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Riding the River at an Extremely Leisurely Pace!
For years Vang Vien was a dusty little cross roads in the middle of Laos with few facilities, and of not much interest for a tourist apart as a place to visit toilet on the long bus ride between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. However, in recent times Vang Vien has become an absolute must for the thousands on the backpacker trail around South East Asia for one reason: Tubing!
Tubing, it has to be said, is not a widely known about activity outside of backpacker circles, but visit any bar or hostel with a group of people that have been travelling for more than a month and the conversation will quickly turn to tubing. At first you fail to understand what it is, and then why bobbing down a river in a tractor tyre inner-tube could be so exciting, but as the number of people you meet raving about it increases, you can't fail but be swept up by their enthusiam for this almost mythical activity.
And so it was, that a mere 5 months after initially setting out for South East Asia, I arrived in Vang Vien after a long and tiring bus ride from the beautiful world heritage site of Luang Prabang, utterly excited by the prospect of what may sound to an outsider as a fairly mundane experience. Now a firstly few things should probably be said about Vang Vien; it's very small, just a few streets, but covered in bars and restaurants showing endless reruns of South Park and Family Guy to hungover tourists. The whole place basically thrives on the understanding that most of the heavy drinking will probably be done on the river and that refuge in the town will be sought mainly to sleep, drink coffee, eat greasy, salty food and chill out watching mind-numbing American sitcoms or cartoons. Quite a few of the bars also have "Happy Menus", should you wish to get rid of your hangover illegally!
Right, onto what we really came here for! A tube can be rented for around $7 for the day, plus a deposit of about the same (it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that the tube wont make it back), for this you should also be driven out on a big tuk tuk to the setting off point further up the river. Here you can begin the day, before your toes have even felt the water, with a large Mojito made from mint and Laos-Laos, the local rice whisky or stick to the Beer Laos if you think you may be in danger of passing out early. So enter the water and off we go!
The order of the day is to let the light current take you dow the river where the locals have thoughtfully erected a multitude of bars on the banks. They throw ropes out to you as you bob by and will drag you into the bars using this method, often give you a free shot of the lethal laos-laos and then sell you beers at $1 a pop. Many of the bars also have extensive happy menus, if that's how you roll! The bars also have zip lines, rope swings and high diving boards into the river from their wooden decks. These swings get increasingly high the further down the river you travel, and presumably, the drunker you get! Pretty much all the bars have music of varying degrees of quality, and the biggest bar has table tennis tables, pool and a volley ball court!
Navigating your tube tends to be the job mainly of the currents and the bar men who'll pull you in with their ropes. There are about 15 bars in total of varying degrees of quality. Like everything else in Laos, there's no rush and if you miss bar or associated rope swing one day, you can always come back and do it again another. If you don't have a head for heights, then there is no obligation to do the bigger swings; I admit, I bottled a good number further down the river!
A whole day can be spent in this way, and a whole week if you have the liver for it. I'm not sure I've ever had more fun, and certainly never more fun in tractor tyre! When the sun goes down it's time to drunkenly find your way back to the city and hit a few of the bars there and get a bit of food to mitigate against the inevitable hangover that comes with spending 8 hours hitting the beer and laos-laos. I can't reccomend it highly enough!
If my article didn't do enough to sell it then please check out these links for further info, they can tell you boring stuff about suncream factors!
- Lonley Planet guide and video
Info and footage of tubing
- Tubing Laos Vang Vieng Hotels Bars Restaurants Caving Kayaking
Information about Vang Vieng in Laos , hotels , river tubing , caving , kayaking , bars , restaurants and nightlife.
- Vang Vieng travel guide - Wikitravel
Open source travel guide to Vang Vieng, featuring up-to-date information on attractions, hotels, restaurants, nightlife, travel tips and more. Free and reliable advice written by Wikitravellers from around the globe.
- Tubing and Beer Laos - Vang Vieng - Real Travel
Combining two of the best things for a traveller in Laos; tubing and Beer Laos
- Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos : Travelfish Laos travel forum
Tubing in Vang Vieng , Laos is legendary and somewhat dangerous. It is definitely not for children: Laos travel forum
- How to Go River Tubing in Laos | eHow.com
How to Go River Tubing in Laos. Vang Vieng, Laos, is a town built for backpackers. Hoards of travelers pass through the little town every year, intent on enjoying "happy" pizzas, the four cafes that play nonstop episodes of...