Vang Vieng, Laos: Is Tubing Still Alive in the Once Notorious Party Town?

Three people in kayaks row down the river in Vang Vieng, Laos

Ever since the government crackdown on Vang Vieng following the horrific death toll in 2011, it has been somewhat of a mystery to backpackers what the town is like today. Are the river parties still out-of-control crazy? Did all of the bars close? Can I even go tubing?

This past July (2016), I spent four nights in Vang Vieng and got a pretty good lay of the land for what the scene is like now.

(For some background, I am a 26-year-old male from California. I went to UC Santa Barbara and am very familiar with “crazy parties” and drinking, so that may affect my overall opinion in the article below!)

A shot showing a man's feet whilst tubing down the river in Vang Vieng on a misty, rainy day in July.
Tubing down the river in Vang Vieng on a misty, rainy day in July.

Tubing in Vang Vieng is Still Alive!

To answer the big question, yes, tubing is still alive and still fun in Vang Vieng.

It’s a shell of its former self, like Voldemort’s crumpled, baby body in the first half of The Goblet of Fire, but alive nonetheless. The day I went tubing, there were around 100-150 people partying. Now, to be fair, it was both the offseason for tourists AND it was raining. So, I would feel comfortable assuming that in November through February (high season) when it is nice and sunny, there is a healthy rager going on every day.

I probably went on one of the lowest volume days of the entire year and there were still enough people for me to meet and have a good time. It was definitely not even close to the crazy party scene people have described in the past, though. I actually liked the low volume of people. It was a really cool (and maybe unique) experience floating down the river and being the only person in the fog and rain in some segments.

Tourists party at river bar vang vieng
Partying at the second bar along the river in Vang Vieng.

How many river bars are open?

I was told that by law, there are only two riverside bars open now. I highly recommend stopping at both. The first bar is only 50 meters down the river from the starting point, but trust me, you might as well stop and have a few drinks.

The second bar is only 50 meters down the river from the first bar, but once again, definitely worth stopping at. After the second bar, there are 1-2 kilometers more of floating and then you reach the end.

Girls dance in the rain with their arms in the air at sakura bar vang vieng, laos
Dancing in the rain outside at Sakura Bar.

Sakura Bar: The New Main Event

The nightlife in Vang Vieng essentially comes down to one place – Sakura Bar. Every single night, every tourist in the town goes to Sakura Bar to party. There were more people there each night than I had seen floating on the river. Its reputation proceeds it. In the months leading up to my stay in Vang Vieng, I saw Sakura Bar tank tops all over Southeast Asia and I was not disappointed.

The bar offers free whiskey from 9-10 PM every night and has a dance floor, beer pong, tables, and multiple outside areas. It definitely caters to a younger crowd. Even if loud music and sloppy dancing isn’t your thing, it’s worth stopping by for a few free drinks.

Read more: Party hotspots in Southeast Asia.

Blue skies above the limestone mountains in Vang Vieng Laos
Limestone mountains outside of Vang Vieng.

Nature Activities Taking Precedence

With the crackdown on partying, Vang Vieng does have an increasing focus on activities that take advantage of its incredible nature. Trekking, kayaking, and tours to a ton of caves are readily available. If partying isn’t your main aim, Vang Vieng is a great destination for outdoor adventure activities. It is a beautiful area not to be overlooked as just a binge drinking pit stop.

I hope this overview gives you a better idea of what to expect in Vang Vieng in 2016. If you have any other advice or experiences from your time in Vang Vieng, please comment and share!

What is Vang Vieng like Today? was written by Pete Vrouvas of Pete is a California-based traveler, food lover, beer drinker, and adventurer, focused on sharing experiences and tips on travel, technology, and food. Follow Pete on social media Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Youtube.

10 thoughts on “Vang Vieng, Laos: Is Tubing Still Alive in the Once Notorious Party Town?”

  1. Franky Thomas

    Only 3 bars, that’s a shame. Best place I’ve ever been but I went in its hay day and boy was it some place

  2. Mandy Visser

    I’m a bit surprised this article is written in a way that it is a shame that Vang Vieng is not the rathole it was a couple of years ago.. Do you have any idea what this out of the bound drinking and drugs scene did with the local community? that whole village is messed up because of it, still. Children who grow up there have a really f*cked up idea of the (western) world, and crime and drugs rates are huge. Locals who wanted to earn honest money didn’t stand a chance. Pollution was huge. Only because of the invasion of pathetic 18 year old “backpackers” who want to get smashed for the price of nothing and the locals saw a chance to earn money. And now they have to continue doing this. So sad. Although im afraid this place will be poisoned, I’m glad the government took some sort of responsibility, and not for the stupid tourists that got smashed in the river because they couldn’t hold their shit together. Maybe an article on the downside of this unlimited booze and drugs walhalla South East Asia Backpacker?

  3. Peter 'Beaver' Neil

    Some people jump for it !!
    Some people sniff for it !
    Some people jab a vain for it !!
    We went tubing in vang vieng and got pissed up with some amazing friends and had a mighty fine time !!
    Life spins on a dime sometimes u just have to make a choice ??!!
    Ours was to TUBE !!

  4. Richie Gumbo Moochalini

    went tubing there back in 1999..only 2 ppl on the water and it was low tide but we got the jist…there was no party scene in vang vien or anywhere else in loas..there wasnt even proper roads and the bus let you ride on the top with the luggage..still had a great time and would like to go back but not sure id enjoy it now,as its 1000% more touristy..beautiful country tho and was proper chilled…

  5. Trevor Mercer

    I was at one of the last proper mash up sessions there in Feb 2011!!! When it was at the peak for Volume of bars open and the of masses of people. Seriously messy…. Drugs and free booze getting chucked round everywhere! Dangerous times for many….. It needed cleaning up (at least a bit anyway) Proud to say I experienced it and lived to tell the tale

  6. Roel Gaasbeek

    In 2004 we tubed down, with 4 people. Two days later we did the same in kajaks. With 2 people. And locals. I bet that’s changed

  7. Over 60 now (well, for a while now), but yes it’s still fun out there. More groups in kayaks though these days and they are dominated by Chinese and Koreans. Due to this most kayak trips start at the caves and miss the faster upper reaches of the river. There are also a number of ziplining trips that seem to have their own bars on the river and they don’t seem bothered if tubers drop in for a drink. Interesting point made by one tuber was that you could now do 3 or 4 trips down the river in one day if you didn’t want to drink and were prepared to pay for the songtau trips. Bars now close at 5 pm and everyone is supposed to be off the river at 6pm. Start your evening with tapas around the firepit at Earth Cafe and then move on to Sakura in time for the free drinks at 9 pm. Free singlet if you buy 2 vodka drinks. Lots of quad farm bikes for hire to get out and around the district.

  8. I was there Feb 2015 and YES you can still go tubing and get a beer along the way, great relaxing day out. Providing your NOT a TWAT and overdo it.

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