One of the most popular activities in Vang Vieng is ‘tubing’ down the Nam Song river.
Tubing is basically floating down the river on a rubber ring, watching the world go by as you lie back and enjoy the ride. Well, that’s the theory anyway.
Vang Vieng is a backpacker’s paradise and part of its appeal is the range of fun outdoor activities that you can enjoy amid the stunning mountain scenery. Until 2012, it had a reputation for being a party town, where drink and drugs were readily available. But activities such as tubing and zip lining, combined with alcohol and drugs, led to a number of deaths and the authorities cracked down.
Now the town is much quieter but I still wouldn’t recommend tubing while under the influence. The river is full of rocks and unpredictable currents and you want to keep your wits about you.
We bought our tickets for 50,000 kips each – about £4.50 – which included transport to and from the tubing site. Unlike the other tour operators, this one had set departure times and included a guide. Something I would wholeheartedly recommend given my experience.
I wore my bikini and a t-shirt and took some shorts with me in a bag. There are signs all around the town asking visitors to respect the locals and cover up when they come back from tubing but sadly, many foreigners were ignoring these instructions and walking around in their swim wear.
We were given large waterproof bags to stow our stuff in which the guide then carried on his kayak. We were driven further up the river and given a tube each. They are about the same size as a car tyre but smooth on the outside. The theory is that you slouch in the middle and float gently down the river. That, it turns out, was easier said than done.
It’s safe to say I am not cut out for tubing. From the very start I was doomed. I ended up in a section of river with no current so while everyone else drifted away from me, I just swirled around in a circle. The guide came back to rescue me and gave me a tow from his kayak. It was quite embarrassing and I was clinging on to the canvas for dear life.
Most of the time, my husband helped me to navigate the river but he had to let go when we hit some rapids (not as bad as that sounds). The water was dirty, cold and full of weeds clinging to your legs and clothing. I couldn’t say I was enjoying it. The scenery was pretty much the same as you could see from the town, so it wasn’t even worth going for the views. I had just started to relax when I hit a huge rock with the base of my spine and that really hurt. It made me realise that tubing was quite dangerous.
After about an hour, we stopped at a riverside café where there was a swing over the river. People took it in turns to jump into a deep stretch of water but we gave it a miss. Then it started to rain heavily. In all honesty, I was feeling a bit miserable by then, and would have loved to give in, but the worst was yet to come.
We set off again and I really tried to get the hang of it and enjoy the experience. I was doing OK until I got grounded on some rocks on the right-hand side of the river and couldn’t get off them. I watched as the rest of my group went flying down the left-hand side. Eventually, I got off my tyre and waded across the rocks into the deeper part of the river but as soon as I tried to get on my tyre, I slipped off and it went swirling downstream, leaving me stranded, clinging on to a rock.
I was just starting to panic, when a row of kayaks came past. A lovely man from South Korea and his Lao tour guide paddled over to see if I was OK. They helped me onto their kayak and rowed me downstream to where my guide was waiting, the others having gone on ahead without us. The guide had managed to retrieve my tube but fortunately there was no suggestion that I get back on it! Instead I travelled in style on his kayak for the rest of the trip.
My husband thoroughly enjoyed the experience whereas I would never do it again! I was just relieved to get back in one piece!