Tubing In Laos

Five Tips for Tubing in Laos

Experience Tubing on Your Backpacking Trip

Tubing on the Nam Song river near Vang Vieng in Laos has become somewhat of a pilgrimage site for young western backpackers looking for good times and sun tans on the South-East Asian party trail.

'Inner tubing,' as it is more formally called, is the activity of floating down the river on a floating device made of the inner tube of a truck tyre. Some might wonder where the attraction in this activity lies, but that might become clearer if you add a beautiful background of limestone karst mountains and a 'BeerLao' in hand to the mix.

From Vang Vieng town centre you can easily hire a tube for 55,000 kip (GBP£4.50) with a refundable 60,000 kip (GBP£4.70) deposit. The cost includes a 'songthaew' (tuk-tuk) ride to the upper reaches of the river from where you can take your time and float downstream, stopping at any of the multitude of bars along the river for a refreshment or three. No need to take your own music along, as it is provided as a continuous blast from the shores, along with enticing calls to sample ‘happy shakes.’

Laos Vang Vieng River Karsts

What Not To Do Whilst Tubing

To make sure you enjoy your tubing experience and live to tell the tale, here are 5 ways in which not to make a complete fool of yourself and to enjoy your day on the water:

1. Take your time, but don’t fall.

Floating down the river with your mates, with no care in the world, in one of the most beautiful corners of the world is the salt of life, so enjoy the ride. Taking your time, paying attention to the river’s height and not treating it as a competition will ensure you and your fellow floaters will not be subjected to any nasty falls off the tube. On my visit, I saw a girl being dragged out of the water holding her ankle, and looking very much in pain. Note to self: have your travel insurance cover for adventure sports such as tubing.

2. Avoid inappropriate clothing.

Biggest mistake I made as a female was to wear only a bikini for my ride. It may seem convenient to wear a bikini to ensure you leave minimal tan lines and don’t get too hot, but if you would like to frequent the bars along the river it’s best to also wear shorts. Not only will you be able to avoid embarrassing moments when you get off the tube and realise the river is keeping part of your bikini bottom, but also you will have pockets in which to store your drinking money. The tube hire shops will lend you a watertight bag, but these are often old and include leakages, so bringing a camera or other fragile items may not be the best idea. Some also recommend you bring flip-flops for added paddling power, to avoid snake bites and cutting yourself on any glass in the bars. But it's unlikely that flip-flops will help you against snakes, and you'll fight to keep them on in the stronger parts of the river flow.

Tubing Food Laos Beer

3. Keep sight of your limits

At one stage on my ride, I came across a guy on a rope swing -– which are dotted along the upper reaches of the river where it is deepest – whom I saw staggering from a bar, take a handle of the rope, and ending up literally sliding down the side of the embankment in a not-so-suave fashion. Alcohol and various other substances in combination with sun and heat can make your bravado less attractive to those you are trying to woo, so keep a check on yourself and your mates for all-round good times.

4. Respect the locals.

There’s nothing worse and less attractive than to treat locals as inferior to you, be it the bartender, the tuk-tuk driver or the kid throwing stones at you. I saw many backpackers disrespecting others by leaving their manners at home. Even if your mother is not there to tell you to say ‘please,’ it is not okay to shout at, grope or otherwise disrespect locals. And guys, this also applies to behaviour towards your fellow girl backpackers.

5. Don’t flash the cash.

Laos is still the poorest of the countries along the Mekong river. Your US$10/day budget is a weekly wage for some. Be generous, but conservative, when using your cash and don’t go bargaining down the price of beer. That is not cool, and you’ll only end up looking like a fool in front of your mates and those you’re trying to impress [read: the opposite sex] when arguing about beer.

With these 5 tips in mind, your experience of one of the best days on your backpacking tour will surely be an amazing experience, with memories and tales you’ll continue to come back to year after year.