So after my rather unfavorable review of the ridiculousness that is Vang Vieng in the previous post, I have to tell you that Ted and I joined the British and Aussie youngsters for a day of party tubing on the river, and it was really damn fun. After renting our tubes and tuk-tuking several miles upriver from town, we arrived at the launch point with dozens of fellow tubers, ready to see what this debauchery was all about.
If you were to plop into your tube and cruise straight back to town, it wouldn’t take you more than an hour or so – especially on the day we set out as the river was particularly high due to recent rains. However, no one heads straight back to town because the river is lined with dozens of hilariously entertaining bars that vie for your attention and business. As you float down the river, bar employees literally throw you a rope and pull you in to come visit their establishment. Once on shore, there are a variety of drinking-themed games and loud music that distract people for hours. Some bars have water slides, rope swings, and other potentially dangerous activities for young people who have been drinking heavily, but the day we went they were mostly closed due to the high water level and a previous injury (a broken jaw) by a fellow traveler the day before.
Ted and I managed to have a pretty hilarious time. We ran into lots of people from the Slow Boat cruise, and it doesn’t require too much convincing for us to have fun on a beautiful day with the primary activities being drinking cocktail buckets and floating down a river.
After a few different stops at the various riverside bars, we decided to call it a day and float ourselves back home before it got too dark. As soon as we set off from the last bar, we had the entire river to ourselves as the sun was going down. It was beautiful, it was serene, and it was hard to imagine the chaos that was going on behind us on the river. In our rather idyllic (and inebriated) state, we managed to miss the proper disembarkation point, and found ourselves hitching a ride back to town on a tuk-tuk waiting for clueless tubers like us.
Ted and I managed to get back, with both of our tubes, and in one piece. Many folks are not so lucky – the river claims lives and bones every year. We went on a day that the river was particularly high, and it’s no wonder that dumb drunk kids die there regularly. You’ve got respect that river, and most people don’t, and the rope swings, slides, and diving boards don’t help. Neither do the super-soakers filled with whiskey. In our transport to the river, we rode with folks who opted not to rent tubes at all – they were just going to swim or hold onto someone else’s tube to get back. On a raging river. In the dark. When they’ve been drinking. Not a great idea.
So though Vang Vieng is one of the most beautiful little spots we visited in Laos and we had a hilarious time tubing on the river, I can’t recommend it to too many people. It’s got a lot of potential, but until someone figures out how to attract a more appealing (and potentially more profitable) market of visitors, it’s destined to be a backpacker party town for years to come.