Over the past decade or so it has built up a reputation for all that is bad with this travelling generation, disrespect, drinking, drugs and damage. Many too have also died in pursuit of these stupid games of one up manship. So why then did we decide to go tubing of all things when we are so against this sort of behaviour!?! Well, Vang Vieng has made efforts to clean up its image, ripping the illegal bars from the edge of the river and taking away the dangerous rope swings and slides. Now we are here to prove that tubing Vang Vieng can instead actually just be a nice relaxing way to spend the day on this amazing river in the stunning mountainside!
Tubing Vang Vieng: A turbulent reputations
A few years back Vang Vieng was overrun by half naked (often fully), drunk, drugged and out of control westerners. The farmer who had the simple idea of using the old tractor inner tubes as a way for the tourists volunteering on his farm to cool off could never have foreseen the monster he created. Instead of a peaceful way to drift down the river through this once sleepy mountain village it became a byword for backpacker excess. For all that was wrong with the travelling hordes from the west who came with no desire to see culture or experience the country they were in. They cared nothing for the destruction of the environment they left behind, how disrespectful their behaviour was or how the locals felt. They came, they partied and they left a trail of carnage.
At one time this beautiful river would be full of hundreds of tubers and hundreds of bars would line its banks. Instead of the grazing water buffalo and local women washing their clothing there were buckets on sale and opium freely on offer. Drinking games and free shot encouraged more and more outrageous behaviour. Swing, jumps and slides were hastily put together so people could show off. Inevitably young lives were lost here. Wasted to a juvenile idea of what travel was and a child like desire to fit in and impress a bunch of idiots!! This went on for years, deaths and injuries unreported and a growing number of angry parents around the world. Eventually the Laos government cracked down on this chaos!
I’ve never really seen the point in this form of “travelling”. Spending a few months drinking your way around tourist towns filled with people from the same place you are. What do you discover or learn? Spending money and time, wasting an amazing opportunity to just do the same as you would have at home only somewhere a bit warmer and cheaper. Vang Vieng was a typical example of these people missing so much of this amazing region to just repeat what they did on pub street in Siem reap, Khao San road in Bangkok, the full moon party on … etc etc!
Turning over a new page for tourism in Laos
However. Now since the ban on these illegal bar a magical atmosphere has once again returned to this once described “paradise lost”. The birds sing once again, locals wash in the river and the buffalo have come back to drink from the water. Today it is a serine and peaceful location with only a handful of small bars spread out along its length for those who wish to have a drink. If you want it to be it can still be a little wild. But for those who want a nice relaxing float down the river this is also entirely possible.
Once you pass the first few bars too most of those wishing to stop probably won’t end up back on the water. In dry season a slow and steady 4 hour float allows you to take in the various beautiful scene of mountains, rivers, farms and bamboo bridges along the way at a gentle pace. Take with you one of the dry bags available to buy in town and keep your valuables dry! There is nothing quite like laying back in the warm sun on the bubbling river surrounded by jungle covered peaks. This feels now like truly exploring Laos and appreciating it’s untamed beauty.
A relaxing day on the river taking in the beautiful scenery
After spending 7 weeks in Vietnam taking in all the culture on offer, seeing places so off the beaten track we didn’t see another westerner for days, staying with local families and sometimes struggling to even find the smallest meal that was vegetarian friendly…we felt we needed a day to relax and also to indulge in something a bit “touristy!”
But you know us, a day relaxing still needs to include a bit of adventure and excitement! For all the horrors we had heard about tubing Vang Vieng we actually knew very little of how amazing it could be. We went with the idea at first as a way to cool off in the river and lie back in the sun for a day without access to a swimming pool!
But what we actually discovered along the way was that tubing Vang Vieng, as chilled out as it actually is, is the best way to see the stunning scenery that the amazing river cuts right through. Vang Vieng is a treasure trove of karst peaks and jungle covered mountainsides. This meandering lazy river runs a picture perfect path right through the middle, allowing you to take it all in from base level and all without much effort at all! Perfect!
Along the way you pass all the versions of this village that exist, there are a few bars and the music occasionally floods the edges of the river for those who want to join the now low key party. But for those on the look out for something more authentic local life has returned to the banks of this beautiful water way, children will shout over and wave and fishermen will wade out for their latest catch. There are even opportunities for some kayaking and ziplining at some stop off points!
Tubing Vang Vieng: How to!
Tubing Vang Vieng can now only be done from a handful of places and there is one main “official” rental shop.
Prices are now set at 50,000 kip (£5.00) each plus a returnable 60,000 Kip (£6.00) deposit for the tube.
This includes a Tuk Tuk ride over to the tube starting point.
You just also get your tube back to the office before 6pm. But you should be off the water before it goes dark anyway. If you decide to come off before the end a tuk Tuk back to town should cost around 10,000.Kip (£1.00)
To make the most of your time you should get on the river before 12pm ideally as it can take much longer than the time the office quotes to get all the way down the river. From the end point it should be a 10 minute walk back to the office.
Please be respectful and bring your shorts and t-shirt in your dry sack with you so you can slip them back on whilst walking through town. Also don’t forget the suncream, make regular stops at the riverside to top up! If you can’t swim the tubing centre can also lend you life vests, as always be careful on the water as many parts are isolated.
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