Tubing in Vang Vieng

Tubing is another thing you should definitely put on your bucket list. Sadly as of Jan 2013, the Laos Government has shut it down. I’m not sure if this should be a blessing in disguise, since the tubing culture in Laos not only damages the locals way of living, but claiming people’s lives as well. Nevertheless I’m glad I got to experience it before it’s over.

I was a complete newbie when I first started tubing. While walking around in Vang Vieng a.k.a America Town, there were people who had bracelets and stacked around their wrists and ankles. It was later that I realized these bracelets are given as a “door gift” at every bar that you visit along the Nam Song River, and these people have SO many bracelets around their wrists because they’ve been tubing consecutively for days! I for one, cannot accomplish that. For every day that I float down the river, the next day is spent spacing out, watching Friends & Family Guy and fighting the massive hangover.

Should tubing ever resume again, and for good reasons (I hope), here are some tips on how to stay safe and have a blast!

Tip #1: Eat a heavy breakfast/brunch before you start tubing. You won’t get any food from the moment you step into the Nam Song River until you get back into town. So load up on oily fried bacon and buttered toast. You’re going to need that.

Tip #2: Bring a carabiner to hook your slippers to your shorts, but note that you might still lose them while floating down the river. Don’t bring slippers if you’re afraid of losing them. But be prepared to walk on a dirt road with rocks and possibly broken glass.

Tip #3: Use a disposable underwater camera or a proper underwater case for your compact camera. Don’t trust the “waterproof” camera pouches that you purchase from Vang Vieng. It’s not reliable and definitely not worth losing all your photos from your trips or the cost of your camera!

Tip #4: Strap everything you have onto you. The chance of losing something when you grab your tube and jump back into the river is too high. Believe this, or not but I saw a waterproof bag with a stack of money floating in the river, but since I went in wet season, the currents are so fast that it disappeared before I could swim to it. Im still jealous of the next lucky bugger who managed to grab it.

Tip #5: Bring the fake Ray Ban sunnies you bought from town, not the real expensive ones, or prepare for it to find a new home at the bottom of the Nam Song River, along with 100,000 other submerged belongings.

Tip #6: The waterproof pouches you buy in Vang Vieng are not that waterproof. Remember to ALWAYS zip it up properly before going into the water, or put your stuff in a smaller ziplock bag, then inside the waterproof pouch. It isn’t the best waterproof pouch, but  you can’t expect much since it only costs a couple of dollars.

Tip #7: Go late. But not too late. Going too early means having more time to chill out, but it also means you get wasted faster, and the trick is not to pass out before you get to the middle bars in the Nam Song. Coming later also means more people would have filled up the bars then, and you  won’t have to rope yourself in to an empty bar and feel bored.

Tip #8: Do not rely on the free whiskey shots that you get from every bar you visit. God knows what is in that thing, but if you rather have that and skimp on paying for your own beer, you’ll probably not remember a single thing by the time the sun sets.

Tip #9: Don’t spend all your time and money in the FIRST bar. Most people hang out at the first bar for the longest time because 1) it’s the most crowded and popular bar so there must be NO fun elsewhere, right? WRONG. 2)Relax, I can float down to the next bar later on, the sun won’t set so soon. WRONG again. Time passes faster than you know and hours go by without you realizing it. “But I haven’t even tried out the giant slide/flying fox/jumped off the platform yet!”  Too bad. Spend all your time in the first bar and that’s how you’ll miss out on the rest.

Tip #10: Whoever said that you HAVE to return the tubes by 7pm in order to get your full deposit back never had real fun. Don’t worry too much about it, no one really makes it back by the allocated time. If you return it later, you’ll get half your deposit back, and still have more fun that that kid who’s got his full deposit.

Tip #11: Americano bar ! (If it still exists) The very nice local folks at one of the bars invented a dance move for that  Yolanda Be Cool song, “We Speak No Americano”. And that dance move is quite the legend. A few verses into the song and you’ll see everyone around you doing some sort of mass dance in unison.

Tip #12: Whisky Train!!! When you hear a bell ringing at the bar, and everyone starts to scramble and form a line, don’t just stare. JOIN THE LINE. It’s a whisky train! Some hot chick at the bar will come by and pour whisky into everyone’s mouths

Tip #13: Before you leave the last bar, make sure you’re not the last to go. Some people don’t want to pay for the tubes, so they go tubing, without a tube. Instead of floating down the river, they hold onto other people’s tubes and swim around the river instead. And most of the time, they’ll try to steal one from the pile of tubes just to get to the next destination. If you’re at the last bar during sunset, and the last to go, there is a very high chance that there are hardly any tubes left for you even though you paid for one.

Tip #14: When it starts to get dark, don’t float around alone. Look for other tubers and huddle with them. Most people don’t know which part of the river to exit from and end up having to walk a long way back into town. If you’re with a regular dude that tubes every day for a week, then you’re in luck. If not, there might be a Lao Kid with a torch, waving for you to go over. Be warned that he’ll expect some sort of tip for “helping” you get out of the river.

Tip #15: It’s okay to be drunk but don’t get so smashed that you lose control of yourself. Always stay safe and keep it drug free!

All photos were captured with the Kodak Waterproof Underwater Disposable Camera.


Wanderer of lands, searcher of souls. Last seen tree hugging and running wild into the mountains. Might have eaten all the ice cream in the tub.

5 Responses

  1. Sechys Diary says:

    great post! I always wondered if this would ever get shut down. with so much alcohol involved, I wonder how people stay on the tubes!

    • Dara says:

      Now that it’s over, I’m sure people can still tube, only without the bars along the river. Maybe that’ll keep them in the tubes better 😉

  2. John Young says:

    A new tubing place has opened up in Chiang Mai called Chiang Mai Tubing and Beach Club. It also has the only beach in Chiang Mai to play some volleyball or frisbee.

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