For many backpackers, Laos exists for one purpose only: tubing. Tubing in Laos holds a mythical reputation for being the most dangerous and extreme activity one can do in Southeast Asia. More travelers die from tubing in Laos than anywhere else in Southeast Asia with the official death toll currently at around 25 tourists per year.
Tubing in Laos is a great deal of fun and after going I understand why so many people decide to perish here. Besides the party, the booze, the blue lagoons, the mushrooms and all other wonders of the third world to indulge in, it is painfully beautiful as can be seen in the pictures below.
Tubing is conducted in Vang Vieng which is where the madness starts. As soon as you get off the bus you are greeted by hordes of gap year Brits and tuktuk drivers hauling drunk party goers complete with face paint and inflated tubes to the Mekong River. The tuktuks in Laos are exceptionally weird because they are actual motorbikes welded onto a cart with a plastic roof bolted on.
Finding a hotel or hostel is super easy and there are plenty of good alternatives to choose from ranging from concrete bunkbeds to riverside private villas. One strange annoyance are the touts trying to sell you a room – don’t be surprised if an 18 year old European tries to convince you to stay at his or her place. Vang Vieng is actually crawling with young adults working for hotels and bars, hoping to stay for a few extra months to party just a little bit more. Some are even paid in alcohol or marijuana. I met one girl who had been there for three months and it was definitely starting to show. She claimed to be tubing almost every day. I believed her.
Tubing in Laos
Laos in general and Vang Vieng in particular are almost entirely about tubing for 90% of the people visiting. So let’s get to it. I was unfortunate enough to be cursed with some type of travelers diarrhea for most of my time in Laos but I didn’t let that stop me from having fun. If you are going in the first few months of the year expect lower water levels and hence less exciting tubing. This was the case when I went and people were reporting very slow and dull rides down the Mekong River after the initial three bars.
Because of the low water level me and my group of recently acquired friends decided to leave the tubes behind and focus more on the boozing. After an underwhelming breakfast proclaiming to be western we hopped into one of the weird tuktuks and took off. After about 20 minutes worth of tuktuking we could hear the tubing. After 30 minutes we could feel the tubing and by the time we got there we were pretty much all giggling and excited.
The first thing that greeted us was a very big parking lot. Behind the lot were some trees and behind those were the tubing platforms where bad things happen. After we reached the riverside we crossed to the Mekong River on a bamboo bridge and were greeted by begging homeless children. After the children and the bridge there was an entrance to the first tubing platform. More teenage party expat westerner workers greeted us here and the drinking began immediately after.
Let me tell you about the drinks. They are cheap. And they are awful. The quality of alcohol is so bad in Laos that they happily give it away for free. I was force-fed locally made whiskey that tasted like it was made using some sort of black magic witchcraft and horse manure. Nevertheless I drank it and so did my friends and all the other permanently residing western teenage workers who were practically running the place. I was actually pretty impressed by the drinking skills of these teen bartenders as they were doing shot races with every single person who entered the tubing platform.
After dancing, drinking and misbehaving we swam across the river to the other tubing platform that was starting to out-party us by this point (yes, we were seriously intoxicated and having a total blast). During this escapade I managed to lose one of my trusted old Havaiana flip flops when a strong current grabbed both me and my sandals and pulled me away. Luckily I fumbled and grabbed a wooden ladder in front of me and pulled myself onto the platform. It is really easy to die here and I can see how the mix of all kinds of drugs and degenerate behavior claims lives every now and then. Luckily I survived and it ain’t a party unless there’s casualties as some people say.
Well on the other side we were met by a bonanza of titties and spray paint as one crazy western party expat teenager guy had made it his mission to use a can of red spray paint to color everyone’s breasts red. We were given this treatment immediately and joined the club of other fun-loving people with red body parts. From there-on-out it was a continuous session of drinking, jumping into the river using the rope swings, dancing and forgetting everything we had been told about personal safety. After doing this for countless hours the sun had begun to set and we were becoming increasingly tired and decided to call it a night.
This article is part I of III in our trilogy about Travel in Laos. After tubing and resting Karl and his friends managed to get dragged into a mushroom bar where strange things unfolded. To read part II of this trilogy, click the following link about Shrooming in Vang Vieng.