Vang Vieng Tubing After Thirty – Laos

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  • Post last modified:18/06/2024
Vang Vieng tubing in Laos. Tourists floating in white rubber rings on the river which is lined with grass and green trees and a mountain in the background to the right.

Vang Vieng; a little town in Laos infamous for the reputation it developed in the 90’s as the hedonistic, party capital of Southeast Asia. Young backpackers would swarm there for their backpackers ‘rite of passage’ – Vang Vieng tubing on the Nam Song River. The aim for most was to get completely off their faces on booze and drugs at more than 30 riverbank bars. They’d then throw themselves off rope swings and platforms, or down a ‘death slide’ into the river. Inevitably, this didn’t end well.

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How Tubing in Vang Vieng Has Changed

As the number of visitors increased so did the number of fatalities. Alcohol, drugs, drowning, and jumping onto rocks in shallow water, were all to blame. In 2011 it had turned into a death trap, with a death toll reaching 27. In 2012 the Lao Government decided enough was enough and intervened. They shut down the tubing in Vang Vieng; the parties stopped, the riverside bars were ripped down, and the backpackers left town. The town became deserted, and the local economy took a hit. It was a massive worry for the locals who had relied on the business the tubing scene had generated.

About a year later the Government allowed Vang Vieng tubing to resume, albeit on a much smaller scale. They enforced much stricter rules and regulations; permitting only two or three riverside bars to open at any time. As a result, the tubing and partying still happen today, only on a much smaller, more sensible scale.

Nowadays Vang Vieng is building itself a new reputation as an outdoor activity and eco-tourism destination. This focuses on its spectacular, stunning scenery and surroundings such as the blue lagoon which can be visited as part of a tour or by tuk tuk, scooter or bicycle. There are plenty of reasons not to skip Vang Vieng.

My Vang Vieng Tubing Experience

Vang Vieng tubing - tourists floating in white rubber rings on the river in Vang Vieng in Laos. The river bank is lined with grass and green trees with mountains in the background to the right.

I’d been hesitant about visiting Vang Vieng but having heard great things about the ‘new’ Vang Vieng, I decided to give it a go after a few days in Vientiane before heading up to Luang Prabang. Curiosity had also gotten the better of me and I wanted to see for myself what the Vang Vieng tubing scene of today was about. I’ve never been one to turn down an adventure, or a party (within reason), so couldn’t resist.

I felt apprehensive and nervous as we arrived by mini-bus in Vang Vieng after a bumpy 3.5-hour journey from Vientiane. Whilst things may have calmed down in Vang Vieng, there’s still an element of partying (for those who want it). I was hoping I wouldn’t be out of my depth, especially as I was travelling solo this time.


How to Go Tubing in Vang Vieng

Despite my doubts, I bit the bullet and going through with my Vang Vieng tubing experience. Here’s how it went…

Tube Collection

You have to collect and pay for a tube from one of the tubing shops in town. There are white or yellow tubes which are locally owned, and newer red ones which are privately owned. I went to the first shop I came across, at the end of the road I was staying on. There was a Songthaew (Lao tuk tuk) parked outside with about 20 people milling around. To be honest, it all looked a bit chaotic; I took a deep breath and headed in. Five minutes later I’d signed a waiver form and paid the fee, plus a deposit (in case I lost the tube or returned it after 6:30 pm)

Feeling My Age

Before I knew it my well-worn, white-painted tube had been bungee strapped to the roof of the Songthaew with several others. Next thing I found myself crammed into the back of the Songthaew with a group of young backpackers. Looking around I thought “What on earth have I gotten myself into”! Everyone else was barefoot in bikinis or swim shorts, clutching plastic bottles of spirits and mixers. I, on the other hand, was wearing walking sandals, shorts and a top (over a bikini), and was clutching a mouldy life jacket.

Despite being on the wrong side of thirty, I still felt (and sometimes acted) as if I were still in my twenties. However, right then, surrounded by those excited and slightly tipsy younguns I felt my age. I began to have second thoughts about my fast-approaching Vang Vieng tubing experience.

Getting Started With Tubing in Vang Vieng

The Songthaew rumbled along potholed roads for about 10 – 15 minutes until it reached our start point. It turned out that the young backpackers I’d found myself with were a nice bunch. They seemed more than happy for me to tag along and share their pre-drinks, whilst good-naturedly (I think) teasing me about my life jacket. I laughed and said, “It’s ‘the fear’…it comes with age. I’d rather look stupid than drown”. 

The tubes were passed down to us from the roof and we carried them down to the river. The others chucked theirs into the shallow water and jumped onto them. They pushed themselves out into the slow current and floated away from me. Eager not to get left behind, I inelegantly manoeuvred myself into my tube getting completely soaked in the process. I must say I felt a little smug that I’d had the foresight to bring my dry bag with me for my phone and cash. I pushed myself through the shallow water into the current, scraping my bum on the rocks as I went; then I started to float slowly downstream.

Floating and Bar-hopping

Vang Vieng tubing in a mouldy life jacket in Laos

After a little more than a minute of floating, I spotted the first bar. Knee deep in water were young local boys throwing filled water bottles tied to a piece of rope out to the tubers to catch. They were literally fishing for tubers and reeling them into the bar. Soon it was my turn. SPLASH…the first bottle launched at me landed miles away. SPLASH…again the second bottle landed out of arms reach, I paddled frantically towards it but to no avail.

By that point, I’d floated past the bar and resigned myself to the fact I was likely to miss it completely and lose my new-found friends in the process. One of the young boys yelled at me and I saw a third bottle hurtle towards me. This time after some frantic thrashing about I managed to grab it and laid back as he hauled me to the riverbank. As I walked up the steps a male bartender in a dress welcomed me to the bar with a shot of the local whisky, Lao Lao, which of course, I accepted.

Tubing Bar on the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng, Laos

There were about 30 to 40 people in the bar, in various stages of undress and drunkenness, nothing too bad though. I bought a large beer at the bar for double the price in town. Scanning the room I spotted the others playing a game of beer pong and decided to join them. When in Rome and all that!

We stayed in that bar for about 45 minutes then it was back in the tube and floating down the river again. It was only about 15 minutes until we reached the second (and last) bar. This time we didn’t need to be ‘fished’ for as the current dumped us on the rocks near the riverbank. This bar was smaller, busier and the clientele drunker. Music pumped out whilst people lounged on platforms chatting, danced (badly), or played mud volleyball next to the bar.

We’d been there about 20 minutes and sunk another beer when the bar staff announced it was time for a game. It turned out to be a drinking game with everyone sitting in a circle throwing water balloons at each other. If you dropped it and burst, you got wet, were out of the game and had to down a shot of Lao Lao. It was all a bit of harmless fun and I’m sure a far cry from the debauchery that went on in the old days!

Amazing Scenery

Limestone Karsts on the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng, Laos

It was starting to get late so we relocated our tubes and set back off down the river. A bit deeper and the current stronger this time meant I soon lost sight of my new friends.

I was secretly pleased I’d lost the others. It gave me a chance to lie back, relax, and soak up the incredible scenery of the limestone karst mountains looming over the river. it was also pretty peaceful. and I would have dozed off if it wasn’t for the occasional group of smiling kayaking Koreans…laughing as they splashed me with their oars!

After about an hour it was time for my Vang Vieng Tubing experience to end. I dragged my tube out of the river onto a waiting Songthaew, which returned me and some others to town.

Back at my hotel that evening I actually felt quite pleased that despite my hesitancy and nerves I’d pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I’d met a great bunch of people and had a fun-filled afternoon!

The only downside was that my dry bag turned out to not be quite so dry – so much for feeling smug earlier in the day. Water had gotten in and rendered the front-facing camera useless. The moral of the story is…don’t take your phone or camera tubing! If you really must take them, be sure to buy a proper dry bag from town beforehand!

Where to Stay in Vang Vieng

 There’s a wide range hotels, hostels and guesthouses, but I was kindly hosted for my two nights in Vang Vieng at Silver Naga Hotel, which I can highly recommend and have reviewed below.

Silver Naga Hotel

Silver Naga Hotel in Vang Vieng, Laos

Silver Naga is named after the water serpent from Laos mythology. It’s believed to protect the land and rivers of Laos. A luxury, boutique hotel, Silver Naga has an excellent location just a five-minute walk from the centre of Vang Vieng. It’s set right on the banks of the Nam Song River with the most amazing view of the karsts.

The hotel has a strong focus on ethical tourism and is passionate about looking after its staff, the environment, and the local economy. A range of rooms are available, varying in price

I was greeted by friendly reception staff with a cold towel and a welcome drink, whilst they shared information with me about the hotel. They were also more than happy to answer my questions about tubing and helped me arrange my onward travel to Luang Prabang. I was all checked in and shown to my room within ten minutes.

I had a deluxe double, with shower, aircon, television, minibar and coffee and tea-making facilities. The room was clean with a comfy double bed and complimentary toiletries in the bathroom. My favourite part was that it had its own terrace with chairs. It overlooked the swimming pool and offered breathtaking views out over the Nam Song River and the hulking karsts.

Infinity Pool View over the Nam Song River in the Silver Naga Hotel in Vang Vieng, Laos

The infinity pool on the sundeck of the hotel was the perfect spot to relax and admire the views after my second day out cycling and hiking. There’s also a pool bar where you can order drinks and snacks and a shaded corner with tempting hammocks. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch or dinner in the restaurant. However, the breakfast buffet was huge spread with a wide variety of Western and Asian options, along with fresh fruit, tea, coffee, and juices.

There was reasonable wifi throughout the hotel, including in my room. Other facilities on offer which I didn’t get a chance to enjoy were a small gym and a twice daily yoga class.


Other Accommodation Options in Vang Vieng

If you’re on a budget or looking for something slightly different there are plenty of other accommodation options in Vang Vieng to suit all budgets and travel styles.

Was Vang Vieng Tubing Worth It?

Before visiting Laos, I’d been quite hesitant and undecided about visiting Vang Vieng. Travelling solo, without friends or husband, I’d expected (correctly so) that I would be one of the oldest people tubing in Vang Vieng, despite this, I had a great day. It’s far from the crazy party it once was, although a few people were still trying to live up to that reputation. Although not a pre-requisite there are still illegal substances and plentiful alcohol available upon request should you wish to indulge. Yet, floating along the river taking in the beautiful backdrop of limestone karsts is a great experience in itself.

If tubing’s not for you (remember you can bypass the bars if they’re not your thing) you can also hire out a kayak or a boat with a driver. Or there are plenty of other outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and quad biking you can partake in.

Would you like to go Vang Vieng tubing, or have you been recently? Tell us about it in the comments

Planning Your Trip to Vang Vieng?

Planning your trip to Vang Vieng in Laos? Here are some of our recommended useful resources to help you have the best time possible.

TRAVEL INSURANCE IS AN IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION! World Nomads offers cover for travellers in over 100 countries and True Traveller is a great option if you’re from the UK or EU.

SafetyWing is another solution, particularly for digital nomads and long-term travellers.

● Use Wise (formerly Transferwise) for sending or receiving money internationally. It’s cheap, easy and transparent.

● Find amazing flight deals on SkyscannerKayak, and AirAsia

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Book buses, taxis, ferries and trains with Camboticket, 12Go, and Bookaway.

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● Discover fantastic trips and activities with Klook, Viator and GetYourGuide.

● Check out Bookmundi, G Adventures, and  Intrepid Travel for group holidays and tours.

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Vang Vieng Tubing After Thirty in Laos

Partnership Disclosure: Silver Naga Hotel provided me with a complimentary two-night stay. This did not influence my post in any way and as always I’ve provided a balanced and honest review. Read more in our full Partnership Disclosure.

Tanya Korteling

Tanya is the founder and head content creator for Can Travel Will Travel. She combines freelance SEO, CRO, Data and Marketing consultancy with exploring the world. Passionate about adventure, nature, wildlife and food, she incorporates these in her travels as much as possible. She also loves immersing herself in new cultures. She's visited hundreds of destinations in 50+ countries and lived in 4 countries. Tanya worked as a Data Planning Manager and Digital Marketing Strategist before leaving the UK in 2016 with her husband Andy, to travel, live and work abroad indefinitely. Together they share their experiences and useful information to inspire and encourage others to do the same.

This Post Has 33 Comments

  1. Matt

    Hi Tanya, sounds like an amazing time. I was so close but sadly didn’t have time to visit Vang Vieng. I did get to do a little tubing in Pai, but it wasn’t the same. Anyway, I have pinned this on my Asia map, hopefully, other looking to do something similar will find it helpful.
    Happy travels, Matt

    1. TanyaKorteling

      It was good fun and the scenery amazing. Thanks for adding to your map 🙂

  2. Amy

    It’s really interesting to read about what Vang Vieng is like now, as I went right after the crack down and was one of about 5 people tubing down the river. There was maybe one bar still in business. I’m glad to see that the whole tubing scene has developed more responsibly/sustainably this time and people are focusing more on the natural beauty of the place.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Goodness yes that does sound as if it was quiet then! I think things have definitely changed for the better!

  3. neha

    I didn’t really know what tubing is until I read your post. It looks like an interesting thing to try. And your accommodation also seems wonderful. With the beautiful infinity pool and the views across, definitely worth a vacation

  4. Lee

    Tubing is looks relaxing though I havent tried it. My fear is to drown even if ill be wearing life vest

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Mine too – but to be honest it’s really quite shallow and it’s highly unlikely you’d drown with a life jacket on!

  5. Kenneth

    I first tried tubing in one of the provinces in the Philippines. Super enjoyed it! This looks fun as well.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      That sounds good, I haven’t been to the Philipines yet but hopefully will one day.

  6. SindhuMurthy

    I had never heard of tubing before I read about it on your post. Though I would not prefer the bars, I would definitely try it for the amazing views and experience of floating on the river.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      It’s definitely a different experience and you can always float straight past the bars…you don’t have to stop 🙂

  7. Katchutravels

    “Despite being the wrong side of thirty, I often feel (and sometimes act) as if I’m still in my twenties. However, right then surrounded by those excited and slightly tipsy younguns I definitely felt my age”- Exactly how I felt doing a similar trail in Thailand called the #TheBeachTrail2017. But nice to see people feeling similar to me. Good One!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Haha – glad I’m not the only one 🙂

  8. Indrani

    Never been to Vang Vieng! Bars are not for me rather I am not for bars 😀 But the scenic sights are mesmerizing. Definitely worth sailing the river.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      It’s definitely worth a visit if just for the scenery; kayaking would also be a wonderful thing to do on the Nam Song River!

  9. Suruchi

    Sailing along the river in the tubing, those scenic views and bars along the river are quite adventurous. Today only I was scrolling about Vang Vieng and now got through this article. Wow! We surely want to hit this place in future and experience this. Your hotel too looks nice.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      I’d definitely recommend it for a visit, but if you have time try to explore by kayak too and hiking or biking in the surrounding area! Enjoy!

  10. Elise

    Ah it’s good to know you can still have fun solo travelling to Vang Vieng. I’ve always thought you had to go in groups to have fun! We skipped it and went to the Plane of Jars in Phonsovan (this was before the redevelopment too so it had all just closed down at that point.) Great tips!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Yeah I love solo travel but I’m always a little nervous if it’s to a place which is normally frequented more by groups. How was Plain of Jars? I wanted to go but just didn’t have the time!

  11. Sandy N Vyjay

    The history of Vang Vieng tubing is so sad. It is good that the authorities woke up and took drastic action. Also quite heartening to note that a new revitalized and safer tubing is now available. The water bottle and being hauled to the bar is an incredible experience, I daresay.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Yes I agree, but at least now things are changing for the better. Although a dare say back in the day before it got too crazy it was great fun and an off the beaten track experience.

  12. carrie

    Glad you had a good experience! I was there right before the government shut down the old party scene, and it was really a mess. I skipped the tubing for an amazing kayaking trip instead. Sounds like it’s calmed down quite a bit since then!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      I don’t think I’d have liked it back then even if I would have been younger! The kayaking looked great, I think if I did it again I’d do kayaking instead of tubing!

  13. Flo

    I miss Vang Vieng! I taught yoga at the Silver Naga for a month last year and the staff are truly friendly and helpful. Did you manage to climb Phangern Mountain or visit the waterfall during your time there?

    P.S. sounds like you kept up with the 20 somethings – never “too old” to have a good time!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Yeah Silver Naga was lovely…I wish I’d have had longer there, unfortunately I only had a day and a half so didn’t make the mountain and waterfall. I did cycle out to blue lagoon but was quite unenamoured by it. On thhe last morning I trekked out to the caves and thought that was pretty good! I try my best to keep up…the mind is always willing and easily persuaded, but I pay for it the next day now! Haha!

  14. I went tubing in 2011… must have been shortly before they closed it down! I wasn’t keen on the town on Vang Vieng with all of the bars showing endless re-runs of Friends and The Simpson’s. It made me feel uncomfortable. I did enjoy my tubing experience but I’m not much of a partier and so I was much more reserved than most around me! I explored some local caves and enjoyed the scenery, which is beautiful around there. Pleased to hear the focus is much more on that these days.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      I wasn’t very keen on the town in the evenings either…I went for a bit of a wander but just wasn’t my scene! I really enjoyed my cycle ride out to the caves too!

  15. mihaela

    I actually decided to skip this when I was in Laos. And regretted it afterwards when I heard nice stories like this! It was also an age thing for me I guess.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      I nearly did too, I was really torn but glad I went in the end!

  16. Amy

    Haha, I also felt my age in Vang Vieng! We went tubing, which was a bit more of a sloppy mess than your experience (oy, we all make mistakes!), but I agree, the best part of Vang Vieng is the stunning nature. The next day we rented a motorbike and zipped around, and I was absolutely floored.

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Haha, sounds like you had fun! Motorcycling around there would have been good…unfortunately I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to riding bikes!

  17. Jean

    This still looks like a lot of fun, despite things being tamed down a bit. Which I don’t have an issue with. i’m interested to see how the area develops for adventure tourism!

    1. TanyaKorteling

      Yes it was Jean, I think 15 years ago (maybe even 10) I’d have loved how it used to be. Howver, now I think the tamer version is much better and less likely to ruin this area of natural beauty. Obviously limiting the tubing has had an impact on local tourism, but it’s such a beautiful spot I think it could really take off as an outdoor adventure and ecotourism destination.

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