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!)
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.
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.
Sakura Bar: The New Main Event
The night life 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.
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 TheOnlyPete.com. Pete is a California-based traveler, food lover, beer drinker, and adventurer, focused on sharing experiences and tips on travel, technology, and food. Subscribe to Pete's blog and follow him on social media Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Youtube.