Will tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos change for the better or worse?

Tubing – the ever so popular backpacker activity in Vang Vieng, Laos. It’s party haven. What’s tubing you ask? You grab yourself a water tube and simply float along the river. Along the river however there are several bars in which you swim yourself over to with your tube. Each bar has it’s own activities and theme. Some bars may have swings, zip lines, music, or mud pits which are an absolute blast. The drinks are affordable and some bars even give you free shots of tiger whiskey for no apparent reason. Main town area has several affordable guest houses to pick from. Sandwiches made from the street stalls are addictive and cheap. Then you have the nightlife with several bars to choose from for a great night out.

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos, 2007

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos, 2007 by tommytastic

What’s so bad about this?

Over the years more guest houses have been built, more bars along the river, and more backpackers have been attending. The community knows what backpackers want and have been reacting accordingly to suit the needs of the foreigners. Most restaurants and bars offer “special” shakes and weed but this is strictly illegal in Laos. The police knows who’s selling it so why don’t they bust them because they’ve been paid off. It’s all for money. Every foreigner the police catches doing illegal drugs outside the restaurant or bar pays a fine of 5,000,000KIP which usually they pocket because even the fine can be bargained down.

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos, 2007

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos, 2007 by tommytastic

Then there’s the dangers itself of the bars along the river. The popular first swing on the river jumps off from a very shallow part of the water. Many injures accorded while I was there from people hitting the bottom of the water. The liquid courage gets everyone pretty motivated to try it anyway as I did as well. Then there’s the mud pit bar and if you been drinking then by this point you are most likely drunk. The mayhem of pushing, shoving, and throwing mud at everyone makes you feel like a little kid at a toy store. It’s quite fun and of course quite dangerous. It is physically impossible to make it from one end of the bar to the other without falling at least two times flat on your face. Several bruises for the next day. Then comes one of the last bars which has a slide. Popular for its stories of many deaths that have occurred due to stupidity and slide itself while sliding down.

Last are the foreigners themselves. Packed with an age group in the teens and young 20’s. It seemed as if there were more foreigners then there were locals. An example of what I’m trying to say… I saw a young man buy a sandwich from a street stall, took one bite, then threw it on the ground and walked away.

Vang Vieng Tubing Menu

Vang Vieng Tubing Menu by Nolan Betterley

How much longer will Laos allow this kind of nature to occur? Will it continue to expand? Are the locals giving in to this because it draws money? Does the madness of tubing and unsafe environment make it more fun?

41 Comments

  1. Dave and Deb on July 10, 2009 at 11:52 am

    That is too bad what Vang Vieng is turning into. We were there at New Years 2004. It sounds like things have changed dramatically. The tubing and bars there then, but it wasn’t near as crazy or busy. What we liked about Vang Vieng was the fact that it was so quiet. We celebrated new years around a camp fire with a local artist and when we booked a kayaking trip, there was only us and one other person on the trip. I hate seeing things become ruined by irresponsible tourism. Good debate you have started here.

    • Skylab on July 11, 2009 at 9:50 am

      Vang Vieng can in fact still be quiet but it requires you to get out of the town to like the Blue Lagoon which was perfect.

      • Fredsimpson on August 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm

        Please be careful, my friend went for a swim here in a quiet part of the river, completely unaware of the 4 metres above usual level due to the rains and sadly drowned. Lonely planet state that 1 person a year drowns in Vang Vieng, in actual fact 15 tourists a year and that’s not mentioning the locals. The same day my friend passed, 4 locals did too. The dangers are so hidden, then when something tragic happens, the police brush it under the carpet and treat devastated family like dirt. It can be prevented, just be aware and be careful.

      • Fredsimpson on August 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

        Please be careful, my friend went for a swim here in a quiet part of the river, completely unaware of the 4 metres above usual level due to the rains and sadly drowned. Lonely planet state that 1 person a year drowns in Vang Vieng, in actual fact 15 tourists a year and that’s not mentioning the locals. The same day my friend passed, 4 locals did too. The dangers are so hidden, then when something tragic happens, the police brush it under the carpet and treat devastated family like dirt. It can be prevented, just be aware and be careful.

  2. Daniel on July 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Wow. That blows my mind. I was there in 2002. And tubing existed, but wasn’t nearly as organized and crowds were nonexistent. It’s a a shame, really. As my travels in Laos were among my favourite. I hope that Luang Prabang is still as beautiful and sleepy as ever!

    • Skylab on July 11, 2009 at 9:48 am

      I loved Luang Prabang! It's still got that vibe 🙂

  3. tomclinton on July 17, 2009 at 1:33 am

    great action pics guys…

  4. laurenmcc on August 16, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Hey, I was in Vang Vieng with my friends in November of 2007, and we loved it so much we came back for our final 2 weeks in South East Asia in February. Its busy, but honestly, in my opinion, it is the funnest place on the planet! The people there are awsome, zip lines, rope swings, and now a huge slide that launches you at least 20 feet in the air…I cant think of a better paradise!

  5. laurenmcc on August 16, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Hey, I was in Vang Vieng with my friends in November of 2007, and we loved it so much we came back for our final 2 weeks in South East Asia in February. Its busy, but honestly, in my opinion, it is the funnest place on the planet! The people there are awsome, zip lines, rope swings, and now a huge slide that launches you at least 20 feet in the air…I cant think of a better paradise!

  6. Davepoulin on July 2, 2010 at 8:06 am

    This is tubing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtqSMFZ9VBI

    • Michael on July 2, 2010 at 8:45 am

      Impressive video! Good times.. Good times…

  7. Davepoulin on July 2, 2010 at 9:06 am

    This is tubing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtqSMFZ9VBI

    • Michael on July 2, 2010 at 9:45 am

      Impressive video! Good times.. Good times…

  8. Aaron's Worldwide Adventures on November 6, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Ugg I was in Vang Vieng in March and absolutely despised it for all the reasons listed here. That and it’s nearly impossible to find a decent place to eat as every restaurant serves the same crappy overpriced food (even the Lao food I had wasn’t good) that it becomes a matter of which TV show you’d rather watch while you eat! I was one of the few people there who actually tubed the whole way (which, of course, takes you back to Vang Vien only to be accosted by Lao children trying to “reel you in.” Every night after dark, multiple tuk tuk’s would come back to town, their roofs piled high with inner tubes and chock full of totally wasted backpackers who wandered the streets of Vang Vieng making huge fools of themselves. It was just disguisting and incredibly disrespectful!

    • Elliot on August 16, 2011 at 11:10 pm

      How is this disrespectful? this is the service that this country provides and quite simply without backpackers flocking in to take advantage of it, the country would see an incredible loss of income through tourists dollars! we are funding their lives through having fun

      • Michael on August 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm

        It still doesn’t make it right…
        What you are saying is that the Lao people should sacrifice their lives and culture so they can bring in tourists as if there is no other way to raise money but to do this.

    • Stuartbonds007 on October 28, 2011 at 9:43 pm

      You must be that up tight mate. Overpriced food pft. $3-$4 a feed is a bargain anywhere. This is there income. Come party, meet like minded ppl. I met some great ppl in Laos found the locals more than accommodating and the night life awesome. What are you doing in a party town looking down on those who are enjoying themselves??? I loved it, loved it that much I organized a group of 8 to go back in feb 2012. Cant wait. $3 a day for a motor bike and u can go get as lost as u like go caving, go fishing. Learn the history, go eat at a farm. Ppl like u need stay away…

      • Michael on October 31, 2011 at 9:54 pm

        I don’t think anyone here is arguing about Laos itself. The people of Laos are some of the friendliest I’ve met anywhere else in the world.

        The food IS little to be desired in Vang Vieng. They all serve mostly all the same thing that caters exactly to the Western crowd. You will need to search long and hard to find local good foods in Vang Vieng.

        To say that $4 is cheap anywhere is naive when the average wage in Lao person earns $4 in a day. So yes, maybe to our own home-country, it might be cheaper when compared but to the average meal in Laos, it is overpriced.

        I look down on people that disrespect other people. This includes disrespecting the countries culture.

  9. Aaron's Worldwide Adventures on November 6, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Ugg I was in Vang Vieng in March and absolutely despised it for all the reasons listed here. That and it’s nearly impossible to find a decent place to eat as every restaurant serves the same crappy overpriced food (even the Lao food I had wasn’t good) that it becomes a matter of which TV show you’d rather watch while you eat! I was one of the few people there who actually tubed the whole way (which, of course, takes you back to Vang Vien only to be accosted by Lao children trying to “reel you in.” Every night after dark, multiple tuk tuk’s would come back to town, their roofs piled high with inner tubes and chock full of totally wasted backpackers who wandered the streets of Vang Vieng making huge fools of themselves. It was just disguisting and incredibly disrespectful!

    • Elliot on August 17, 2011 at 12:10 am

      How is this disrespectful? this is the service that this country provides and quite simply without backpackers flocking in to take advantage of it, the country would see an incredible loss of income through tourists dollars! we are funding their lives through having fun

      • Michael on August 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm

        It still doesn’t make it right…
        What you are saying is that the Lao people should sacrifice their lives and culture so they can bring in tourists as if there is no other way to raise money but to do this.

    • Stuartbonds007 on October 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm

      You must be that up tight mate. Overpriced food pft. $3-$4 a feed is a bargain anywhere. This is there income. Come party, meet like minded ppl. I met some great ppl in Laos found the locals more than accommodating and the night life awesome. What are you doing in a party town looking down on those who are enjoying themselves??? I loved it, loved it that much I organized a group of 8 to go back in feb 2012. Cant wait. $3 a day for a motor bike and u can go get as lost as u like go caving, go fishing. Learn the history, go eat at a farm. Ppl like u need stay away…

      • Michael on October 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm

        I don’t think anyone here is arguing about Laos itself. The people of Laos are some of the friendliest I’ve met anywhere else in the world.

        The food IS little to be desired in Vang Vieng. They all serve mostly all the same thing that caters exactly to the Western crowd. You will need to search long and hard to find local good foods in Vang Vieng.

        To say that $4 is cheap anywhere is naive when the average wage in Lao person earns $4 in a day. So yes, maybe to our own home-country, it might be cheaper when compared but to the average meal in Laos, it is overpriced.

        I look down on people that disrespect other people. This includes disrespecting the countries culture.

  10. Will on November 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Well it has advantages and disadvantages, of course it’s going to be less ‘special’, because it’s no longer untouched. It’s a worn bike. I mean, it’s nothing compared to Phuket, but it’s no longer quiet in the town, or even local. A lot of it looks foreign run.

    The advantages are a boost in the local economy, and depending on your preferences, more enjoyable.

    I’d like to know what the Lao people think of what’s happening/has happened.

    • Michael on November 23, 2010 at 12:10 am

      I’m sure it brings it tons of money to the community. I’m also sure it kills the image of a foreigner though.

  11. Will on November 22, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Well it has advantages and disadvantages, of course it’s going to be less ‘special’, because it’s no longer untouched. It’s a worn bike. I mean, it’s nothing compared to Phuket, but it’s no longer quiet in the town, or even local. A lot of it looks foreign run.

    The advantages are a boost in the local economy, and depending on your preferences, more enjoyable.

    I’d like to know what the Lao people think of what’s happening/has happened.

    • Michael on November 23, 2010 at 1:10 am

      I’m sure it brings it tons of money to the community. I’m also sure it kills the image of a foreigner though.

  12. Vira on January 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I’m going to Laos (with Vang Vieng as one of our destinations) in April. Thanks for the heads up of what to expect there!

  13. Vira on January 19, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I’m going to Laos (with Vang Vieng as one of our destinations) in April. Thanks for the heads up of what to expect there!

  14. Louisakinch on January 25, 2012 at 1:41 am

    my friend is currently missing in vang vieng, he went tubing 3 days ago, and has not been seen since. so please do take this into consideration..

  15. Louisakinch on January 25, 2012 at 2:41 am

    my friend is currently missing in vang vieng, he went tubing 3 days ago, and has not been seen since. so please do take this into consideration..

  16. fred on February 9, 2012 at 5:43 am

    Calm the hell down man, its just kids having fun by getting fucked up while they float down a beautiful river, can anyone imagine anything more fun?

    • Michael on February 9, 2012 at 8:55 am

      The dying part kinda kills the fun part.

      The below comment happened 2 weeks ago where a person went missing. A few dozen a year die because they get fucked up while floating down the beautiful river. I think stupidity takes a huge part in this. The kids are doing more than just what you describe. A lot more.

    • Aks1962 on March 11, 2012 at 7:08 am

      you tossa – you missed the point – people are being killed through risk taking and stupidity – grow a brain if you can

  17. fred on February 9, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Calm the hell down man, its just kids having fun by getting fucked up while they float down a beautiful river, can anyone imagine anything more fun?

    • Michael on February 9, 2012 at 9:55 am

      The dying part kinda kills the fun part.

      The below comment happened 2 weeks ago where a person went missing. A few dozen a year die because they get fucked up while floating down the beautiful river. I think stupidity takes a huge part in this. The kids are doing more than just what you describe. A lot more.

    • Aks1962 on March 11, 2012 at 8:08 am

      you tossa – you missed the point – people are being killed through risk taking and stupidity – grow a brain if you can

  18. Guest on April 28, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Was in Vang Vieng in early 1998-just amazing.  Maybe 40 backpackers there at most, two very chilled opium dens, no bridge over the river, no road to the swimming hole, 50p a night in a very nice hotel-there were about 10 places to stay, no internet, no drunk people, weed 50p an ounce, no police-was, next to Pokhara, my favourite place to chill.  Went back in 2001 and it was ruined.  Couldn’t imagine it now.

  19. Guest on April 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Was in Vang Vieng in early 1998-just amazing.  Maybe 40 backpackers there at most, two very chilled opium dens, no bridge over the river, no road to the swimming hole, 50p a night in a very nice hotel-there were about 10 places to stay, no internet, no drunk people, weed 50p an ounce, no police-was, next to Pokhara, my favourite place to chill.  Went back in 2001 and it was ruined.  Couldn’t imagine it now.

  20. Zeno on June 4, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Just ask the faculty at The National University of Laos about the effect of the bums who drink and smoke in Vang Vieng.  The loss to the culture is far greater than the money that comes in.  Look at the “culture” that these bums introduce.

  21. Zeno on June 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Just ask the faculty at The National University of Laos about the effect of the bums who drink and smoke in Vang Vieng.  The loss to the culture is far greater than the money that comes in.  Look at the “culture” that these bums introduce.

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