This ‘sport’ can be practised in a number of places in Laos, but nowhere is the view as spectacular as here, with karst limestone mountains lining the route. For many, tubing on the Nam Song is the entire reason for a stop in Vang Vieng.
Up until August 2012 when the Lao Government cracked down, bars lined the river and drinking at them was a prime reason people tubed down it. The party along the river would last until sundown when tubers would rush down river to get their tubes back before the 18:00 cutoff time. These days tubing is a much different scene, with about half as many doing it as before and few bars in operation albeit on a much more subdued scale.
It’s still a popular activity in Vang Vieng and many tubers carry plastic bags with bottles of beer in them for the journey down river. At strategic points along the journey, tubers move up onto the river bank to throw frisbees, drink more beer and relax in the fading sun.
Inner tubes and songthaew transport upstream to the launching place is a part of a co-operative Village Development Group arrangement and they have two buildings in town near the river. Tube rental costs 55,000 kip plus a 60,000 kip deposit. You’ll get the full deposit back if you return the tube before 18:00, otherwise they’ll keep a 20,000 kip fee. Most people choose to buy dry bags before hitting the river and these can be had for as little as 5,000 kip with five-litre versions going for 35,000 kip. Life jackets are also available but are unpopular.
Without any pit stops, it takes two and a half hours during the dry season to float down the river. During the rainy season the river really speeds up and there are deep patches and a current. Make sure you’re a confident swimmer and tell your friends where you’re going; people have died in the past on the river and booze, drugs and swimming do not mix. Be sensible.
The party on the river as it was once known is now over. But there is still a good time to be had and many people still come to Vang Vieng to participate in this legendary activity. And so they should — the scenery is magical and the feeling on the river so relaxed.