Tubing in Vang Vieng, is it all done and dusted with? Once the perennial South East Asian backpacker piss up party town, it was THE place to sit in an old decrepit rubber ring, float down a beautiful river of which you will take little notice, use you mates faces as a canvas for your new found love of fluorescent art, drink beer and whisky whilst getting shit faced in the process and then make ill advised decisions to jump at great heights from any structure that couldn’t be any less stable unless built by toddlers jacked up on rusks using only second hand meccano.
… or at least that’s how it used to be.
April 2013 and I land down in Vang Vieng where in if truth be told, I have no idea what to expect. Would the whole place be on a massive come down after the government enforced a major crackdown upon its much loved/loathed (delete as applicable) tubing scene? Would I find a ghost town? Would I find a few backpackers going against the grain and desperately trying to keep the party alive?
Well actually, what I found in my opinion was quite a cool, pretty little town with plenty still to do despite lacks of party bars along the river.
I’ve heard stories of people from each ‘side’, some claiming that there is now no reason to stop off in Vang Vieng now that the tubing is ‘finished’, others claiming that only now is it worth stopping in Vang Vieng. What either side in my opinion has failed to grasp is that there is so much more to this little town than backpackers getting pissed up on a river.
Exhibit A: Tubing
A funny one to start on I agree, especially after the opening few paragraphs I reeled off there, but despite what people say, tubing down the river is still operating and yes it is totally worth it. Whilst the main event is over, tubing in its simplest form lives on, and it is glorious, very much like a scenic lazy river. We spent 3 sun soaked hours floating down that glorious river and loved every minute of it. Were we drunk? No. Were we on drugs? No.
There are now just a couple of bars, nothing to get too excited about and at the same time, nothing to get your knickers in a twist about. During the whole 3 hours we spent on that river we had 1 beer between Esther and I. The bars that lined river we small, pretty quiet and more focused on relaxing than partying. I’m not saying everyone stopped at one beer, but I didn’t see anything paralytic and passed out on the floor. People seemed more interested in lying in a hammock or playing volleyball.
These few bars that are in operation are referred to locally as ‘pirate bars’ which we think basically means they’re illegal and shouldn’t be there. In fact we’re pretty sure of this because whilst kicking back in a hammock in one bar the owner suddenly came bounding in, panic all over his face and basically threw everyone out whilst screaming ‘the police are coming, the police are coming’. No matter, back in our tubes and off down the river we went.
Even if the tubing thing doesn’t really appeal, but the river does to some extent, why not just go kayaking instead?
Exhibit B: Bike riding
Vang Vieng is not a big place, within a few short minutes you could be out and peddling your way through some pretty epic surrounding countryside. At a rough cost of 40,000 KIP for a full days rental of a mountain bike its hardly bad value either. There’s caves a plenty in the area to explore and a popular bike ride in the area is to the …
Exhibit C: The Blue Lagoon
Ah now this place is a little gem, not a hidden gem by any stretch, but worth a bit of peddle power in order to get to (or take a tuk tuk). Note that if you do take a tuk tuk your driver will probably take you across a tole bridge and ask you to pay, its unlikely the tole is included in the price they have quoted you to reach the lagoon.
Upon arrival you will have to pay a small entrance fee, but you certainly get bang for you buck, or in this case KIP. The Lagoon is beautiful little spot when you swim, tan, burn, jump from great heights, have a drink, play volleyball etc etc. Its almost like a little beach resort, just without any sand.
If you feel a few itches in your feet and have the urge to do something a little more energetic with your time rather than just lounge around, the lagoon has that covered too. Up what I can describe as being a lite version of the stairs to Mordor, there lies the Phu Kham cave to be explored, complete with gold reclining budha. Torches are on rent from a small stall at the bottom of the stairs and arent a completed rip off, but if you have a torch simply take your own.
Exhibit D: The Views
As with getting to the Blue Lagoon, there are two options for getting amazing views over Vang Vieng. Hot Air Ballooning in Vang Vieng may not adhere to all the safety standards taken in more western countries, but if things like the lack of a safety briefing before a flight don’t worry you so much the views are almost unparalleled at either sunrise or sunset.
If you’re a little more safety conscious, not a friend of heights, or a bit wary of both why not keep your feet on the ground and instead take a hike? The Paa Bouak Hill Climb, just a short distance from town is said to offer great views over the surrounding area at the cost of a small entrance fee. Unfortunately I never made it to the hill so cannot give my personal opinion on the views, or what the current charge is. Sorry. The view from dinner wasnt too bad though.
Some more info on tubing in Vang Vieng
So there you have just a couple of reasons why Vang Vieng is not a destination to skip over. But anyway, back to the theme of this post, tubing in Vang Vieng. If you are interested in a spot of tubing once you hit Vang Vieng, here’s a few snippets of info taken from our visit in 2013. These could obviously change in the future, but for now could be worth noting …
- The tubing is now all organised through one single office located next to the internet cafe, near the non-toll bamboo bridge. That probably wont mean a lot to you so check out this very useful hobomap of Vang Vieng and look for the dude in a tube floating on the river. The rental office just to the right of that little chap.
- Tubing itself costs 120,000 KIP, but you will get a chunk of that back if you get your tube back to the office by a specific time …
a) Arrive back before 6pm and receive 60,000 KIP back
b) Arrive back after 6pm and receive 40,000 KIP back
c) Arrive back after 8pm and receive 0 KIP back
- The tubing office states that you should allow 2 hours for your tubing experience, I would say double that. Part of me cant help but think its purposely a little miss guiding so more people than not tend to lose a little of their deposit.
- The water is both very shallow and very deep in parts. Its easy to understand why there were so many accidents.
- For those of you that aren’t wonderful at swimming, or just not particularly confident in the water, life jackets are available.
Some more info on Vang Vieng in 2013
I like to plan ahead to some extent and so always do a bit of background reading before heading to a new destination. I get that some people like to do the opposite and do nothing in advance, just go with the flow on the day, but certain things such as transport and money always plague my mind with worries. So if you’re like me and like just a little info to go on before your arrival in Vang Vieng, here are just a few snippets that might be of use …
- Mini bus from Vientiane is 4 hrs, costs 40,000 KIP per person
- Mini bus from Luang Prabang is 6 hrs (very bumpy), costs 80,000 KIP per person
- With any journey to/from Vang Vieng there will be a toilet stop, but it will cost you 1000-2000 KIP for the privilege.
- Dress code in town – basically cover up. Don’t just strut around in your bikini or board shorts.
- ATMs in town – Yes, but they all charge for withdrawals
- Meal prices average between 20,000 and 40,000 KIP for a local dish. Western food is available but more expensive.
- Average beer price is around 10,000 KIP
- Bottles of water can be found for as little as 2000 KIP, but these bottles are not re-sealable. Best for just gulping down on the spot.
- Free Wifi is everywhere
- Internet cafe has CD burning and Skype facilities
- Bike hire is roughly 30,000 – 50,000 KIP for the day depending on what type of bike you get
- Hot air balloon ride was 650,000 KIP per person for a 45 minute ride
- There is a tourist info building in town, but it shuts for a couple of hours around lunch time
The decline in river side bars where you can drink yourself silly and have a random draw an fluorescent penis on your newly acquired Beer Lao vest should not put you off visiting VV in my opinion. There are still the bars showing friends and family guy on repeat, still the baguette and pancake stalls lining the streets of an evening, and there are still a few parties in town. But so what? … and its not as if they are now the only things left in Vang Vieng, there’s so much more.
Laos and Cambodia Video
There’s a spot of Vang Vieng footage in this short video I made, skip to around 1.00 if you’re interested … or you could make me do big happy faces by watching the whole thing.
Example of big happy face … :D