Tubing in Vang Vieng
First published 28th January, 2010
Like a SE Asian Goa, Vang Vieng offers the constant debauchery that marks any infamous destination on the now well-worn backpacker/hippie/party-people trail. It just doesn't have a beach, nor, frankly, does it even need one. The famed attraction has become, incorrectly but perhaps appropriately, immortalized on t-shirts and tank tops as: "Tubing In The Vang Vieng Laos."
Far more accessible and much less demanding than mountain trekking or Mekong island hopping, the relaxed trip down the Nam Song river is appropriately Laotian in its calmness. Peaceful and tranquil aside from the occasional rock or rapid, the 4km ride is certainly a highlight of many a holiday. However, "floating the river" is merely a shallow facade for the massive daily orgy of the senses that occurs just outside of town.
We took the slow approach, one afternoon ride to survey the scene, and another all-day affair to be fully enveloped by it. The start of the float, it turns out, is where the majority of the party resides – as you emerge from your tuk-tuk (included in the tube rental price) you are surrounded by rope swings, zip-lines, and an abundance of beer-drinking Western travelers. Party music blasts, spanning the range from Fatboy Slim-style electronica to the latest remixed club hits that have most likely been pilfered from Thailand. The bars are haphazard affairs, dedicated to drunken fun and little else. With free shots readily available everywhere, ample entertainment, and plenty of people to mingle with (and then try and take home later), everyone's focus, bar staff and owners included, is on having a good time.
VV, it seems, is a place best stayed at for an indeterminate amount of time. Can you really experience everything the river offers in one day? It'd be quite difficult to actually drink a beer at every bar, and if you managed to, in then you'd be in no condition to be safely riding slides and zip-lines repeatedly. Plus there's mud volleyball, at least a few dance parties, a fire to warm-up by, and whatever other drugs you might choose to dabble in. The party starts, weather permitting, around noon, and continues until just before dark – that's when the frantic and drunken dash to return the tubes by 6 pm begins, and often fails. Then the drunken, scantily clad masses return to town, Vang Vieng's bars fill up in a rotating fashion, the sandwich/pancake stands multiply, and the streets gain a festival-esque atmosphere. Festival in the sense of drunken and wasted people wandering about in various degrees of ridiculous: like a music festival minus the bands and schedule, or a street festival without the performers and artisans.
Mushroom shakes of dubious effectiveness are available for only 50,000, the same price as two joints, a hash brownie, three to five beers, or a cup of opium tea. Prices do vary significantly, so it pays to do some investigative research. Space pizza is prominently advertised even in town, but more diverse special menus are in abundance across the river, where the late-night scene rages across shaky wood and bamboo bridges, at bars named Bucket, Rock, Smile, and Sunset. In the darkness there's bonfires and dance music, though the average sound-system was hardly tolerable even when relaxing in a hammock garden.
The days in Vang Vieng pass both slowly and quickly. Drinking and tubing, or just drinking, or drinking "something else" are the three top choices of activity. For sure, kayaking, caving, and hiking trips are available, but the town exists to soak up the malaise of travelers, no matter how worn or weary they might really be. Westerners come for a weekend visit and stay for weeks, bars accept volunteer workers in exchange for food, drink, and drug, and now (thankfully) Family Guy is an equally constant brain vortex alongside the traditional Friends.
The town itself seems to only serve the river, and its endless clientele. Remove all the guesthouses, restaurants, sandwich/shake shops, t-shirt vendors, and internet cafes, and remaining in the dust would be a 'Hopital,' a 'College Ethnique,' a post office, and a few other random buildings. Plus a pair of over-worked government-run ATMs, of course.
From one perspective you'd be a fool not to experience the drunken (and dangerous) delights of the relentless river party. Truly, where else in the world can you drink the afternoon away for about $10, ride endless water rides that never seem to have a line, and then go eat a cheap sandwich before continuing the debauchery at bars that don't close until dawn? Even the Full Moon Party doesn't offer the variety of entertainment and excess that the Laotian government has, somehow, allowed VV to get away with.
Is this real Laos? Not in the traditional sense, but for better or worse it's one aspect of the up-and-coming country, and hopefully completely sacrificing a town to tourism is well-worth the economic benefits despite the social costs. As Laos continues to develop and modernize, perhaps VV will eventually be phased out, in which case you owe it to yourself, or at least your inner-party-child, to go "Tubing In The Vang Vieng Laos."
Tube rental cost (if I remember correctly...) = 65,000 + 60,000 deposit. 20,000 late charge after 6pm.
We'll be running a new entry from Anderson and the team every week for the duration of their trip across Asia. We hope you find it an interesting view into what another's journey through Asia can be like. There's a delay of a few weeks between where they are and the story appearing on Travelfish, so if you want to know where they are right now, be sure to check out their blog. Comments, as always, are welcome.
Story by Anderson Muth
Related readingAn introduction
24 hours in Bangkok
Muay Thai night
Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
An Angkor cycling guide
Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
Cycles of all sorts
The hills of Vietnam
Ha Long Bay independently
The road less travelled
Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
Read 3 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (5)
- Burma (4)
- Cambodia (19)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (13)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (14)
- All stories
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- Malaysia (6)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (60)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (30)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (19)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (14)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (15)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.