You’re about to embark on Vang Vieng’s most popular and famous attraction: tubing. Have you heard the horror stories? (It’s much safer than it used to be.) Want to know what all the hype is about? Follow this guide and you’ll be on your way to an unforgettable time floating down the Nam Song.
What to bring
- Sun glasses (cheap ones you won’t mind losing)
- A hat (not your favorite hat, but one with a brim)
- Money (only as much as you intend to spend or lose. Factor in that you’ll have to pay a deposit that’ll be returned if you bring your tube back in time)
- A dry bag (If you don’t have one, there are dozens of souvenir shops in town where you can purchase one. No one likes to put on wet clothes.)
- Debate how important having your phone is. Consider sticking with a GoPro or other sports camera. If you must have your phone, bring a waterproof case or buy a small clear dry phone bag.
What to wear
On your feet: Wear water shoes like booties, sandals with belts for your heels or something similar. Don’t go barefoot; some of the landings are rocky and some of the grass has thorny weeds among the blades. Wear flip-flops at your own risk. They’re apt to be carried away.
On your body: Wear a bathing suit or swim trunks under your clothes. Lao are conservative, and, while they they might not say anything, it’s rude to wear just your bikini or trunks in public.
When to go
If your goal is to be on the river for as long as possible, go in the late morning and ask your tuk tuk driver to take your farther up stream to the bridge.
If your goal is to party, go mid-afternoon around 2 or 3 p.m. The route from Mulberry Farm (the standard drop-off point) takes about three hours, and you should factor in 45 minutes to an hour pit stop for each riverside bar. Go around noon or 1 p.m. if you want to hang out at the farm’s restaurant for lunch first.
Before you go
Leave the valuables at home. I don’t care how responsible you think you’re going to be, the less you bring, the less you’re apt to lose. Book with your hostel or at any of the dozens of tourism shops around town. Or go straight to the tube warehouse. You’ll know you’ve find it, because tuk tuks line up outside, ready to haul people up stream. The garage is stacked with tractor tire inner tubes. Fill out the waiver. Bring a photo of your passport or memorize your passport number; some operators require it when renting a tube. Leave the original at your accommodation. You’ll be asked if you want a life jacket. They aren’t required, but consider your ability to swim and whether, and how much you intend to imbibe on the way. The rental people will mark up your hand with permanent marker to show when you’ve rented your tube. Remember what time you need to return your tube in order to receive your deposit! Some places say 6 p.m., others say 8 p.m. Load into a tuk tuk with your tubes on the roof and get ready! Your tuk tuk driver will take you up to the Organic Farm, if you start early and aren’t in a rush, consider stopping by the farm for lunch.
Take your tube down to the riverbank and take the tethered ferry over to Viva Pub for beer, drinking games and volleyball. Once you’ve had your fill, you can finally get in the water! Just as you’re getting comfortable, you’ll hit the second bar, Good View Restaurant, which serves up sandwiches, has a volleyball court, a raised deck for sunbathing, tunes and shaded picnic tables if the sun and booze is getting to you. When you’re ready to get back in the water, you can take a roadie, just make sure you take care of the empties. Littering in the river is not cool. The next stretch is the longest stretch, so you might get together with strangers-turned-friends and create a floating mass of tubes or go it alone. You could stop at the picnic area, if you have clothes to wear and beers to drink, or at the bar under the zip line at the bend in the river. Regardless of how you spend your time, when you see the giant sign that says tubing ends here, you gotta get out.
The end of the line
The route ends at the Smile Bar. The staff will go fishing for you with a water bottle tied to a rope. Grab onto the rope and be prepared to fight the current and hoist yourself up onto the rocky bank. Drink and hang out in the hammocks or on the decks. BOGO liquor buckets might be up your alley or might put you over the edge. There’s a bonfire when the sun sets, but watch the time to make sure you get your deposit back. Have the decency to put on a shirt as you lug your tube through the town back to the garage. Then grab some street food and hit up the many bars on dry land.
Smile Beach Bar is the end of the line | © Regina Beach/Culture Trip