Jan 23 2013

Tubing in Vang Vieng

Published by at 2:39 am under Vang Vieng

The party is over in Vang Vieng, six months after the Lao government’s crackdown on the illegal bars that once lined the picturesque Nam Song. The change is so dramatic that people still arrive asking where the party has gone, shocked at the pace of change in a country not known for acting swiftly on anything. So what of tubing? We took a ride downriver in a tube to find out the situation on the river.

This bar is closed. So is every other bar.

This bar is closed. So is every other bar.

In high seasons of years gone by, approximately 400 people per day would tube down the river. That number has now dwindled to about 150.

The system for tubing is the same as it always was. Punters roll up to one of two sheds in town, pay 55,000 kip plus 60,000 kip deposit and sign away their right to sue if it all goes horribly wrong.

Drink beer and tube

Drink beer and tube.

A tuk tuk driver promptly loads four to 12 people into the back of his vehicle as well as all the tubes and drives four kilometres north to the drop off point right next to the Vang Vieng Organic Farm, which in itself is worth a visit for a top-notch feed.

A lightly load for the tubing tuk-tuks

A light load for the tubing tuk tuks.

With dry bag and or dry pouch slung around their necks, the punters set off downriver in their tubes ready for action. Except, the action never comes.

This is where it all starts

This is where it all starts

The journey downriver starts off slowly and many must be hoping for that one bar that must still be open, thumbing its nose at the government crackdown. But the destroyed bars keep coming, one after another.

This bar has seen better days

This bar has seen better days.

In locations where massive platforms once towered over the river there is nothing but the riverbank left. Every part of these structures has been demolished.

The famous water slide is gone as are the small huts, large platforms and zip lines. In parts, it’s as if no bars ever existed.

The big slide is no more. Either are the bars which surrounded it.

The big slide is no more. Neither are the bars that surrounded it.

But those seeking a beer on the river need not worry. Many tubers stop at strategic points on the river bank to throw frisbees, play in the water and make new acquaintances, and at these stops, a local will inevitably find a way to sell beer.

Locals are happy to sell beer to thirsty tubers

Locals are happy to sell beer to thirsty tubers.

About half way along the tubing course there is a shack called SCK Guesthouse. A sign out the front rather amusingly points out that they sell food. The bar is filled with people drinking beer and having a good time — the sole survivor of the Vang Vieng apocalypse. It’s a tame affair in this bar compared to the days of old and more in line with what the Lao government wants and expects.

This is the last formal place to grab a drink along the river - SCK Guesthouse

This is the last formal place to grab a drink along the river — SCK Guesthouse.

The last two kilometres of the river is just karst mountains, gentle rapids, thousands of kayakers and a stunning sunset.

Kayakers have taken over the river!

Kayakers have taken over the river!

The party may well and truly be over in Vang Vieng, but those seeking to have fun with friends, drink a few beers and experience some great scenery should still come to Vang Vieng. Just forget the riverside bars.

After a hard day tubing, there is nothing left to do except have a beer.

Relaxing after a hard day’s tubing.


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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Tubing in Vang Vieng”

  1. marc in vnon 23 Jan 2013 at 7:34 am

    Somehow this news seems more depressing than it really is. Although I never got the chance to drift down the river with a beer in one hand and a spliff in another while listening to my iphone global stream, it’s still a river where I can float down without a care in the world. Unless of course I prefer 400 people to join me rather than 100 and I cannot be without banana crepes for more than an hour or so.

  2. What’s up Vang Vieng?! | Meer Tellson 24 Jan 2013 at 8:14 pm

    […] party that’s still vivid in my memory. The party that never seemed to end. After reading this article, I decided to find out for […]

  3. gordon greyon 29 Jan 2013 at 3:32 am

    . . . . what a wonderful thing!

  4. Benny Blockson 30 Jan 2013 at 7:35 am

    So, tubing gently down a beautiful river surrounded by lush mountainsides and towering limestone cliffs still remains, but punters can’t buy buckets and listen to trance…?
    What a crying shame.

    Incredibly, this is the ONLY case I can think of where something I enjoyed a decade ago went all to hell and I thought ‘Man, it ain’t what it used to be.”
    But then it changed back.
    To what it used to be.

    This is perhaps the smartest, most progressive act the Laos government has ever achieved.
    Other SE Asian countries could learn a lot.

  5. Tennoujion 18 Feb 2013 at 8:11 am

    “The last two kilometres of the river is just karst mountains, gentle rapids, thousands of kayakers and a stunning sunset.”

    Sounds lovely.

    Now, for the first time ever, I want to go there.

  6. Stephanieon 26 Mar 2013 at 10:05 am

    Just finished a day of tubing and I have some good news (or bad, depending on what you’re hoping to see). There are currently four bars open along the river. The volume of tubers is still quite low and you won’t hear a top 40 song anywhere on the river but you can certainly stop for a drink (or five).

    There are still no rope swings or slides and many bars look like they’ve been radically demolished.

    Still a great time though!

  7. Adam Poskitton 27 Mar 2013 at 2:25 pm

    @Stephanie – It would appear that things are changing quickly on the river! If the bars continue to open, I wouldn’t be surprised if the vibe in Vang Vieng shifts back towards what it was previously. Clearly from the comments here, some people loved that, some hated it.

  8. Markon 02 Apr 2013 at 11:55 am

    Opinions will always be mixed on this issue. I love to be in nature and surrounded by beauty and serenity, but I also sometimes love to be totally indulgent and experience party excess. Both of these are valid parts of the human experience so why shouldn’t we have a place for each? As long as people want to party in this way there will always be places to do so. They usually don’t harm anyone but themselves and in fact the locals in Vang Vieng were very shrewd to encourage this behaviour and capitalise off of it. I’m sure the locals who owned all of these businesses and the people they employed are less than pleased about having their lively hoods taken away. These industrious people will find new ways to cash in on their stunning location and scenery. I believe the town will continue to flourish but in a different direction. Not necessarily a better one. Large groups of package tourists hitting towns on mass cruise ship style are no better. I am also totally certain that another party Mecca will pop up to pick up the slack! And around and around we go.

  9. Jroon 10 Jun 2013 at 4:05 pm

    When I first went to Vang Vieng a couple of years ago now, I was as sceptical as anyone about what I would find. I decided though, that going there with a negative attitude would affect nothing but my own experience, so I decided to embrace the madness and join-in with the partying. And for as much as it was a sickeningly touristy place considering it’s scenic location in the middle of Laos, you couldn’t help but have a great time. As Mark said, in this entire region, why not have one or two places for the avid party-goer? There’s plenty of other spots for those who want a quiet, relaxing time (and yet they would all rather moan about this tiny place being noisy, than appreciating all the places that they could go and enjoy). I went back to Vang Vieng a second time about a year later, just a couple of months before it all got tore down, but I haven’t been back since. I live in Bangkok now, and I’m curious to see what it’s become. When I have a vacation, I think I’ll make a trip up there.
    I arrived as sceptical as anyone. But I embraced the crazy of Vang Vieng. And in return it gave me some memories that’re going to stay with me forever. And I think that it’ll be a shame if it really is dead forever, and others aren’t given that same opportunity.

  10. Russel Blueon 06 Sep 2014 at 7:28 am

    The party most definitely is NOT over. It’s changed a bit, and has taken some of the lunacy out of it all, but the Nam Song river is still pumping! We went there last month and had a blast – http://www.deadat30.com/tubing-vang-vieng/

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