Mekong River is one of the world`s greatest rivers and, at the same time, one of the most adventurous. The river and its side channels offer fantastic conditions for water activities. Vang Vieng – a small town at the heart of Laos – is stretching along the banks of Nam Song River whose waters eventually join the Mekong.
At first sight, it is a pretty placid place; no one would expect this peaceful fishing village to be ‘the party capital’ of South-East Asia. What draws the party lovers to Vang Vieng is the river. Indeed, one can have tremendous fun drifting down the Mekong`s murky waters. However, it can also be a ‘risky business’…
I had heard too many dreadful stories about this tiny, yet scandalous town while travelling in Southeast Asia. Therefore, I decided to give it a try and take a look at the place with my own eyes.
VANG VIENG – A TUBING PARADISE
Vang Vieng has become a “party mecca” for all backpackers for a very particular sort of amusement – river tubing. It is this simple: you rent a tube and they drive you upstream river to the main drop off point. That is where the ‘madness’ starts and there is no way back. From now on, you will be floating down a milky-brown river, encircled by dense jungle, muddy pools with zip lines, water-slides and rope swings.
WHY IS THE TUBING ROUTE SO POPULAR
The 4 km-long tubing route could be done within just an hour if … if it was not all about drinking. To be more exact, there are several bamboo-structured bars along the banks of the river from both sides and their staff will be more than happy to help you to get out of the river, here and there, throwing you a thick rope to hold on and pulling you out.
The purpose of this “excursion” is to get drunk as much as possible stopping from bar to bar on your way to the finishing point, where you have to manage to get out of the river – this time completely by yourself, otherwise, you will end up castaway in the middle of nowhere.
The riverside bars often offer cool music, free shots, a huge variety of drinking games. Besides they sell soft drugs. Already the fact that whisky is served in buckets indicates that it would not be ordinary fun.
THE NOTORIOUS “DEATH SLIDE”
Strong current, too much alcohol and no safety measures is a combination which can cause a serious damage, especially when carelessly and overconfidently jumping to a vigorous river.
The name “Death Slide” speaks for itself. The ill-famed slide had claimed too many casualties before it gained its nickname. There were cases of young people who died of having cracked their head open after hitting one of the river rocks or garbage, hidden in murky waters of the Mekong River. It was not just the death slide, however, that caused troubles; some others drowned because they were not able to fight the current or simply had too many drinks to be able to swim to the bank. And there was a plenty of the “luckier” ones who “only” got injured or had their belongings disappeared in the brown waves.
After all those incidents, the slide of death was removed and the tubing was closed in 2012. But not for too long. A new safety plan was introduced and the tubing paradise quickly re-opened.
Today, there is more safety, fewer slides and less alcohol and the visitors can enjoy Vang Vieng tubing in a bit different light… I mean “Same Same but Different” 🙂
VANG VIENG TUBING TODAY
I visited Vang Vieng in 2015, and naturally, having heard so many bad reviews about the tubing, I was reasonably prejudiced. However, my sceptical attitude did not last for too long. To be honest, I have never had so much fun in my entire life. After a few “buckets” of the local liqueur, I was floating down the murky river, along with the dense vegetation, riverside bars with mud pools and swings.
There are currently 5-6 taverns operating – and I can tell you that is more than enough! Drifting downstream the brown river, surrounded by all those naive bamboo and rope structures, kind of brought me back to the movie “The Return of Tarzan”.
Although I did not succumb to some of the ‘temptations’ of the whole tubing experience (and perhaps that`s why) I not only survived the day without any dramas but also I truly enjoyed every single moment. Vang Vieng Tubing is a totally recommended adventure.
So, use your common sense and have fun!
USEFUL TIPS FOR TUBING
WHEN TO GO
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Luang Prabang (via Vientiane) and get a shuttle bus/minivan to Vang Vieng (about 6-hour trip)
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