Laos: Tubing in Vang Vieng

Tubing in Vang Vieng is something that has been attracting tourists for years, specifically young backpackers. It’s known for being… wild party meets lazy river. Bars line the Mekong for tubers to stop off and buy beer, listen to music, and dance on their way down. There was a time when over 20,000 tourists would come to tube in Vang Vieng, but with the bars (who allegedly sold drugs under the table) as the main attraction along a fast moving river, now filled with stupid drunk people, a few fatal accidents resulted in the Laotian government shutting it down.
Now, Vang Vieng is an empty town filled with too many guest houses at dirt cheap prices due to the lack of volume of tourists to fill them. We managed to find a hostel that is a shared 4 bed with one bathroom between the 6 girls, but it’s 15,000 kip ($1.90) a night, and very clean, sooooo I actually don’t care about the shared space.

We get a quick breakfast before all meeting up outside the hostel. The 6 of us girls are all a little on edge before we get our food, just from being tired and hungry. We agreed to meet up by 11 but it’s impossible to get 20 people together at a specific time (also a reason to be on edge) so I think by the time we’re actually on our way to rent tubes, it’s 12:30. All I bring is my camera and enough money to rent a tube, so I have no concept of time without my phone to use as a clock.

We’re all a little disappointed that there aren’t as many tubers or anything to do along the river anymore, but with such a big group of us going it doesn’t really matter because we will just bring the fun with us!

We all cheer up on our way to the rental place. We rent our tubes, and get a tuk tuk up to the start of the river. Many push-ups are done on the rocky ground, due to the game of life, as everyone is trying to figure out which tube belongs to whom.

The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. We’re surrounded by lush green mountains, a beautiful blue sky and shining sun. The river itself is brown and dirty, but the current is strong from a quick rain the night before which makes the tubes move quicker. I hear it’s supposed to take us 2 hours to get down to the end of the river. That’s a very long time spent in a bikini in the sun…and I forgot sunscreen. Whoops. I try to use my tank top to cover my shoulders and chest for some of the ride so that I don’t burn. About half way down the river my tube gets swept into a different current and pushed to the shore. As I’m paddling my way back out to the group, I drop my camera in the water somewhere. The camera is shock proof, freeze proof, dust proof, and waterproof, but does NOT float, nor does it glow in the dark, which is what I need in the murky brown river. Ilona and one of the guys get out of their tubes to help me look for it, but the bottom where I lost it is rocky and we can’t see a thing. I am devastated that I lost it, but I knew it was a possibility when we got in the tubes and I was ready to risk it. I have basically given up looking and am ready to float on down the river in my sorrows, when Ilona traces over the camera with her foot and rescues it from the dirty brown abyss. I am elated and take a picture of her to celebrate. The camera still works perfectly! Life is good.

We make it to the bottom of the river where we are met by naked children swimming, excitedly shouting to us and motioning to the shore so we know we’ve arrived. We put our clothes back on to go back into town, even though we’re absolutely soaked and it’s super uncomfortable, but we don’t want to offend the locals. One of the girls has her clothes in someone else’s bag who hasn’t come down the river yet, and she walks through Vang Vieng in just her bikini. She doesn’t think it’ll be so bad but… it’s not chill. She’s harassed to cover up by many of the locals. I feel awkward and embarrassed just walking next to her. Full of shame, even though I’m clothed.
Good news though! I made it 2 hours down the river without getting sunburned, and I even get a bit of a tan, what upppp!?

We all dry off and clean up then meet to go out for dinner, where I order a small noodle soup with chicken and vegetables. It comes in a bowl bigger than my head, chopsticks and a spoon. I have to use both to get the noodles and the broth… It’s all very confusing, but the soup is great.
After dinner we walk over to the local Irish bar (one in every city in the world, I swear) and get one drink in before 11:30 when the bar shuts down. Not everyone is tired or ready to sleep yet, but there is nothing to do and nowhere to go so a group of us sit outside our guesthouse on a picnic table chatting and listening to music until 2am, when I get tired and go upstairs to bed.

We are all parting ways after tomorrow, and everyone is sad to have to leave such a good group of friends behind, so we try to make the most of it while we can.

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