Vang Vieng is a little haven for the weary backpacker. Yes, it’s best know for being the place where everyone goes tubing but it’s also great for some chilled out tv days.
Tubing in Vang Vieng
Apparently this is a pretty normal activity in America. People get rubber ring tubes, you all float down a river and stop at bars along the way. It’s not something I’d ever done before but it’s great fun.
Just go to the massive shop in the center of town, hire a tube for the day and hop in the back of a truck down to the start of the tubing route. When you hire the tube you’re made to pay a deposit in case you lose the tube (I was really confused by this on first reading it thinking “How the f**k???” but actually much more easily done than you’d imagine – see below on leaving bars to go to the next).
The river has a strong current pushing you along so you move quickly down the river. Each day 5 bars are open along the river but there are actually 10 bars so they rotate which days the different bars are open. That means if you go alternate days you’ll visit an entirely differ set of bars on your journey down the river.
As you float down the river the bars throw a rope out to you in your tube, you’re pulled in and they stack your tube up with everyone else’s ready to move onto the next bar later. It’s very easy to get sucked into staying in each bar for a while with games like beer pong, volleyball and boxing on a wooden plank above muddy water going on. But make sure you’re not some of the last people to leave each bar. The tubes go. When we went to leave one bar there were no tubes left. Luckily a couple of people who were even further behind that us then arrived, so we were given theirs but if you’re tubing late in the day, and the last people to leave a bar you may not definitely get a tube back. We made it to 4 out of the 5 bars on the day we went, bypassing the last one as we thought we needed to race onto the end since if you don’t return your tube by a certain time you get a fine. The taxis back actually left from the last bar of the set that were open that day, so essentially we missed the last stop. We weren’t the only ones but it resulted in us continuing to float down the river confused not sure how we were going to get back, certain we’d miss the cut off time for returning the tubes now, finally losing each other and then some how managing to end up at the same random taxi truck that magically appeared. It was messy. When you’re getting near the end check with one of the bars where the trucks back to town go from so you get out of the river where you’re supposed to, unlike us!
Since you’re floating down a river, and drinking a lot, it’s really easy to lose stuff. I lost both my flipflops and a tank top. I did manage to keep hold of the small dry bag I bought from my hostel to use for the day though and my (waterproof) camera so could have been a lot worse. And I had a great time.
Although you’re spending the day in the water and at sunny bars there are a lot of signs and pleas around town for foreigners not to walk around in just bikinis and swimming trunks. I therefore wore board shorts and a tank top to go down (but clearly tying the tank top to my dry bag wasn’t secure enough to stop the river current from claiming it). You should wear clothes to go down to where the tubing starts and for once you're back in the town but just make sure they’re ones you won’t be upset about losing if they happen to float off.
Chilling in Vang Vieng
I spent about 5 days in Vang Vieng and the only actual activity I did was go tubing as it’s a really good place to chill for a bit and re-group if you’re feeling a bit travel weary. All the bars in the center of town have cushions on the floor to lounge on and play either Family Guy or Friends on repeat all day on multiple TV screens at the front of the bars. I was about 3 months into my travels when I got to Laos and don’t think I’d actually watched TV at any point in that time so I got a bit over excited by the chilled out living room feel. Yeah it’s not the most adventurous thing to do whilst traveling, sitting/lying in a bar watching TV all day but it felt so nice to do for a couple of days. I even managed one day where I ate both lunch and dinner in one of those bars, spending from about 12 till 8pm there just chilling.
Steet Food in Vang Vieng
The food in the bars in Vang Vieng is good and there’s also a really nice Mexican in Town too called Amigo’s, but the street food stands outside the bars selling sandwiches are really surprisingly tasty. I don’t usually like sandwiches that much, I find them kind of boring, but these things are amazing. They’re huge and taste great. If you want a cheap filling meal (probably a good shout before tubing) that’s where to go.
Where to Stay in Vang Vieng
I stayed in Mountainview Riverside Boutique Hotel. The name is misleading. It makes the hotel/hostel sound really fancy, which it is not. In fact I think this was the cheapest accommodation in the area when I looked up where to stay and it’s certainly not the prettiest of hostels I’ve ever been in but it was nice enough.
This is even the hostel where I saw a guy doing the below in my dorm (he was really drunk). Not the type of thing you’d expect from somewhere called “Mountain View Riverside Boutique Hotel”!
I don’t know how sociable a hostel it would be though as there’s no common room. It wasn’t a problem for me as I’d traveled with friends from Luang Prabang there but if you’re on your own you might want to go for one of the slightly more expensive hostels in town that have common rooms and bars attached.
How long to spend in Vang Vieng
I spent about 5 days in Vang Vieng in the end but I spent most of that just relaxing rather than running around and seeing things. I hear the caves and waterfall nearby to Vang Vieng are worth going to see but you could probably do both of those in a day.
Getting From Vang Vieng to Vientiane
There are so many busses that go from Vang Vieng to destinations, even in other countries, so moving on is not hard. I booked a bus at my hostel to go to Vientiane. I booked a few days in advance just to be sure as I had a flight in Vientiane I needed to make it there for but the busses didn’t seem to be as over subscribed as in places like Myanmar so I think you could easily book it last minute.
My bus was really late picking me up but luckily I kept asking reception about it saying “are you sure it’s all ok and they’re still coming” as it turns out the bus had forgotten to pick me up and was about to leave without me! Sometimes it’s better to risk sounding like an idiot and asking rather than being left with no bus and a missed flight the other end.
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