The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Friday, January 13, 2012

I Went to Vang Vieng and Didn’t Tube!

Days 387-390, December 19-22, 2011

Vang Vieng, Laos is one of those places that almost seems to get trapped in a singular focus. Ask most backpackers or travelers about that town and they’ll all name the “must do” thing there: tubing. At home, tubing means being put in an inflated tire tube and pulled being the back of a speeding boat around the lake. Here, it means laying in an inflated tire tube, floating slowly down the Nay Som River, and getting drunk off your ass. At least a dozen bars are located on the rivers edge, pulling tubers in for free shots, cheap beer, and even cheaper buckets of whiskey cola.

Each of those cost $1.20IMG_8123

Swings, zip lines, and slides are also found in abundance at these riverside bars. I’m trying not to judge those that go strictly for that, but there’s enough deaths each year that you’d think people would realize that extreme alcohol + water + rocks + jumping in drunk = not a good combination. I had no desire to do the drinking and tubing mix. In my head, I was going to do the tubing, have a beer at one bar, and spend the rest of my time floating down the river taking photos. I had no idea that there was so much more to do in Vang Vieng than the tubing.

And I spent three days doing everything but tubing.

Again, I don’t want to come off too harshly on the tubers. For the locals, it’s a major source of income. But I think most of you reading have probably already figured out that I’m not really the most “party party” person there is. I prefer my pubs to my clubs. Plus, I don’t trust my swimming abilities sober, let alone drunk.

But I digress.

When I arrived in Vang Vieng, I immediately took off to try and find someplace nice. Somehow I lucked out and got a place that had a balcony overlooking the Nay Som River for only 60,000kip a night. It was splendid! As most of the day had been traveling I didn’t get to do much except find a place and watch the sunset. A little walking around, scoping out all the restaurants playing non-stop reruns of either Friends or Family Guy, and I noticed a number of tour agencies offering day trips that had nothing to do with tubing. It didn’t take long for me to sign up for a full day caving and kayaking trip.

Sunset from my roomIMG_8079

And this is something that so many people don’t realize, at least I didn’t. There are a ton of activities that one can do. My day trip began by taking a songtheaw for forty minutes with the rest of the group to a river cave where we would get the chance to go tubing through it, pulling ourselves along using a rope. This was already amazing. The cave was long and extremely dark. We were all given headlamps to use as otherwise it’d be pitch black. There were a number of places where we had to get out of the tubes and walk a bit as the water was too low. The sounds of the bats in the cave echoed throughout. From beginning to end the whole caving trip lasted a good hour.



After a bit of lunch we were taken up the river a ways to get in our kayaks. The rapids on the river were probably just class 1 and 2. Still a rush to go over them on the kayak. The scenery was absolutely amazing, but I was too terrified of my camera getting wet to take it out of its dry bag and take photos. The whole journey of 12km or so was, for the most part, quiet and peaceful. Until we got closer to the riverside bars. Then the pounding bass of the speakers began to break the calm and serenity.

Start of the kayak routeIMG_8118

After the last 3 or 4kms going through the bars I was quite pleased not to have gone tubing. I got to see the scenery anyways. And we saw more than a couple tubers fall off their tube in the water, hit their head against a rock, and come up laughing and sputtering water.

The next day, Lucy and Janine were set to arrive so I took the day to head out on mountain bikes with a couple people from the kayaking tour, Jay and Caitlin. It was a great day and I was very happy to have gotten a bike with gears as there were a number of hills that would’ve sucked trying to climb with a single speed bike. Our little bike tour took us through the hills and to the famous Blue Lagoon, a beautiful river bond that is such an amazing shade of blue. A large cave overlooks the area. We opted to climb up to that first so we can wash the sweat off after.

On the roadIMG_8132

The cave was amazing and had this "Indiana Jones” feel to it with the way the sun shone in and struck the Buddhist shrine. The deeper into the cave you explored, the darker it got. We eventually got to a point where we couldn’t see anything without our torches. Made almost falling into a deep pit quite interesting. No hunk with a bullwhip here to save us though.

The location of Harrison Ford’s new movieIMG_8145

Heading deeper into the caveIMG_8154

Swimming in the blue lagoon was incredibly refreshing as well and made it hard to leave in order to get back to town before dark. We made it though! Barely.

The Blue LagoonIMG_8163

My last full day in Vang Vieng was spent hiking for a couple hours to a viewpoint overlooking the town. It was a long hike and tough in the hot sun, but it was worth it for the feeling of accomplishment. When I got back though, I learned that Lucy and Janine, who had opted to just do the kayaking that day, had ended up getting caught in one of the rapids and hitting a tree, capsizing their kayak. They were both cut up, bruised, but none the worse for wear. They now looked like most of the other tubers who leave the river with some sort of injury.

Overlooking Vang ViengIMG_8201

Vang Vieng is a surprisingly great place to visit even if you don’t want to do the drunk tubing. There are many activities on offer to keep you busy and sober. I didn’t even get to the rock climbing, full caving, or river rafting. Keep your mind open.

And if you do do the drunk tubing, be sensible. Last thing we need is another statistic. Hell, play it safe and don’t tube. All the bars can be reached by walking. Either way, be safe and have fun.

And watch copious amounts of “Friends”IMG_8192


  1. Funny, I hated Vang Vieng because of what it was. But then again, I had a crappy room and couldn't wait to get out of there. I did tube, but I actually tubed the whole way and didn't stop at any of the bars. It was pretty nice once we escaped the bars (they like to throw bottles tied to ropes at you to reel you in) and I even got to see a heard of wild buffalo bathing in the river. That said, I still really, really hated Vang Vieng. Maybe if I'd tried some other activities...

  2. I thought I would hate Vang Vieng too and only initially planned for the one day and then get the hell out. In the end, I didn't want to leave as there were still so many things(like the rock climbing class) that I never got to do. Never saw the water buffalo though! Jealous!