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 reputation, 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 Vang Vieng tubing can instead actually just be a nice relaxing way to spend the day on this amazing river in the stunning mountainside!
Vang Vieng tubing: A turbulent reputation for all that is wrong with backpacking!
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 and Vang Vieng tubing was at the centre of it all! The Vang Vieng backpacker came with a reputation!
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 and the infamous Vang Vieng backpacker taking it all in. Drinking games and free shots 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 the chaos of Vang Vieng tubing. Now we’re no saints but there is fun and there is completely reckless behaviour that affects other visitors experiences and more importantly the lives of locals and their environment.
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 the Thai Island … etc etc! So we were a little sceptical of the Vang Vieng tubing but also didn’t want to just judge as it also looks quite fun minus the drunken lunatics!
Vang Vieng tubing: Turning over a new page for tourism in Laos and bringing a new kind of Vang Vieng backpacker!
However. Now since the ban on these illegal bars a magical atmosphere has once again returned to what was once described as a “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 serene and peaceful place 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 and you can still have the classic Vang Vieng tubing party, but without damage to the local villages. But for those who want a nice relaxing float down the river this is also entirely possible and for us the reason we wanted to do it! Now you can be a responsible Vang Vieng backpacker and take in the real beautify of this region.
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 its 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!” and so we jumped into this piece of the Vang Vieng backpacker scene!
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 the Vang Vieng tubing 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 as it had been hot and humid during our time in Laos. It turns out Vang Vieng tubing is one of the best things to do in Vang Vieng by far!
But what we actually discovered along the way was that Vang Vieng tubing, as chilled out as it actually is, is the best way to see the stunning scenery that the amazing river cuts right through too. 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 and the way the Vang Vieng backpacker scene should be!
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 lookout 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!
Vang Vieng tubing: How to do it!
Tubing Vang Vieng can now only be done from a handful of places and there is one main “official” rental shop that is right in the centre of town.
Prices are now set at 60,000 kip (£6.00) 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 will finish at the back-end of the town a 10 min walk away from the office.
* You have to get your tube back to the office before 6pm or you will lose your deposit!
* You should be off the water before it goes dark anyway as it can get dangerous.
* If you decide to come off before the end a tuk Tuk can take you back to town should cost around 10,000.Kip (£1.00) They should be pretty easy to find along the roadside, especially if you are near a bar!
* 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 especially in the dry season. 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 sunscreen, make regular stops at the riverside to top up or even wear a t-shirt as it can get hot!
* Buy a dry sack in town to keep all your valuables inside safe and dry!
* Bring along some water but you can stop at some of the bars for a drink but they are mostly early on along the river.
* If you are drinking please be careful, pace yourself and drink water too. If you feel like you’ve had enough then stay off the water and take a tuk tuk back instead!
* 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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