How Not to Drown in the River While Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng is a small village in Laos, consisting of not much more than a few hotels, restaurants and a bus station – surrounded by misty green hills, vast caves and lush forests and hugged by the slow-moving river. This tiny village has become a popular attraction in recent years for young budget backpackers, who have turned it into a party zone of drinking and debauchery.

If you are looking for the authentic Laos experience and wish to immerse yourself in the local culture, Vang Vieng is not the destination for you. However, if you want to experience one of the iconic party scenes of Southeast Asia, you can have fun here for a few days. The village consists mostly of restaurants and bars oriented toward tourists, where hungover backpackers sleepily drink fruit smoothies while watching re-runs of “Family Guy” and “Friends”.

Tubing in Vang Vieng Laos: Bars and Restaurants

Tubing in Vang Vieng Laos

The main activity is renting an inflatable tube for the day and floating down the river, stopping at the many bars along the way. Due to the abundance of drinking and drugs associated with this activity, it quickly became a death trap for risk-seeking backpackers – who would either drown in the river while incredibly intoxicated or dive into too-shallow waters in an attempt to show off for their new mates. More than 20 backpackers were killed in one year, which led to all but a couple of the river bars being shut down and the diving platforms and rope swings being removed.

Tubing in Vang Vieng Laos: Picking up a Tube on the Beach

These days, Vang Vieng has a much mellower vibe than it used to. When we visited in 2013, the tubing scene was laid back and social, rather than being dangerously hedonistic.

Tubing in Vang Vieng Laos: Group tubing on the river

Saving the Life of a Fellow Backpacker

However, the dangers of drinking heavily while navigating a river on an inflatable tube are still there. During our visit, we saw a young blond Danish backpacker who had drifted into some reeds and was left, unconscious in her tube. Passed out cold, she was slipping down into the middle of the tube and we reached her just in time. We lifted her out of the water and back into her tube and floated her back into town, making sure that she made it into dry land.

It was a scary experience – if we hadn’t have found her there is no telling what would have happened. It is situations like this that reveal the importance of safety if you decide to go tubing on the river in Vang Vieng.

Tubing in Vang Vieng Laos: After a hard night drinking

What to Remember if You Go Tubing

If you decide to relax and enjoy the nightlife of Vang Vieng, don’t expect much authentic Laos culture – it’s purely a paradise for young people to enjoy sunshine, natural beauty and booze. However, keep these tips in mind to keep yourself safe:

  • If you choose to go tubing in Vang Vieng Laos, take it easy with the drinking. Stay alert, as you will be floating down a river after all.
  • Stick together with friends, so that you can look after each other.
  • Don’t dive into the river. The water is too shallow and the risk of injury is very high.
  • It is not recommended to purchase drugs, as the punishment for drug possession is very high in Laos.
  • Make sure you give yourself enough time to get back into town before it gets dark.

Also, keep an eye out for your fellow backpackers who have had one too many.

About Kelly Dunning


A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word. She and her English boyfriend Lee run, packed full with travel guides, stories and inspiration for those who dream of travel. They have been location independent and travelling the world digital-nomad style for the last three years, with no address, no car and no fixed schedule.

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