Set majestically on the Nam Song River surrounded by breath taking jagged limestone mountains, farming land and virgin forests is Vang Vieng. If you arrived in the early morning you would be forgiven for thinking you were in for a quiet and relaxing stay in what appears to be a tranquil town. Come 10am the backpackers start waking up and after some breakfast it is beer o’clock and then at about lunch time the first jumbo’s start ferrying everyone up river to where the fun, tubing and serious partying begin.
Tubing is what draws the majority of young backpackers to this town but what once may have been a peaceful experience floating down the river in a tractor tube, sipping a few Beer Laos, gazing up at the limestone cliffs above is no longer the case, if you make it past bar four you’re doing pretty well.
Tube, no longer required, just your swimmers, your water proof pouch for cash and your drinking boots. The jumbo from town will drop you off near bar one where on the way over the bridge you are offered free shots and then decked out in headbands and body paint by the crew from Q-Bar, the place to be after dark back in town. From here the party begins with the beer, buckets and free shots on tap all day long. The bars are set all along the river and it is only a short swim or walk to the next one and they all have huge rope swings, zip lines, jumping platforms and slides attached. The music pumps, everyone is in and out of the water all day and generally everyone has a pretty wicked time to say the least. People do this day in and day for days and literally weeks on end. Those that stay for an extended period of time generally end up working for one of the bars and spend the day doing the same as everyone else but for free, just promoting their respective clubs at the same time.
Vang Vieng is a beautiful place but if the tubing doesn’t appeal to you it is also a great place to go trekking, kayaking or to simply relax (just outside of the main tourist area of course). It is also a much cheaper place to do any of the above than Luang Prabang which has a lot of older tourist who are willing to pay a lot more money to see similar countryside.
Three of us also did a Kayak trip in Vang Vieng while the aussie boys hit up their second or third day of tubing. There were only five of us in the group, we had a great guide and it was a great day. The first half of the day was spent exploring a river cave by tube, checking out a village and visiting a buddhist shrine called Elephant Cave, named after the rock formations.
After lunch it was then a few hours of kayaking. The view of the mountains above and the forest were really nice and we were always passing local fisherman and then further down the river women gathering seaweed and mussels. We started well up from the party action on Nam Song but to paddle back to town we had to go through the tubing precinct. Well before we reached the first bar we could hear the music echoing across the water and then finally we turned a bend and we were there. We stopped for a couple of beers, caught up with the boys and then were on our way. Before we made it back to town though we called in to chat to some local fisherman who proceeded to capsize us, then feed us a rice wine that tasted like metho and the others also tasted some bbq fish that were about the size of guppies. We arrived back into town before sunset with plenty of time to have some dinner and get organised before the night bus to Luang Prabang.