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?

Michael Tieso

Michael Tieso travels around the world writing, photographing, and filming his adventures. He is the Editor-in-chief of Art of Adventuring.
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