We originally weren’t planning on going to Vang Vieng – from all we had heard about it and read online, it was basically a town that had gorgeous scenery but had become a backpacker haven for all kinds of hedonism. However, we had also read online that the journey from Vientiane to Luang Prabang was a bumpy, twisty and miserable long ride and that Vang Vieng was on the way anyway. So we decided to check it out, figuring if nothing else, we’d enjoy a scenic float down the river like we do back in Texas.
All the rumors about VV turned out to be true – the town’s sole economy seems to be based on alcohol consumption, in town or while tubing / bar hopping down the Nam Song River. Floods of young tourists from all parts of the world come here basically for a huge party with no hint of Laos culture, many of whom dress disrespectfully and act like fools from the wide variety of alcohol and drugs available. Last year, it is reported that 22 people died while tubing and it’s easy to see why. The drinks flow freely (and often are free), there are rope swings, zip lines and slides to jump into the water with – all of which are super fun if it’s safe and you’re in a sound state of mind. But all that being said, it was still a great time.
We decided to rent tubes and hopped on a tuk tuk to take us to the top of the river. We were greeted by the first bar even before we got into the water and immediately offered a free Tiger brand whiskey shot. There were tons of people, all decked out in green for St. Paddy’s Day, dancing to the fun music playing and the bar staff entertaining the crowd with random games. Since neither of us had green on, we first got spray painted with some green – me with some stenciled stars on my legs and Samir with a mohawk streak of green in his hair! We also ended up running into some of the people on our bus from Vientiane and hung out with them throughout the day (from America, Ireland, Norway and Germany). The games at the bar ranged from musical tubes to body shots to the whiskey train (basically we formed four lines of about 40 people each, got free whiskey shots and had to drink them in a line to see which line would be the fastest!), but the general atmosphere is so pumped with energy, fun and good music – one can’t help but get caught up and have a great time! Our friends didn’t rent tubes and were walking, so Samir and I decided to make use of our tubes and float for a bit – like a 100 yards before we got pulled into the next bar! We only made it to three bars – one of which had a zipline which was fun! But then it was time to actually float down (our friends decided to swim) so we could make it all the way down the river to return our tubes on time (incidentally, it got dark before we got all the way down and ended up having to climb out of the river – losing one of my sandals, sigh – and having to walk a kilometer before getting picked up by a tuk tuk). Side note, at 30 and 31, Samir and I were amongst the oldest people there! Eesh!
Tubing in Vang Vieng can be a lot of fun if you do it responsibly and safely, as with most things. Plus, the tubing itself really is fun and you’re surrounded by the gorgeous countryside of Vang Vieng.
At night, we met up for dinner and drinks again and went back to the string of bars with fire shows and limbo games (with the limbo on fire!) and hung out on a hammock in a cabana for awhile!
The next day, we spent relaxing (and recovering) – for some strange reason, many of the restaurants play reruns of Friends, Family Guy or South Park, so we popped a squat and watched Friends a couple times while having a meal 🙂 We meant to go see some of the caves that are in the area but got a bit lazy and we missed the morning tours.
Overall, if you’re looking to enjoy Laos culture and experience Laos living, Vang Vieng is not the place to do it. But, if you want a respite from the travelling or just looking to have a good time, Vang Vieng is tons of fun! Just, please be safe and be respectful of the traditional Laos culture and people!
We had a waterproof case on the camera which was kind of useless because it made our pictures all blurry, but here are a couple that came out decently!