This was the place that first sparked our interest in Laos when we were younger. A place of backpacker folklore. A crazy place where the parties are wild and centered around the town’s key activity – tubing! And what is not to love about this tubing? You get a big inflatable tube, use it to meander down the river and get pulled into bar after bar with cheap buckets, banging tunes, group drinking games and crazy water slides. Brilliant.
Well apparently not so brilliant as all this chaos led to lots of injured backpackers and unfortunately some deaths. The Laos government stepped in and helped Vang Vieng introduce an element of health and safety to the tubing adventures.
Nevertheless, we were sure it would still offer a chance for plenty of merriment, drinking games and partying on the water. So we put our drinking heads on and signed ourselves up for a day of tubing. Woohoo!
We chose a pickup time just after lunch as we wanted to ensure the party was in full flow by the time we would arrive at the first bar. And when the driver turned up two Maltese chaps from our hostel joined us – a good start as it was looking like it might be busy!
We got to the tubing center where we signed away all our rights in case of injury or death and they provided us with a tube. They also numbered the back of our hand. Now, the Maltese guys were numbered 4 and 5 and we were 6 and 7. Hmmm…it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this was most likely the customer count so far for the day. 7 people! Our hopes of turning up to a wild party were slowly diminishing.
We headed to the water with our tubes and got our journey underway with a graceful tube launch. The first bar was 100 meters down the river so it wasn’t long until the barworkers were throwing a plastic bottle attached to a rope at us to pull us into shore for our first drink.
The bar was like a graveyard of partying past. An old dancefloor left to rot, decaying rope swings and old concrete remains of deadly but fun apparatus. Not even the stereo was working. So we sat down with our new Maltese mates and had a drink. This is when we were told the sad news that now only three bars were allowed to open on the tubing route. This pub crawl was turning into a sorry state of affairs so there was only one thing to do. Get another drink and enjoy the company of our new mates.
The second bar was a five minute float down the river and some comedic relief was provided by Louise getting stuck in a small wirlpool. And things were looking up at this bar. Music was playing and they had beer pong tables! Woohoo. And after a hard fought beer pong game of England Vs Malta (Malta clinched it unfortunately) another group floated up and joined us.
With a critical mass of people we started to get the party going. Woohoo! More drinks flowed, dancing started and things were getting pretty wild. Untold wildness. Well, if you count mainly sitting down, chatting and shouting abuse at the passing canoeists as wild.
When the money was running out we decided it was time to move to the last bar at the end of the route. All of us got in our tubes and headed down the river together as a big floatilla singing songs and generally mucking about. It took about an hour to get to the last point where we struggled to catch the lines thrown to us by the men on the shore to much hilarity (hmmm…maybe those bucket cocktails were stronger than we anticipated!). But thankfully we made it.
We stayed at the last bar together until it got dark and then continued to party the night away with our new friends. What a great day tubing turned out to be.
The rest of our time in Vang Vieng was incredibly enjoyable. We spent a day with a hired moped visiting the Tham Poukham cave and blue lagoon. This was a worthwhile trip. The cave is huge! We took our own torches and spent a hour or so exploring the insides. It was quite disorienting inside as you climb your way through and watch out for sudden drops but it’s a whole lot of fun. And the blue lagoon provides a great place to cool off afterwards especially as it has a cool swing and tree to jump from.
Our final day in Vang Vieng was to be an alcohol free day so we strolled around the town. But then we bumped into a chap from Birmingham who had been having a bad time so decided to take him for a drink. Aussie Bar had an incredible beer offer on so we headed there for a quick one and ended up staying all evening talking rubbish to the owner Ozzy Steve and a sculptor Jacob. Great night. The only annoyance was that we had hoped to stay clear of booze, but the Birmingham lad led us astray…even though he only drank cola 😂
Whilst Vang Vieng is in the process of changing it’s image from mad party central to adventure sports capital there is still a lot of crazy fun to be had. It’s not as busy as it once was but find the right crowd and you can still let the good times roll…or float downstream at least.
Stay: we stayed at the Army Barracks hostel. It was a little gem of a place. Clean and well run, with free breakfast, free Laos Whisky and good priced meals and drinks. A good vibe to the pace.
Drink: After a great night chatting to the owner and the other customers (well customer really) we loved Aussie Bar. The drinks were really cheap and the banter was good. Sakura Bar hosts wild nights fuelled by free booze.
Eat: Vang Vieng has a bad rep for it’s restaurants, however, we think that is a little unfair as there are some jems. We really liked the Bamboo Tree and found ourselves eating there on more than one occasion. The popular Sakura Bar also has a restaurant at a separate location imaginatively called Sakura 2 Restaurant, the name makes it busy but we thought the food was pretty poor. Stephen, the owner of Aussie Bar, boasts of having the best sausages and burgers in town – give it a try and see what you think!
Do: Tu-be, or not Tu-be? Tu-be! Grab a group at your hostel, take loads of dosh for booze and party at the bars in-between floating down the river. It might not be what it was but you’ll love it. Also, hire a moped and visit some of the blue lagoons and caves, well worth the trip.
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