The backpacker’s guide to tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos
On the face of it, tubing sounds like one of the most rubbishy, touristy things you can do – something for the uncultured among us travellers. You couldn’t be more wrong, it’s a rite of passage for backpackers, something you simply cannot pass through Laos without taking part in and trust me, you’re bound to have an amazing time. I haven’t met a single person – travellers from all over the world, from all kinds of backgrounds – who hasn’t had a good time. The people of Vang Vieng seem to have little patience for us drunken tourists, and who can blame them, but quite frankly they make plenty of money out of us visiting and taking part so it all evens out. So what is tubing? Basically, you stick your bikini on, head to the tubing station to pick up a tube and jump on a tuk tuk which takes you to the river with your friends where you chuck in your tube and start floating down to the first bar. Now some of you may know there used to be countless bars open along the river before two Australians died, now it is just five at a time, but they alternate the bars to keep it interesting. I did tubing twice in my week there and ended up going to two different sets of bars – all boasting different drinks deals, different freebies, different music, and different games.Before writing this post I did a bit of reading up on other blogs, news articles and other websites about tubing and the problems it has faced in the past – it seems there have been a lot of other deaths (full figures unknown but over 30 I read) plus a lot of injuries to drunk, drugged up and downright stupid tourists. So I completely understand why the police had to step in and close it all down – which as mentioned in a couple of blog posts, reduced Vang Vieng to a ghost town. But while most of them advised readers to just go for the scenery, the hot air ballooning, the caves etc instead of for a party, but I couldn’t disagree more. Now I do agree that all the partying is pretty bad tourism and there is no excuse for being disrespectful to the locals by walking around in bikinis or being wasted all the time, but I can also see the other side of it. The locals make a great deal of money off us tourists through food, drink, tubing, tuk tuks and the rest – without this, I’m sure the town would really struggle to make money. I think that as long as you follow some basic steps of human decency to avoid seriously offending anyone, and don’t take things to a stupid level, there’s no reason why we can’t all have an awesome time!
How to survive tubing:
- Don’t start the day much later than 12pm, by the time you have paid and got your tubes to the bar it will be 1pm and you want to make sure you get your tubes back by 6pm to get your deposit back – it takes much longer than the two hours they say to get round the bars.
- Eat! You are basically going on an all day bender and you would be a bloody idiot not to line your stomach with something. By not doing this you’re just being a selfish idiot who will rely on their friends to pick them up and clear up their sick later.
- Don’t pre-drink! You really don’t need to when you will be going around five bars, getting free shots, drinking all day then partying into the night as well. Perspective – you wanna make it to the end or miss the whole day cos you passed out?
- Be respectful – the whole lads on tour thing might seem funny to you, but swearing and shouting at the locals, walking around in trunks or bikinis, none of this will help our relationship with the locals. It’s their country – remember that. Cover yourself up with a long vest (available everywhere) at all times.
- Get yourself one of the plastic wallets that go round your neck for your money and keys, or smokes, they’re great at keeping everything dry. I wouldn’t recommend taking a camera or phone unless waterproof. My camera was waterproof so I couldn’t resist taking it with me, but I know others who damaged their camera in the water when drunk.
- Don’t take flip flops – you don’t need them and will only lose them in the water. The bars are pretty good for no broken glass or anything like that, just watch yourself on the rocks in the water. Trust me, it’s easier without shoes.
- If you’re a bit tight for money, you can get away with taking your own booze with you to drink on the tubes or to add to mixers in the bars, I know a few people who did this to save on buying drinks. You do also get lots of free whiskey shots.
- Join in all the games and have the best time – everything from mud wrestling to boxing, volleyball, basketball, football, beer pong, card games – the list is endless and so much fun! Some of the bars play organises games like flip cup and musical tubes but often you’re free just go do what you want. Some of the bars even had awesome music, something that was seriously lacking in the rest of Asia!
- Don’t do silly things like jumping off rocks where the water is too shallow or full of stones, your only ruining things for yourself and others. Only jump of you know it is safe – we made sure the water was deep enough and checked with the guy in charge of the bar before jumping. Likewise, don’t take drugs. You stand out a mile off because this is a pub crawl and it’s much more fun to drink and be on the same level as everyone else. Nobody wants to deal with someone who is tripping on mushrooms or acid as they float down the river – don’t be a liability or a statistic.
- Always keep money for the tuk tuk back to town – the taxi drivers are pretty unhelpful if you’re a bit short and try to hold up the tuk tuks so you won’t get your deposit, so if you want it, give yourself plenty of time to get back and have the money.
- When you get back – reward yourself for surviving with one of those baguettes, a good shower to get the mud off and head out for round two! Sakura will have free drinks from 8-9pm!
Tubing was a brilliant day out – it wasn’t cultured at all and I got very drunk. But heck, that’s what life is about sometimes – you’ve read all about the temple visits, volunteering and sightseeing I’ve done, but sometimes a girl needs to cut loose and get wasted with her friends. For those who think tubing ruins Vang Vieng, I disagree, it’s just a different kind of travelling experience and I’m determined to enjoy them all. It was a great way to meet people and to have fun with a huge group of friends I had made, friends who have lasted long beyond one drunken day on the river. If that’s not worth doing it for then I don’t know what is!
Have you been tubing – what did you think? Tubing’s not for you – why not?