The Party’s Over! The end of Tubing in Vang Vieng

The "olden days" of Tubing in Vang Vieng.

There were zip wires, the ‘Death Slide’, clowning around in day-glo body paint and downing shot after shot of Tiger Whisky… There was synchronized dancing to YMCA at Mojito Bar; there were buckets (…buckets, buckets), and so much more as you followed the current of the Nam Song River cocooned in your bright yellow tubes. Yes, this was Vang Vieng, party central of Laos, and some might argue, the whole of South East Asia!

Tubing in Vang Vieng in its Hey Day!

Tubing, Vang Vieng in its Hey Day!

The zip wires of Vang Vieng

The notorious zip wires of Vang Vieng

A Tuber in Vang Vieng ready for action!

Beer Lao in hand – A Tuber in Vang Vieng ready for action! Vang Vieng veterans will no doubt be aware that, as high season drew to a close this year (with an alleged count of 22 deaths serving as a sobering wake-up call from all the crazy, hazy memories), the gears were suddenly shifted amidst rumours of an official government crackdown…

The Bar Closings of September 2012

Following a meeting between officials and the river bar owners towards the end of August 2012, all drinking establishments along the Nam Song were told to close by the 5th of September. With the ASEAN and EURO ASEAN meetings being programmed in Laos for November, it was said that the Government had simply decided enough was enough; that it was mandatory to implement changes that would make this a safer place (and in turn improve its image on the international stage).

And that was it – no further comments, no other info; just a lot of confusion, hearsay, and thousands of backpackers wondering what on earth would happen next? What would this mean for Vang Vieng as we moved forward to a fresh new season?

Will the party live on?

So, what exactly happened on the 5th of September? According to Greg Haywood, owner of Fluid Bar on the Nam Song River, “tubing continued, but not as we knew it. All licenses of bars and restaurants were suspended (with the prospect of a 20 million kip fine if they were caught serving). In addition (those to whom this is applicable) were told to remove all platforms, huts and any construction 15m back from the river bank, including the high jumping/swing platforms. The ‘Death Slide’ was demolished.”

Climbing up to the precarious 'Death Slide'

DEMOLISHED: The precarious ‘Death Slide’ in Vang Vieng is no more! But it wasn’t just the tubing/river bars that were affected. As it stands, many of the bars in town are now closed. Remember The Island? Remember Q Bar, Star Bar, Why Not Bar, Mojito Bar, Bar 3, FU bar, Whisky Bar, Mr. Lao Lao’s, Slide Bar, Fluid, Slingshot Bar and Bob Marley Bar? Yep. All demolished. Even the infamous Bucket Bar on The Island has been knocked down.

Demolished Bars along the Namsong River Vang Vieng

Demolished Bars along the Namsong River Vang Vieng

The NamSong River - Where Slide Bar and the Death Slide used to be

The NamSong River October 2012 – Where the Slide Bar and the Death Slide used to be

The quiet NamSong River October 2012

The quiet NamSong River October 2012 One of the only exceptions is Fluid. Says Greg: “In a way, we’re pretty lucky as our main building was far back enough from the water’s edge that we didn’t have to destroy any major construction. We’ve undergone a bit of a transformation after having to take out the platforms, though, so in their place, we’ve landscaped a new garden with seating in two different zones by the river, and a hammock area close to the bank. This means that when we’re allowed to re-open in December, people will be able to swing in the shade and soak up the views of the mountains.”

All these changes do beg the question, though: What can we all expect when the season kicks off?

Will there be a Place for Tubing in the New Government Plans?

Greg spoke to an official from the task force who’s in charge of implementing new changes in Vang Vieng according to the policies of the government. He found out that between the 7th-9th of December, members from the Ministry of Tourism in Vientiane would be coming to Vang Vieng to survey the area. They will be checking along the river and putting a new improved system in place. Each operation that wants to open on the river will have to submit a business plan to the government which concerns safety aspects, hygiene and their proposed activities. It will also be mandatory for people to wear life jackets if they tube, not rent a tube later than 3pm (and make sure they’re out of the water before 6pm when it gets dark).

November 2012: The much quieter tubing scene in Vang Vieng

November 2012: The much quieter tubing scene in Vang Vieng 

Safety First.

When we asked about reports of the higher-end hotels and guesthouses built recently, the government official confirmed that the policies are not discriminating against a particular type of tourist; they want to welcome everyone here: “Backpackers will always come to Vang Vieng because it’s a great place to be. First and foremost, though, let’s make it a safer place for everyone.” Government plans include a chill-out green space to be made where The Island used to be.

This area will still be closed come the high season, but steps towards making the park will almost certainly have started. Other improvements will include additional green spaces along the streets to improve the quality of the restaurants and guesthouses, a promenade along the riverside in town for pedestrians and cyclists, and a night market. In addition, all bars/restaurants in this area will be able to open until 2 am – and nightclubs that are soundproofed will be able to operate until later. Which means…

The Party will not Die!

The Island and the bars that used to inhabit it may be no more, but rest assured there will still be plenty going on in town in terms of nightlife. The owner of Bucket Bar is currently looking for another space in town – and with regards to tubing, Greg believes that when the government has finished compiling their new regulations, some of the river activities may also be able to re-open if they have their safety certificate.

The relocation of the Bucket Bar Vang Vieng

The relocation of the legendary Bucket Bar Vang Vieng “I definitely hope we can start blobbing again,” Greg remarked (referring to their 5m by 2m inflatable pillow, that ‘blobs’ people high into the air and into the river). So, things are definitely looking pretty exciting in these next couple of months (with all bars set to re-launch in their new locations in December) – but… what if you’re already on that slow boat? You’ll be pleased to hear that it’s hardly a ghost town right now…

Meanwhile Back in Town, some Party Hotspots!

Says Greg: “Gary’s Irish Bar is alive and kicking – always with a good crowd up for some fine pub fare, beers, cocktails and good tunes (Indie, Reggae, Rock, House, Funk and Britpop). If you’re looking for some funky beats, deep house and other electronic vibes, then head on down to DK3/ Milan Pizza which is famous for its tasty wood-fired oven pizzas, great cocktails and other Western foods. Here, you’ll find James playing some old skool hip hop and house there from mid-afternoon and it also opens for breakfast.”

Milan Pizza, Vang Vieng

Milan Pizza, Vang Vieng

DK3 The party continues

DK3 The party continues back in town!

Jaidee’s has moved up the street and around the corner, and it is well worth popping down to see Laos’ most charismatic bar owner playing alternative blues, rock, dub and reggae. Sakura’s a little more mainstream in its music choice; there’s a pool table down at Full Moon Bar, and there’s Fat Monkey’s which plays classic rock and other popular tunes.

Also recommended is Kangaroo Sunset (just located on the T junction before the bridge). A top Canadian chef, Taylor has taken over, which means great food as well as chilled beats and funk on the system (making this the perfect place to enjoy the sunset after a day trip to the Blue Lagoon).

And what of Fluid itself? Greg sees things staying fairly chilled but funky until the late afternoon when they’ll bring in some deep house. “Come here and chill for the day, sunbathe, swing in the hammocks, play games, refresh yourself in a nice area of the Nam Song with a swim, enjoy a bite to eat from our Lao and Western menu, enjoy the view, visit some local caves, and listen to tunes on a super crisp sound system.

Fluid on the Namsong River, Vang Vieng

Fluid – perfectly located on the Namsong River, Vang Vieng

“Things will be funky and fresh downstairs, with everything from dub, reggae, funk, deep house etc, while upstairs, you’ll find our chill-out lounge and restaurant. We’ll also be doing our Party All Day Fridays @Fluid once a week in high season, where I’ll be playing a long eclectic set.” And if you’re looking for some good electronic beats in the town itself? Greg tells us to head to DK3 for some serious deep and tech house in the mixer! They recently hosted their first international gig under Andee Newman’s ‘AudioLove’ brand with DJs from Holland, UK and Ibiza, and apparently, the roof was blown right off!

Jungle Raves and Underground Parties in Vang Vieng…

Finally, when the high season kicks off again, Greg and co. will be doing the Jungle Raves again at Vang Vieng Mai, which is 2km outside of town (a great club located in the jungle). “Sometimes we’ll play inside, sometimes out – and music-wise, we’ll be dropping deep house, tech (and some DnB depending on what DJs are in town). Anyone who went this year knows it’s the best underground party going on in VV.”

All in all, then, the consensus seems pretty final! As we always suspected (and hoped!), the party will continue in Vang Vieng… just in a different way.

Karen Farini Bio Pic
Karen Farini

Karen Farini went from owning a Burlesque nightclub in London (Volupté) to running the most popular backpacker hostel on Koh Phangan! Former deputy editor at SEA Backpacker Magazine, Karen has been adventure caving in Malaysia, attended music festivals in Borneo, and interviewed tantric gurus in Thailand – all in the name of journalism!

54 thoughts on “The Party’s Over! The end of Tubing in Vang Vieng”

  1. I coughed up blood for 2 days after slamming into the water on my back pff the ‘death slide’… more regulations are definitely a good thing…. on a side note… why do people travel all the way to laos to spend their daytime just layed watching re-runs of friends? And apparently go home being all ‘cultured’ from travelling se asia…. Its sad..

  2. Laura @ myfunkytravel

    Does anyone have updates on tubing in Vang Vieng. Heard it is still going on but nowhere near as a wild (or dangerous) as before.

  3. Just left VV. Yes tubing is still happening here and yes there are bars operating along the river. The restaurants in town still all serve the same menu with the same tasteless food. It’s great to see the town is pushing the Eco Tourism as the area is stunning. It makes me laugh trying to read the poorly written comments from people suggesting theme parks…an STD clinic… all to be set up in VV. I guess the mentality of these peoples comments is reflected in their really bad spelling…

  4. I had the time of my life tubing, I did it knowing the risks and I think part of the fun was the danger and the hap-hazard nature with which these bars, slides and zip lines were constructed. Not to mention being allowed drink along the way. It was a once in a life time experience! I hope the town recovers but it’s hard to imagine it drawing the same crowds of backpackers.

  5. Vang Vieng is now overpriced ghost city with freaking big hotels
    and not big fun at all. You can skip it now. Go for 4000 islands

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  9. What’s the status these days? I’m heading to Vang Vieng in August regardless, but would love to know what the scene is like. Is there still a night life to speak of / are bars still open on the river? I’m glad to hear the debauchery has been toned down, but here’s to hoping it hasn’t been eliminated altogether!

  10. Anyone wanting to tube head to 4000 islands, south of pakse, in particular the island Don Det. Tubes for rent there, much more beautiful scenery than vang vieng and a chilled out vibe, still lots of drinking and other ways to make you ‘happy’

  11. Thank god the bone breaking madness has stopped. Over a hundred people died here,some of them through no fault of their own. The death slide was aptly named wasn’t it !
    I hope this new vang vieng turns out a bit safer and just as much fun as the old V.V but go cart tracks and theme parks? Come on seriously now ,you can do all that shit at home before you go. This is Laos,an oasis of calm with beautiful scenery and people to match that I’ll never forget.
    If you kids want to get smashed and act like pricks try sihanoukville in Cambodia or nah trang in Vietnam,I guarantee these places are far more happening than poor vang vieng.

  12. greg 'fluid' vang vieng

    Do not fear for all people that are apprehensive about coming to Vang Vieng whether the tubing has closed or not. Vang Vieng is so much better now, the town has some great night life at DK3, Garys Irish bar and Fat Monkeys. The jungle parties are back on every friday, and weve been having 300 – 400 people every time, only quality music, now with an indoor club and outdoor stage. Outdoor is moor funky, nu disco and experimental and dj’s starting from 8pm till 12pm then indoor opens at 9pm with deep house tech house and techno. You can have a taster of the mix of music by downloading it @


    Newsflash for river news, there are a few bars now open Fluid is the first one, so finally we get our just deserts, welcome to the world of Fluid, good old fashioned fun, great tunes, tasty food, pool table, table tennis, darts, foosball, hammocks, sunloungers, abstract art and lots of weird unique designs to look at. So make you stop on by on your tube.
    for more info n pics check out our website and facebook page

    South East Asia Backpacker magazine rocks make sure you pick up a copy or look online if your on the search for an adventure in SEA.

  13. This is awful news. Partying in VV was always amazing. I was due to return in April, but if the bars are all gone, I will go elsewhere.

  14. the highlight of vang vieng currently has to be magnus’ concrete invasion and the surplus of soda water at fluid.

  15. I met some tubers who went tubing first week after New Year, there were 8 other tubers…Looks like notorious Vang Vieng is no more…

  16. Absolutely gutted. Im planning on backpacking SE Asia from September this year and Tubing was at the top of my list. I hope its all back up and running by then!

  17. I think its a shame that there taking it down its wild party town thats good. There not many free places on the planet. Its one small town let it be. There plenty of other normal places on the plant. Let this one live. It brings in allot of money for locales and if they want a more quit life. Well its a big country. Why cant people appreciate a different kind of place. Maybe its not place for an older couple but so what. There plenty of other places they can go.As far as safety is concerned to each his own. Be careful. If your over 18 you should know that jumping off a rock in shallow water is dangerous and take it easy on the drugs. This is simple and those that don’t have common sense oh well.

  18. yeggh. these pictures and comments prove why I just hate this scene so much.
    been in VV in 2004 , 20 years late , and even then it turned my stomach , thanks to people who insist to eat “pizza” when in a country like laos , and watch stupid endless-tv-soaps such as the unmentionable one. yes , and thanks to all of you for bringing that assembly-line-factory-noise ( there are those who call it music ) to an otherwise pristine and peaceful asian countryside. yeah , big thanks for that. but it could have been worse. look at it now. why does this all not get swept away , to say , the west coast of down under, where it would fit better , culturalwise.

  19. Thx for the insight! I’ll be going there on end of Feb. Hope the party is back on by the river! with all the safety measures in place. im sure it’s even much more fun.

  20. Richard Morse

    Vang vieng has a better atmosphere than koh phangan.didnt see any trouble just people having a good time.
    Got to say friends and family guy gets a bit boring after a bit

  21. Aww shucks the big riverside frat party that pisses on culture is over? Good riddance, nothing but idiots.

  22. Uncontrolled Chaos… It was like being in a cartoon. I loved every moment and feel terrible for the 6.7 billion other people who will never get to experience how freaking awesome V.V. was. Hedonism at its finest… But you know what? To all you nay sayers and haters, Tourism does that everywhere. It’s the nature of the beast. Where flaming limbos and Laos Weddings unite to give travelers the perfect storm of unforgettable hilarity where no where else on the planet could match.

  23. I ent to vang vein in Jan 2000 and it was nothing like this ! I can never go back- I am sure I would cry my eyes out at the embarrassing mess created- fun for whom? Drunken wasters on a gap year!

    People live and work here from Laos- what about them?

  24. HEAVEN ON EARTH………Love that town best five months of my life.To the geordie boys in the Fluid bar, Gary and Mike in the Irish bar, Jaidee in Jaidee’s bar,Q bar and the Jungle bar. A BIG F##KING THANKS FOR THE BEST MEMORY’S,LAUGHS AND ONE HELL OF A PARTY.

  25. grizzle bear

    tee moh yuss man and a “Butlins” style holiday camp with red coats asian style of course, to make sure all the boys and girls had a fun time in safety,security and respect for local kulture [whatever that might be]

    1. Yeah I get looked at a bit funny at times when I jlywaak here. It’s kinda funny, it doesn’t even occur to me not to perhaps it’s too much time spent dodging scooters, buses and low flying elephants while trying to cross the street in Asia. Watching out for the odd car or tram just doesn’t even register.

  26. What a great and informative article. I think we all knew that ch-ch-changes had to come (just listen to Bowie)and all in all they seem to be for the good of all — tourists and locals. David G sums it up right to the froth at the brim of the glass. Respect is a prime ingredient for the best party.

  27. I was all for the partying but I was embarrassed to be a westerner in this down I saw to many Drunks all out rude to the locals. People standing in the streets drinking in bikinis not moving for traffic drunks walking into temples shorts no shirts while holding onto a beer. party yes treat the locals with no respect no way.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Nothing wrong with a bit of ‘normal’ tubing and partying but it’s become a mini full-moon party, with idiots who have no respect for Laos people, culture or traditions. Ok, it’s not the religious centre of Laos BUT all these tourists just think they can do anything they like, regardless and really..why travel thousands of miles just to end up doing what you can do in almost any other Western country that has rivers or a beach etc.
      It is a beautiful location being slowly ruined by the ‘Farang’ invasion.

  28. best vv article i’ve read so far. no exaggerations and no bullshit.
    by the way, i’ve heard a rumour that someone’s gonna do go-karts here.
    i always thought a theme park would be sick. roller coasters around the mountains and shit. i guess it would spoil the natural beauty a little though… vv also needs a proper hospital, street names, a lawyer, a seven eleven or at least a shop with a seven eleven entrance bell, pizza delivery, a tattoo artist that won’t get deported, a ban on string lights, a supermarket, a poi shop, skydiving, bungee jumping, std clinic, apartments, pirates, kebab stands, a local newspaper, sex shop, costume shop, beer on tap (i think irish bar is the only one with it), cinema…… aah if only i would be in charge

    1. Tee Moh a very accurate observation of what is needed!!! I also Think A decent arts n crafts store and wildlife reserve or sanctuary would be nice as well

      1. Rogue_Leader

        Yeah, after all there aren’t enough prissy middle class eco-boutique wank-holes in South-East Asia.

  29. This is amazing news.. Met friends for life in vv and would have returned whether the tubing was in place or not! I came to vv in 08 and returned in 11 it’ defiantly has a place in my heart, the Laos people and the scenery, friendships food and the way of life that I could quite happily live with forever! And sick as… New vv recruits should defiantly check out the paint ball 😉 we are star bar, viva vang vieng!!

  30. Bucket Bar CEO

    Bcket Bar yeahhhh… Paintball yeah. motha fuckas aint stoppin us.

    PS. Fat Monkey’s or DK3, only real bars at the moment

    1. enjoy Siam ReapCambodia is the apparently the only crutnoy other than the USA that gives out american funds at the ATM machinesIce cream is good and very cheapThe temple ruins are amazingThe fishing in the mekong is very differetWatch out for the pigs and chickend on the back of motorcycles

  31. This is great news isnt it Snoopy? I have also heard they have just opened a world class Paintball facility. Exiting ;]

  32. This is great news. Even though it was crazy and fairly unsafe, I still really feel for those people who missed out on what it used to be like. It was so damn fun, I really did have the time of my life, ive never seen so many happy dancing people like that in my life, the vibe was just incredible, viva vang vieng!

  33. good to hear it wont die, iv never seen so much insanity befor in my life and people have been brought to tears thinking they would never be able to experience it

    any one who wants to go tubing in the mean time should head to don det (4000 islands), there’s no drinking while you tube but you can improvise 🙂

  34. This insanity certainly couldn’t last forever. Just hope the bar owners are able to recover their businesses and make something worth with better safety precautions in place. Good to hear that Jaidee’s wasn’t demolished!

  35. Wow what a change! Everybody should just stay in Koh Phangan Thailand longer on their travels and not only stay 2 days over full moon and miss out on this beautiful tropical island!!!!

  36. Michael Beltoft

    ok the shenanigans has been stopped in VV – So where are all the backpacker now going for some crazyness without any goverment interfering? Where is the next big not so secret place to be

      1. The kind of people who go abroad to get drunk for a few months are the kind of people who end up being wage and mortgage slaves with 2.2 children, the males talking to each other about their cars, the females talking to each other about their children. Nobody would envy them though some might pity them.

  37. Danny J. Winn

    This sux dick. Was gonna go nxt year. But im nust gonna pretend that if i went i would have died and this saved my life.

  38. Jan Detlefsen

    hope that’s true, place will probably never really recover from what the backpackers have done to it though.

  39. Sad to hear but glad I’ve been and done it, feeling sad for purple who never made it.

    I cut my leg in mud pool

    I never made it back in time to collect full deposit after tubing

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