Once one of the most popular tourist attractions in South East Asia, the glory days of tubing in Laos are long gone, making it difficult to fully complete my list of 100 things to try before I die. You can still head down to Vang Vieng and have a good time, but just don’t expect the party atmosphere it once had. The countries failure to handle the removal of the tubing facilities has meant tourism in the area has all but disappeared.
The Nam Song river was where it all took place, accommodating around 300 people per day along the river, on top of rubber dingies, as well as flying in from swings, zip lines and various other hand-built equipment. In fact, a quite incredible 170,000 tourists were visiting this destination every year, not bad considering it wasn’t gaining a fraction of this number a decade ago. However its transformation from a riverside village to the ‘greatest party town in the world’ was surprisingly quick, as word travelled fast among the ‘gringo’s’.
Why Was It Banned
Throw a huge amount of people into a river, load them up on drinks and serve them on riverside bars and what do you think will happen. The exact number of deaths has never been fully admitted, however it is believed there were about 20 deaths per year, almost always based on drunken tourists failing to swim to shore when getting quite far down the river.
This was always a disaster waiting to happen and something had to be done by the government at some point, however completely ridding the area does feel upsetting for myself.
Can I Still Tube
Yes you can, it won’t be a giant party with hundreds of other tourists, with music blaring out, but you can still jump onto a dingie and get an occasional beer along the way. The main bars now though are just at the start and the end, with 90% of the illegally setup bars on the riverside completely removed.
The End Of The River
When you go tubing, you are told staff members will throw you ropes to help pull you in. Sadly, they are lieing. The only time staff will throw rope to you is when they are trying to tempt you towards a bar. This is where so much of the danger occurs, as many people are dragged off along the river way too far and end up in danger. This also highlights a secondary issue, you still have to walk all the way back to where you got your tube from, to ensure you get your deposit and all your items back.
Be very careful of staff scamming tourists and being violent if you stand up to them. This has largely been an issue for female tourists, with many telling me they were physically attacked when refusing to pay fines for absolutely no reason. A common excuse is that they haven’t brought back their dingies, when staff members have offered to bring them back. As you place a deposit when you start, they use this as an opportunity to keep your money and have been known to fight in order to protect it. Obviously, bigger or more intimidating you are, less likely they will take the piss, but if you are drunk then you should expect to be hustled.
Lack Of Security
I know this isn’t overly uplifting to read the last few points, but it does have to be highlighted. The staff members aren’t their for your safety, they are there to help you get onto the river and then drag you to bars along the way. When people have been in trouble before, they have regularly been ignored by staff members. They will rarely help you if you are in trouble and if you have falled asleep on your tube then you better hope another tourist spots you.
I’m saying this to keep you aware, have a few beers and have fun, but be aware your life is in your hands.
Why So Drunk
I’m known to get a little too drunk when staying in hostels and travelling around the world, but the level of alcohol inside many of these tourists reaches ridiculous levels. The reasons are based on the highly alcoholic beverages available, with cocktails made largely from free pouring vodka. Shots were served everywhere at crazily cheap prices, while many people are on cocaine and various other drugs.
Every single tuber is offered a life jacket before they get in the river by a member of staff. Sadly, due to arrogance and pride, a huge amount of people refuse one, which is a large reason for the death rate Laos used to witness. All I can say is don’t be a moron, just throw one on, even if it doesn’t look as cool in pictures.
As I previously mentioned, the income from tourism was a huge boost for the area, helping to transform the lives of local residents, however as quickly as it came, it all left, leaving the locals without a job. With visitor rates down by around 75%, it is sad that the removal of the bars, as well as the slack safety measures in place has meant this must-do activity has largely become a thing of the past.
This isn’t to say all the bars in Vang Vieng have shut down, many bars around town are actually succeeding with the illegal bars along the river closing down, driving many people to head towards the village instead.
What Else Can You Do
I think this is an important section, as there are plenty of activities to try in Vang Vieng. Whether it’s rock climbing, kayaking or riding a motorbike, there are plenty of things to try as well as tubing, so I’d recommend visiting the area, but just be cautious.
- Bring a waterproof bag. I wouldn’t recommend bringing any electronic devices, but if you have any items of value, you wouldn’t want to leave it with the staff. Be careful though, many bought in the area will break easily, so try to buy one back home and bring it along with you.
- MAKE SURE you get back to the place you got the tube from before 6pm, as after this time you will incur a penalty and after 8pm you won’t get a penny back from your deposit.
- If you start to early, there won’t be as many tourists there, so it won’t be as exciting if you are still going for the party atmosphere.
- Join a pub crawl group along the river, as you float along with an organised group. This offers you a great opportunity to meet others and also to play drinking games such as beer pong.
- Don’t bring along anything you really care about…you will lose it
- Float constantly and it takes about 3 hours to float along the river. So be aware of the time and every stop you take, as it will all build up.
- If you can’t swim, find something else to do, this isn’t for you.