Guide's note: As of November 2012, tubing in Vang Vieng was shut down by the government of Laos. According to iBackpacker Travel's "Slice", "the Laos government and/or ministry of tourism is meeting in December, they may be planning to survey the river area around Vang Vieng with a view to bringing back a safer version of tubing at some point in the future."
Vang Vieng tubing draws thousands of travelers a year to central Laos. Set amid a stunning natural backdrop of green mountains and wild countryside, tiny Vang Vieng has earned a reputation as a place to party, take a break from the road, and enjoy the best outdoor adventure that Laos has to offer.
Situated on the main highway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng is clustered around an old airstrip once used by the CIA to fly covert missions during the Vietnam War. Little did they know that decades later backpackers would be flocking here to float down the river with a BeerLao in hand!
Tubing in Vang Vieng
Although Vang Vieng offers incredible mountain biking, caving, and hiking opportunities, the most popular activity here is to rent a large inner tube and float down the Nam Song River.
Vang Vieng tubing can be as relaxing or as hedonistic and adventurous as one desires. Bars have sprung up all along the river offering cheap beer, rope swings, zip lines, and large decks for socializing.
Tubing has become one big excuse to party in the river. Floating lazily from bar to bar with a drink in hand is a great way to escape the scorching afternoon sun.
When to Go Tubing
- Vang Vieng tubing only takes about three hours from start to finish, even less time during the monsoon season (May to October) when the river is flowing faster. Most people choose to make a day out of tubing by stopping frequently to socialize or to give one of the zip lines a try.
- The sun drops behind the mountains around 3 p.m. and the air cools down considerably. Be on the river no later than 11 a.m. to enjoy your day of tubing without being in a hurry.
- Your tube must be returned by 6 p.m. The tubing companies use tardiness as an opportunity to increase revenue by keeping your deposit!
- Read more about the weather in Laos.
TIP: Check the clock in the rental office, many times they are set 15 minutes fast in an effort to make more people "late".
Where to Go Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Two companies offer tubing in Vang Vieng about 100 meters from the river, both are easy to find.
- The price of a rental includes your transportation about 3 km up the river to the starting point from where you will drift down and then return your tube at the rental office.
- A tube rental will cost around $7 for the day and you will be expected to leave a $7 deposit which will be returned unless you come back late. More than a few backpackers loose track of time while partying and come back late to find that their deposit has been lost!
- Rental companies offer dry bags for about US $2 a day to protect your camera and belongings.
Tips for Vang Vieng Tubing
- The water is shallow near the finish point; local kids will come out to help drag your tube in. Although they are smiling and good-natured, helping you get home isn't done out of goodwill - a tip is expected.
- When stopping at the bars, keep an eye on your tube which will get stacked with all the others at the entrance. Some backpackers have been known to walk to the bars then grab a free tube back to town, robbing you of your deposit and way to get home!
- The Nam Song River has claimed more than its share of cameras. Some of the rental dry bags may leak; leave your camera at the guest house or bring your own dry bag for protection.
- The water may feel nice and cool but the Southeast Asian sun is still strong; wear sunscreen. Read more about sunburn in Southeast Asia.
- Food in Vang Vieng is much cheaper and better than that found around the river.
- Rather than going alone, team up with some other travelers during the monsoon season when the river current is strong.
- Keep an eye above you when tubing past zip lines, rope swings, and popular diving spots around the bars.
- Although drugs are illegal - even punishable by death - in Laos, they are found everywhere in Vang Vieng. Undercover policemen work the town and river daily in search of bribes.
- Mixing alcohol, drugs, and strong currents on the river claims at least one life a year. It is wiser to enjoy a day of tubing and do the serious partying back in Vang Vieng.
- Read more about drugs in Southeast Asia.
Getting to Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is easily reachable along Route 13 by bus from both Luang Prabang (around eight hours) and Vientiane (around four hours).