Love or hate what it’s done to the place, tubing is Vang Vieng’s premier attraction. In fact, for some people, it’s the very reason they ended up in Laos. What started as an inventive way to spend a lazy afternoon floating down the Nam Song has rapidly evolved into an all-you-can-drink party on the river, and it‘s fairly common for people to turn up without tubes and just swim between the first few riverside bars before jumping in a tuk-tuk for the ride back into town. Most of these watering holes lure punters in with free shots of lào-láo and, as if to test your mettle, have built giant rope-swings and slides over the river. Naturally it’s a lot of fun, but be careful – people have died here.
If you decide to go for the authentic tubing experience, tubes are available from shops near the post office for around $14 per day (including a $7 deposit, refundable if you return the tube before 6pm). This includes a tuk-tuk ride upriver to the main launching point, 3km north of town near the Organic Mulberry Farm. A float back into town should take two hours from here, but you could easily spend the whole day dancing, drinking and playing mud volleyball at the bars along the way. It’s important to leave enough time to get back before dark however, as it gets cold and it becomes almost impossible to see where you’re going in the fast-flowing water. If you’re a weak swimmer, wear a life jacket while tubing – the shops supplying the inner tubes should provide them. A good sunblock is also essential if you don’t want to come out looking like a lobster; the tropical sun is powerful, even on overcast days.