Vang Vieng: Laos Unexpected

Vang Vieng: Laos Unexpected

Foreshadowing a place worth remembering, tourists throughout Southeast Asia wear “tubing Vang Vieng” clothing.  Even after visiting Vang Vieng, it isn’t clear why so many people buy the tank tops, shirts and shorts with the humorously bad logo, but I am willing to wager that these people had memorable experiences.  My best guess is that they lost the clothes they arrived with and purchased the Vang Vieng wear on a walk of shame.

Before it’s emergence as Southeast Asia’s premier inland party spot, the tourists came due to the natural beauty.  Vang Vieng sits between soaring limestone cliffs along the river that carved a path through the rocky hills.  This river has continued on as a landscape shaper by becoming the center tourist attraction for the town.  Now thirsty tourists looking to unwind, forget, or create fuzzy memories flock to the river to float from bar to bar to bar to bar.

Free shot troll.  All who past must drink.

At first glance the river doesn’t excite the would-be tuber with it’s dark water and pieces of trash floating along.  Thankfully, to start tubing you must cross a bridge guarded by a troll.  After a series of tough questions such as “where are you from?” and “how you all doing today?” he hands you a free shot and lets you know: free shots all day.  Being a decade older than almost everyone on the river, I realize my existence is predicated on doing whatever possible to not drink the free shots.

The solution to avoiding the free shots is to buy buckets, which are literally child’s beach buckets in which you pick your poison.  The cheap buckets are a concoction of knockoff Red Bull, Coca Cola and Lao Lao.  Lao Lao is rice whiskey that one is wiser to use to fuel their car than to drink.  After a bucket or two on the deck, the dirty river water no longer seems like such a bad option compared with being cooked to death by the Lao sun.  Luckily you don’t have to coax your way in, you climb well above the river and swing into it.

Our friend Oren, from Israel, swinging his way into the water.  The river is much deeper than it looks.

Each bar has it’s thing, huge swings, water slides, deadly “flip” swings” and platforms to jump in.  When it is time to switch bars, just get in the river and bars will pull you to shore.  While many people do it on tubes, renting a tube is unnecessary, you can just swim along.  If you really need a tube, you can “borrow” them from your new three-bucket-deep friends.

As the sun falls it is time to get out of the water.  What once seemed refreshing is downright cold without the sun to warm you, luckily the town of Vang Vieng is there to help the water worn tourists.  Filled with western food, the key to any evening in Vang Vieng is spending time in their TV bars, watching either Friends or Family Guy.  From morning till the last one calls it a night, these establishments play reruns of these two shows.  Even if you are not a fan, you may become a one as you rest your body, fill up on Western snacks, or continue drinking buckets.

Nothing like chocolate cake, heated and covered in chocolate.

Vang Vieng has everything to entertain those who are looking for a “spring break” experience, in any season.  The hotels are inexpensive, drinks reasonable and there are some seedier places that I doubt any request will be denied.  This is a Laos like no other part, filled with young people and staying up late.


  1. The tubing is about 2km from the “city” and any tuk-tuk can take you for about a dollar a person.  If you rent a tube you get a free ride, but tubes are not necessary.  We didn’t rent them and never missed having something to keep track of something.
  2. Bring cash to the river.  You will find your modest spending projections are thrown out the window when buckets start piling up.
  3. This is a great place to meet up with other backpackers.  While traveling there are many different backpacker trails (cultural, volunteering, drinking, etc.) this is one place that the backpacker trails converge.  If you want to join the drinking/party trail this is a great place as it continues down to 4000 Islands, Cambodia and into Thailand.
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» Donna :
Apr 16, 2011

Wow! The swings sound fun … even with my lack of love for swimming. But the rest sounds like a party I’d probably avoid. But it does make me a bit sad to think that Americans are thought of as a TV-watching, lazy-boy sitting, drinking till you’re numb society. It’s partly true, of course, but isn’t it a sad commentary on us? Hopefully there’s more young folks like you out there showing another side to our culture … right? :-))) Speaking of partying, the old rec-ies are getting together tonight at Marna’s … we’ll hoist one to ya!

LOCAVORista Reply:

Donna, the perception of Americans on the road is often less than desirable, however the party in Vang Vieng is not to be missed. The rec-ies would enjoy it I am sure.

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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