TUBING IN VANG VIENG
After a layover in Luang Prabang drinking Mango shakes, eating chicken sandwiches and visiting the waterfalls we set off for another stunning drive through the mountains. Here we will be doing the infamous river tubing in Vang Vieng, known as Laos’ most dangerous attraction!
20 PEOPLE DIED IN 12 MONTHS
Initially we checked into a guesthouse for a night but didn’t like it at all so moved into a hostel the following day. There are plenty of places you find completely by luck and tonight was one of them. We innocently went to look for some food and ended up in a decent enough pizza place drinking beers, little did we know it was the infamous Milan Pizza spot. Casually minding our own business and keen for a few drinks and some food the waiter handed me the menu. It had everything, from joints to mushroom shakes to opium pizzas! Tonight proved not to be the chilled night we were all expecting and ended up continued on with the beers and going to a jungle party. It’s the Tubing tomorrow so we were keen to call it quits before the sun comes up!
WHERE IS VANG VIENG?
If you are coming from Chang Mai you have to do the 2 day boat trip down the Mekong River, its eye opening. See why here….
HOW TO GET TO VANG VIENG
There are many ways to get to to Vang Vieng, the most common is by the 3 day bus/slow boat from Chang Mai. I’ll admit it the sound of a 3 day transit doesn’t sell it well to anyone but I couldn’t recommend it enough. Check out my experience here. There are a number of agents who can arrange this but for extra security I always try and book through the hostel.
If you have less time, you can always go for the 2day bus/speedboat option. However I will warn you, I am yet to meet someone who enjoyed sitting for 8hrs in the metal position with a helmet on bumping up and down on the water.
Coming from Bangkok you have 2 options, the overnight train to Vientiane and a bus or simply fly into Luang Prabang if you want to avoid travel days altogether. If I were to do it again I would be all over the 3 day slow boat, it was so much fun. If you find it hard to meet people this will make it virtually impossible not too!
WHAT TO DO IN VANG VIENG
If you are not into doing the tubing or simply want to know what else is on offer there are a host of activities. Mountain climbing, hot air ballooning, quad biking, kayaking, trekking, caving and mountain biking to name a few. If you get out of the town centre its also a great place just to chill after a few crazy weeks on the South East Asia Backpacker Trail!
What a day the tubing turned out to be! Not many photos as I couldn’t be trusted with bringing my phone (for photos check out my friends page here). It’s basically a pub crawl with a rubber ring. My cousin done it in 2011 and there were about 30 bars down the river but with the mix of drink, drugs and bad decisions 20 people died that year. That’s almost 1 every other week in a town with only 20,000!
The problem is the seasonal changes in the water levels. During the wet season its general fine but still with an element of risk but during the dry season the river is only a foot deep in some places. So when people are using the swings, ziplines and slides (high on drink and sometimes drugs) they have no idea they are flying into a death trap.
Eventually the Laos government said enough was enough and tore down almost 20 bars only allowing 3 open each day. To be honest that just means you spend less time moving and more time in the bars. The locals couldn’t pour enough drink down out throats so I can only imagine the carnage if all 30bars, slides, zip lines and rope swings were all in operation.
So to start you are taken by jeep 4 miles up stream and slowly float back into town. As you get close to the bars the locals will throw a rope out to get you and your group in for some free shots and drinking games. Theres a seriously good vibe about the place gets crazy as the day goes on.
THE DEATH SLIDE
The bars main focus is just to outdo one another with the music, games and swings. One has a slide named the death slide and its appropriately named considered it caused its fair share of injuries. Add that to the shots, Sangsomg buckets and peer pressure it comes to no surprise that the Laos government intervened! From here the government revoked all licenses until further notice, demolished all slides, swings and platforms and any bars within 15mins of the river banks were told to be removed.
New rules were also put in place. Anyone renting a tube must wear a life jacket and start before 3pm and have them returned before 6. This is difficult to implement so deposits were only returned before 6pm, we obviously didn’t get ours back!
From the last bar a lot of people jump back into a taxi jeep to get into town again but we were keen to float back down the Nam Song river. Unfortunately we didn’t realise from the last bar it’s a good hour float back home in the dark, and when you reach the end it’s not exactly obvious. The river is surrounded by trees which makes the town easy to miss, not to mention its pitch dark and by that stage you are usually drunk, sleeping or have completely forgotten about having to stop.
A few people went missing a while back as they just continued on where the river runs further into the jungle. If it wasn’t for a fella on the riverbank shinning a torch to get our attention we would have never of known where to stop. Getting out of the river the fella only seemed interested in our rubber rings. It turned he was looking for discarded tubes in the hope of receiving the deposit. I’ll take losing my deposit over ending up floating to China any day!
After enjoying a few drinks at the finish line it was back to the Sakura bar where the bar staff play Clash of Clans whilst pouring pints but it’s the best place in town.
Tubing in Vang Vieng was brilliant fun but to go to Laos just for the tubing probably isn’t worth it considering the effort to get there. But the boat ride from Chang Mai or alternatively the overnight train from Bangkok all adds to the experience and becomes part of the reason which makes a visit to Laos completely unique and worthwhile. Adding this to the Waterfalls, tubing and plenty of other activities on offer makes Laos more and more of a must visit.
The day after the night before is never easy! Click here to read on.
SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
This episode is part of The South East Asia Series, click to see episode 1.
- Have you ever been to Laos or Vang Vieng, what did you think?
- Did you do tubing?
- Whats your favourite activity in South East Asia?
Let me know in the comments below . . .