Asia . Laos . Tube-Mecca

February 28th, 2010 - March 7th, 2010

Vang Vieng, Laos
8,000 kip = $1

"Real backpackers" are philosophers and connoisseurs. They want cultural immersion. They want new tastes and new sounds. They want adventures (successes and failures). They want to share stories and dream of destinations. "Real backpackers" are dynamic. They are adaptive. For those unfamiliar with Vang Vieng before their visit, they must exercise this ability to "adapt".

Vang Vieng is about partying. A whole town sacrificed to backpackers. Cheap food. Cheap liqueur. Moderately cheap accommodation. Zero culture.

It really is hard to imagine unless you think of it as a "theme-park" for wannabe adults. ALL the restaurants have televisions which constantly show episodes of Friends, Family Guy or The Simpsons. The bars all serve alcohol as well as a variety of soft narcotics: special-smoothies, mushy-shakes, O-tea.. And then there's THE RIVER.

Pay 105,000 kip (60,000 kip deposit refunded if the tube is returned by 6pm) and you'll be provided with a big black inner-tube AND a tuk-tuk ride to some riverbank about 5km out of town. First thing you see when you arrive at the riverbank? A bar. A sketchy looking tree fort about 10m up. A pasty westerner doing some-sort of squat-thrust on the edge of the tree fort. A taut length of rope stretching from the westerner to the top of what looks like 10m long fishing rod. And then somebody swinging in a long slow arc over the river. Sploosh.

As you launch your tube into the river, you'll see similar scenes repeated all along the riverbank: bar, platform & swing, flying westerners. As you slowly float down the river towards the second bar you will be targeted. Water bottles attached to lengths of rope will be tossed at you by barmen "fishing" for customers. If they hit you in the face, you may get a free drink.

To help distinguish themselves from their siblings, each bar advertises "extras". Free french fries. 15,000 kip buckets before 11am. "Special products". Volleyball mud pit. Water slides. WATER SLIDES! There's a small one with a ~3m vertical and big one with a ~20m vertical. The big one is made of jagged cement and kitchen tiles. When you want to slide a guy dumps a bucket of water on the tiles and you GO!

After ~2km, the bars end. Most people make it to this point at ~3:30pm. The river is ~6.5km. Floating without effort yields a speed of ~1km/h. This means that there is no chance of making the 6:00pm tube-rental-refund-deadline. With this in mind a small army of locals wait at the river bank offering quick transportation back to town for a small fee. The first time we tubed, we had to make use of this service. The second time though.. We paddled till our arms just about fell off, allowing us to double our speed to ~2km/h. "Epic" AND / OR "legendary".


  • You don't go to Vang Vieng for the food, though their are lots of places to get pizza. You don't go to Vang Vieng meet Laotians, though there are lots of them offering lots of things, "real backpackers in Vang Vieng" want alcohol, water sports, new adventures and stories.
  • You'll be riding the tuk-tuk with a hodge-podge of internationals -- one of which will likely have been repeating this trip for the past 7 days.

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