Vang Vieng was an interesting place... I had a lot of fun there, but the town was clearly a backpackers town. I had heard awesome things about tubing, but I had also heard some pretty crazy stories, so I wasn't sure what to expect.
But first, lets backup a little bit... We went to Laos by sleeper train from Bangkok, which was a great option. We arrived well rested, something we hadn't experienced from the overnight busses in Myanmar.
When you take the train, you'll arrive in Nong Khai, which is just at the Thai border. From there, you'll be stamped out of Thailand and then take a short fifteen minute train ride over the border via the Friendship Bridge. You'll then obtain your visa on arrival at the Laos border. The whole process didn't take very long and was painless.
We spent the day and night in Vientiane where there really isn't anything to do. The next morning, we took a three and a half hour bus ride to Vang Vieng. We arrived at our guest house, Jamee's House, which was very nice, but a little too far from the town for us (about 20 minutes).
Asides from visiting the many "Friends Cafes" around Vang Vieng -- yes, they play episodes of Friends on loop, non stop, 24/7 at many places in town, there really isn't much to do besides tubing!
So, on our first full day, we headed down to the tube shop, paid 55,000 Kip as well as a 60,000 Kip deposit. If you don't make it back before six, you start to slowly lose your deposit.
We hopped on a tuk tuk, and were driven to the first of only two remaining bars.
The tubing scene in Vang Vieng has undergone MANY changes in the past few years. Where there are now only two bars, there used to be almost 25 bars scattered along the Mekong River Bank. Unfortunately, several backpackers have died over the years due to drowning, severe intoxication and even drug overdose. While tubing is still really fun, the overall experience is much tamer than it was in the past.
Let me preface this by saying we arrived WAY too early to the first bar. We couldn't figure out when we should leave because we wanted to float all the way down the river (which we would later learn, was not possible) and we were told it would take about 3 hours since it was still dry season.
Don't show up until after 1:30. That's when people start to show up and the bar starts to get crazy. There are games, free shots and many more enticing things (the people working there will continually try to get you to stay at that bar and not leave to go to the next one). I wish we had stayed a bit longer, but I still had a good time.
The second bar is a short float down the river -- about 30 minutes. It has a much "chiller" vibe, with a volleyball court, tables and seats to lounge on and a basketball hoop. We ended up staying there for awhile.
My favorite part of this story is coming up, so brace yourself....
If you go during the dry season, THERE IS NO WAY YOU ARE YOING TO FLOAT DOWN THE RIVER!!! There is not nearly enough water and you will find yourself constantly running into rocks. So, do yourself a favor, stand up in the water and walk with your tube around your waist when this is happening... It might sound silly, but it will save you from some pretty nasty bruises!
There are tuk-tuks waiting all around the riverbank to pick up and ripoff the drunk tubers, so remember that you should be able to negotiate down, but be persistent! Most drivers will also want you to pay ahead of time in Laos for some reason (maybe they've dealt with a lot of runners in the past).
We arrived with ten minutes to spare and were able to get our full deposits back which we then put part of towards delicious sandwiches.
I'm glad I went tubing, but its the same idea as the Full Moon Party in Thailand....once was enough for me!
After tubing during the day, take a nap and have a shower and then head over to Sakura for some more fun!!
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