The Beautiful Playground of Vang Vieng

I wanted to go to Vang Vieng for the tubing. I admit it. Who doesn’t want to bar hop by floating down a river in an inner tube? But when I got to Vang Vieng I realized just how much more there was to it than the tubing.

For starters, it’s gorgeous. The mountains, the fields, the river – there is no bad view in Vang Vieng. If I had more time (how many times have I said that?) I would have loved to explore more of the area. I heard fantastic things about nearby hikes and motorcycle rides. Unfortunately though we only had two days, and due to a surprising bout of food poisoning (I think?) I was not feeling up to too much activity.

This didn’t stop me from enjoying my time there though. Day 1 was all about the tubing. I would not let my food poisoning take this away from me. It’s true that the bar scene has been severely reduced from the old “tube at your own risk” days, but it’s not totally over. Maybe it’s my old age, but after experiencing it now and then seeing some videos of what it was like before, I think I prefer it how it is today.

Here’s how it works: you go to the one place in town that still does tubing (it’s not hard to find), rent your tube for 55,000 kip plus a 60,000 kip deposit that you get back when you return your tube before 6 pm, then they load you and your fellow tubers into a tuktuk and drive you upstream to the launching point. From here, you can already see the first bar.

The distance between bars is much smaller than I thought it would be. In reality, we spent maybe 10% of our day in the tubes and 90% at the bars. To get to the bar, guys threw strings with weighted water bottles on the end in our direction and then dragged us in. The bars are more than simply a place to get drinks: the first one had volleyball, the second had a balance beam over a water pit and a water-spraying basketball net, the third was a huge dance floor, the fourth had more volleyball, ping-pong, and a stick of fire you could limbo under. I opted to not try that one. It’s like recess with alcohol. By 5:00 we were at the last bar and out of time to make it back by floating – it takes an hour and a half back to town by the river this time of year – so we jumped in a tuktuk and returned our tubes before 6. It was a fun day for sure, my only sadness was the lingering sickness that took me out of it a little. If it was me in full healthiness, and maybe with my San Francisco friends, things probably would have gotten rowdy.

Along the way we’d made friends with some other travelers and had a good group. After dinner together we decided to push through and experience Vang Vieng nightlife. Moral of the story: the fun is the tubing, not the nightlife. Although drinking beers down by the river after the bars closed at midnight was nice.

Day 2 Simo went rock climbing, but I opted to stay in town and hang out with some friends from the day before. Dan, Michaella and I had an active day of breakfast and Vang Vieng’s famous shakes, followed by a hike up a small mountain with a beautiful view of the area, and chill time at Smile Bar. Definitely go to Smile Bar. Michaella relaxed in a hammock while Dan and I floated in anchored tubes in the river for I don’t even know how long. It was a great day. Then I cut my foot on a rock walking out of the river. Why was I so beaten up in Vang Vieng? It wasn’t even because of tubing.

We left on the night bus for Luang Prabang, happy to have made this stop. Good scenery, good activities, and good people combined for a positive impression of Vang Vieng, even if it is a town made entirely for tourists. But at least that means they show Friends at dinner every day.

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