Story has it that once upon a time 20 tourists died in the space of one year. When two Australian’s died in the space of two days, the organisers had to add some health and safety procedures to one of the most popular activities for travellers visiting Laos: Tubing down the Nang Song river in Vang Vieng.
Years ago, there were over 20 bars you’d stop off at as you floated gently downstream. There were an array of back-breaking swings and slides that were known for being dangerous, naturally from the fatalities they caused. Mushroom shakes were on the menu – which I’m sure made the whole experience similar to that of Willy Wonka and his inviting chocolate river and tourists could smoke weed with no thought for how lethargic that might make them when they’d jump back in their tubes again…
The tubing still runs today, but there’s no denying it’s tamer. I also can’t deny that I’d have loved to have seen the ‘casual’ carnage it once brought (as long as no-one died) – however we still had an absolutely amazing time in the 25 degree heat with old faces and new faces in the only two bars open for us to fill our buckets in. The scenery we floated past was gorgeous, like the majority of Laos, with fluffy hills reaching up to touch a soft blue sky.
We were so lucky that the weather was nice as it was shocking when we first got to Laos, and for the first time since China, I was wearing gloves and a hoodie. We met people in our room that went a few days before us and they didn’t let the weather stop them, however they were bed-bound for the next two days with a rotten cold👀😬…but, they had no regrets! They still enthused us explaining how they had so much fun but they just stayed in the bars for longer, putting on layers upon layers of beer jackets!
On the day that we went, because the weather had been bad previously, some of the regular bars stayed closed. We heard that the following day, when the sun shone at 28 degrees, another 2 opened. I think the maximum you’ll ever get is 5 bars at one time 👍.
We booked through KLD Tours and paid just 60,000 each (£5.20/$7.20) for the experience, and because we booked with a group (the Dutch girls, Romy & Anouk), we got free transport there and back and a large bucket to share. On the Tuk Tuk, we met the two Aussie guys, Harry & Eddie, from our dorm room, who added great value and fun to the trip. It’s best to be on your way by 12pm, because you get picked up at the last bar just before 6pm🕕!
So, into our tubes we got, apprehensive about how cold it would be but we were pleasantly surprised that it was mild, and I used my flip flops to row for just five minutes before we reached the first bar.
We floated up to an almost oversized wooden raft and the guy who owns it ran down to throw us a bottle on a rope to pull ourselves in. Safe to say, I still drifted away, past the stairs, out of my tube, only to be helped out once everybody else was standing 😌.
The entire family were sweet and generous, giving out several free shots of whiskey throughout the day. Usually if activities are reasonably priced, you’ll find that the drinks burn a hole in your pocket – but small buckets, with very generous helpings of alcohol, were only 30,000K (£2.60/$3.60)🤙. Their two young girls were adorable and the eldest – who could be no older than 7- joined in with the banter and helped us to change the music on YouTube after she got clean and dry after playing in the river with her baby sister.
When it was time to go, we were feeling nice and tipsy and were able to enjoy the remainder of our drinks as we drifted away. I liked this part of the journey because we admired the scenery, waved to the locals who were using goggle’s to catch fish under the water, we saw local children on the side of the bank calling out to their dads as they fished, and smiled at them as they splashed in the river.
We managed to enjoy all of this with a lit cigarette too as our 3ml dry bag did wonders in keeping everything, well, dry. I highly recommend you purchasing one for this activity as they are absolutely everywhere to be found in Vang Vieng and cost just 30,000K (£2.60/$3.60). How else could you keep your booze money dry after all?
After floating for around 20/30 minutes (or about an hour if you’re Eddie and take your time🤣) we made it to the next bar (which I think is always the last stop). It had great music, ping pong tables and another hospitable family hosting our stay there. We were all feeling the alcohol tingling through our veins now, after like four hours of solid drinking, so we enjoyed splitting off to keep the children entertained by chasing them round the ranch and I even tried teaching them to do a headstand on the wooden decking (ouch). They soon showed me up by cart-wheeling away though with minimal effort ha 🤸👀.
I believe Asian children are some of the most advanced in the world when it comes to common sense; even though a lot of them have limited or no education, they generally act ahead of their time and have life skills Western children pick up much later, or never in-fact. One very young boy was say alone concentrating on making his own fishing rod from bamboo, before attaching the hook and bait.
When he caught a fish/newt (thing), he brought it up to show us and pop it in a bottle… as if it was nothing! His dad, the owner, was very proud of him which you could see in his eyes – it was a touching moment!
Then with some delicious rice packed up for the ride, we all got back on the Tuk Tuk ready to go to Sakura Bar and party. Singing the classics – Wonder Wall, Naive, Valerie, Angels etc – and sharing my rice with everyone in-between breaths, we were ready for the free whisky hour that commences every night at 8pm!
If there’s one thing that Vang Vien offers, it’s a right good time✌️🍹…
Peace & Enjoy!