When you hear of Laos, specifically Vang Vieng, the first thing most people think of is tubing. It became a must-do on every backpacker’s list, but due to a horrifically high number of deaths, it has now been banned. Tourists have ruined this town’s biggest attraction and income by getting too drunk and doing dangerous things. However, it’s still a beautiful area and easily explored by motorbike, if you can deal with them breaking down constantly.
Tubing in Vang Vieng
If I had to sum up tubing in three words I would say ‘drunk, dangerous, fun’. It was also my 22nd birthday, so we really went for it.
We rented our inner tubes in town and a truck drove us to the first bar. As we crossed the bridge over the river to Q Bar we could see just how dangerous this could be with too much alcohol and not enough common sense. The water was high and moving very fast, but this didn’t stop us diving in after a few drinks to make our way downstream.
As we passed each bar we were thrown a rope with a heavy weight on the end, if you could grab it in time they pulled you in and up onto the platforms for all the free whiskey shots and buckets of vodka Redbull you could handle. Back in the water, it got harder to swim, but we kept laughing as we got pulled into the next bar.
This one had a huge platform to jump off and an even higher rope swing. They didn’t tell us to watch out for floating debris, a girl hit a tree trunk floating by in the water and almost shattered her hip. Back in the water again and we ignored the shouts and lines and just enjoyed floating down the river until seeing a sign for the ‘last bar’. Not many people made it that far so we took it over, covered ourselves in spray paint and danced to the music.
When we realised how late it was we floated downriver for a long time. The water moves so fast but it’s a long way back to town and there are only so many points you can get out, so we bailed and luckily got a truck back to Vang Vieng, all in one piece and all very drunk. We spent the rest of the night drinking and dancing our way around town.
It was an incredible day, a birthday I’ll never forget, but I can understand why it got banned. It would be so easy to get too drunk and drown, or get hit by debris, or get swept away downriver because the current was too strong to fight it. Don’t avoid Vang Vieng just because you can’t get drunk in a river, go and enjoy everything else it has to offer.
What else is there?
Our favourite part of the town itself was the TV bars. There are Family Guy bars, Mr Bean bars, Friends bars, where you can just sit back and watch these shows for 24 hours a day while binging on food and beer. It really is the lazy backpacker’s paradise, and a great way to ignore your hangover. We had a Family Guy bar opposite our hotel, Sisavang Guesthouse, that we spent most of our time in.
Get out of town
If you can bare to rent a motorbike than will undoubtedly break down at least twice, then it will be worth it to see what the surrounding countryside has to offer.
As you drive up into the hills you can see the vast plains flooded with water from the heavy rainy season, remote little villages with people always smiling and willing to fix your bike, and hidden beauties like the Blue Lagoon swimming hole at the base of Tham Phu Kham cave, which you can enter in search of the shrine hidden in the dark.
There are mountains shrouded in mist and rice paddies as far as the eye can see, plenty of photo opportunities and that’s the freedom of renting a motorbike, you can go as far as it will allow you before you break down so many times that you give up and get towed back to town…
*BONUS ROUND* How many times did we break down?
The answer is A LOT. We had a ton of drama and when we eventually gave up on our adventure and took the bikes back complaining about the amount of money we had to spend to fix each one of them the owner kicked off and threatened us, calling his pals on their bikes dressed in army fatigues with guns strapped to their backs. Don’t mess with the locals here. They probably hate you.
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