Then and Now
Tubing in Vang Vieng has a lot of controversy going around it. A few years ago it was very common that people died whilst tubing along the river here. If you talk to a friend who has been to Laos a few years ago, guaranteed they know someone whose died. Or knows someone who knows someone that died. Seriously, an extremely tragic thing, and something that Laos knew they had to change.
Don’t let that scare you away from trying this amazingly enjoyable experience. Things are looking a lot brighter for tubing in Vang Vieng these days. I was able to go tubing twice in the week I was there during February 2019. The river used to host as many as 10 bars along it which you choose to stop off at or not. Whereas now they have cut it down to just 3.
The river takes about 3 hours to tube down with no stops, so when you think about stopping for 10 bars, the daylight is going to quickly escape you. And tubing in the dark is when it starts to get scary. I must admit, even with 3 bars if you stay too long at them it can start getting dark before you know it. So here is my advice to make the most out of your tubing experience, whilst remaining safe throughout.
Everything You Need to Know about Tubing in Vang Vieng
Two Tubing Routes – Red & Yellow
I went tubing in Vang Vieng twice when I was there this year, but I chose to do the yellow tubing both times and skip the red one. The reason being that the people I was with were doing yellow. Then we chose to do it again because we sort of ‘messed up’ the first time and wanted to try to do it again but better the second time. Read the yellow tubing below to see how we messed up.
However, I did hear a lot of information about the red one and can relay the differences quite well. The main differences being that the Red tubing is a more relaxing, more nature filled tubing experience. They say you tube through a cave and things like that. There are also 2 to 3 bars along the way, similar to the yellow tubing, that you can choose to stop at.
Whereas, the yellow tubing is the ‘more fun’ tubing experience. It is still stunning to tube down as you are surrounded by the Northern Laos cliffs, but at the bars there are reps waiting for you that entertain everyone with drinking games.
I will tell you all about my yellow tubing experience, and my advice and recommendations at the end will apply to both the yellow and red tubing routes.
The yellow tubing route is what you will generally get if you book outside of your hostel or hotel. Any local tour company generally sells this option. But you can always ask just to be sure.
The yellow tubing has 3 bars, one at the very beginning, one in the middle that changes locations depending on the day, and then one at the very end. The first bar is only 2 minutes after you get into your tube. Although it is tempting to skip it because you want to tube and not get out right away, it is probably the most fun bar to attend.
Bar Number 1
There are reps there that get everyone amped up with some drinking games. You can choose to bring your own booze with you on the tubes, you just have to hold them in your lap in a bag. Or you can buy drinks at the bars you stop at. When I did this route we played a massive 30-40 person game of flip cup. After a couple rounds of that they set up this very hilarious game of ‘musical tires’. Essentially, musical chairs but dancing around a ton of tires laid on the ground which we would have to race to once the music stopped.
We had started tubing at 1pm, and I think by the time we left this bar it was already 2:30pm. With 3 hours of tubing to go we decided it was probably time to head back to the river. Now this was already a mistake, because the mountainous cliffs around the river are so high the sun goes behind them quite early, especially during this ‘winter time’. So by around 3pm we did not have much sun left.
Bar Number 2
Yet we of course wanted to check out all 3 of the bars so we of course stopped for the second one, which today ended up being only another 20 minutes down the river. The reps from the first bar took a little while behind us to get here, but we wanted to wait for them because the games they had were so fun.
Once they finally arrived around 3:30pm we played a couple of games of hot potato with water balloons. After that had finished around 4pm we decided it was time to continue tubing. Although it wasn’t dark yet it was definitely getting quite chilly being in the shade now that the sun was primarily behind the mountains around you.
Bar Number 3
The third and final bar is at the very end of the tubing, we ended up skipping this bar because after we left the second bar at 4pm there was still 2 hours until the end, thus getting to this last bar at 6pm very cold and very drunk. We thought it was best to head back to our hostel and warm up and get some food in us.
My Recommendations – For Both Red & Yellow Tubing
The first mistake we made was leaving at 1pm. It was quite a late start and the reps say that they get to the first bar around 11am, so you can leave as early as then. If you tell the company you book it with that you want to go at 11am they can arrange that, and you will get to the river around 11:30. Don’t worry, it’s 12 o’clock somewhere. Just crack that first beer and don’t feel bad about it, you’re on vacation after all.
I would also recommend that you bring your own drinks. As it’s cheaper and more convenient than having to buy from the bars. I ended up bringing 1 or 2 ciders and a couple of beers. You also get some free ‘shots’ at the bars.
Our second issue was staying too long at the bars. Although they are very fun, so is being on the river. Especially if you brought your own drinks. Floating down the river in the sun with your friends is kind of the whole point. So go to the bars, enjoy yourselves, but don’t stay longer than you think is appropriate for the time you left for tubing at.
Thirdly, not only did we stay too long, but I think we drank too much at the first two bars. Leaving us not too keen to check out the last bar.
So all in all, make sure you leave early enough, bring some of your own booze, and try to hit all 3 bars but don’t stay too long. If you do all of these, you’ll be enjoying tubing in the sun, you won’t be too drunk, and you’ll have successfully had a great time tubing in Vang Vieng.
Not sure the best way to get to Laos? Check out my post on taking the slow boat from northern Thailand to Laos.