Vang Vieng’s claim to fame was offering tourists tubes to float down the nearby river, which was lined with so many bars it’s a wonder anyone got out alive. In fact, the threat of death eventually became a pressing issue for Australian authorities, who eventually put pressure on the Laos government to shut most of the bars along the river down after intoxicated backpackers met numerous untimely deaths due to poorly structured zip-lines and access to endless drugs. Nowadays the river has a total of three bars, which was more than enough to keep the good times rolling during our tube-day outing. There really isn’t much you need to know in terms of tips for this fun-day activity: basically just go to the nearest company in town that offers tubes, hop in a tuk-tuk (which is free with a full group), and start your tubing extravaganza. A word of warning: there’s a lot more drinking than there is tubing. I would recommend to leave around 11am or noon, spend a short amount of time at the first bar and most of your time at the second, leaving for the third at the latest 4pm if you plan on tubing back to town before dark. The second bar is fully equipped for beer pong tournaments, and even a basketball court that sprays water at the foul-line. Kyle and I had a blast here, and part of that had to do with the great group of people we’d met beforehand to indulge us in our drinking habits. If you have a good crowd of friends (and ensure you don’t get too intoxicated to the point where tubing is impossible), it makes for a memorable time.
Note: Renting the tube should cost 60,000 kip, with a deposit of around 50/60,000, which you get back upon returning the tube before 6pm. The later it’s returned past six, the less of the deposit you get back, so be sure to keep an eye on the time.
While many think tubing is the main attraction of Vang Vieng, there are a few other sights one should see while visiting. Unfortunately, Kyle and I met a fellow Canadian on the first night here who proceeded to buy us numerous drinks, presumably to celebrate our mutual maple syrup-infused heritage, which caused us to be slightly limited in terms of mobility the next day. Two things I wish I had done while here: The Blue Lagoon and a hike up to the nearest viewpoint. Bikes can be rented to The Blue Lagoon, which is perfect for the day after tubing, where you can relax by sparkling water and even use a few rope swings. Secondly, be sure to get out and just take in the general scenery of Vang Vieng. The town is nothing special, really just a few dirt roads with restaurants and guesthouses, but the surrounding karst mountains are absolutely breathtaking. There are plenty of things we did not like about Laos, but one thing that the country does best is natural scenery (some of the most impressive I’ve seen on our trip so far).
Perhaps for me the most lasting memory I will have of Vang Vieng is not the tubing, but the endless bars playing non-stop episodes of the sitcom Friends. When you’re hungover, there is nothing better than mindlessly watching hours and hours of this show, which could be the main reason as to why we never got around to seeing The Blue Lagoon. It really does not matter what bar you go to, just stick your head out your guesthouse window and you’re sure to hear the theme song “I’ll be there for you” by the Remembrants instantly. Follow your ears, fluff up a few pillows and watch the day go by aimlessly as you realize that Ross is actually funnier than you remembered.
Finally, as far as drinking goes, the Irish bar is great. Vang Vieng is extremely small, so just say “Irish Bar?” to the person that runs your guesthouse and they will point you in the right direction. Either that or listen to where the live music is coming from past 9pm. This was the main sight of our debauchery and downfall during our stay in Vang Vieng (that and meeting a fellow Canadian).
While in Laos, Vang Vieng is definitely a must-see destination. Although the tubing (or should I say drinking) has significantly been curtailed, the three bars that still exist certainly suffice. A few days are more than enough here, and you might want to set a few days aside at your next destination to recover!