Vang Vieng: A Party Capital Reborn

vang vieng party capital reborn

              When I was asked to go to Vang Vieng, Laos, I was less than enthusiastic about it.  I knew it had once been the party capital of Southeast Asia, but had read that it had died down a lot since then.  But still, that really wasn’t the type of scene I was looking for.  But my girlfriend at the time really wanted to experience the tubing and, being from Texas, it’s hard to pass up a good tubing experience. 

              During its ‘heyday,’ Vang Vieng was the Party Capital of Southeast Asia, where the parties raged all night and alcohol and drugs (which are illegal in Laos) flowed freely.  Every year more and more backpackers came to this small town, and every year they acted foolishly, resulting in an average of 24 deaths annually from drinking, drugs, or jumping into the shallow river.  When the deaths became international news in 2012, the Laos government stepped in and shut down the tubing and parties. 

vang vieng laos main street
Vang Vieng, Laos, a nondescript town that became the Party Capital of Southeast Asia.

              When officials, a year later, allowed tubing again, it was done with more stringent rules.  Now, only three bars can be open at once along the river, and there are no more river swings, drugs, or dangerous activities.  There is also a midnight curfew now, so the party doesn’t rage all night. 

              Today, Vang Vieng is an echo of what it once was.  The new Vang Vieng still retains some of the old ways.  A few of the old iconic bars still cater to the backpacking crowds with free drinks before 9 and a party till midnight.  With this you still see a bunch of backpackers coming to drink and socialize, but it’s not in the throngs it was before. 

song river bar vang vieng laos
View of the Song River from the bar at the end of the tubing.

Tubing still exists, but it is a lot tamer than it used to be.  When we went it was just us and two more tourists that floated.  They also made us wear life jackets and we were accompanied by a guide in a boat to make sure we didn’t die.  The float was nice, but the river was fast and we were at the end of the float very quickly.  During the float you could see the old bars and swings that lined river before, but they were all closed now.

With tubing’s decline, people finally take part in other activities in the area.  Nowadays, Vang Vieng tries to market itself as an eco-adventure destination.  Focusing on exploring the dozens of local caves and relaxing in swimming holes.  A lot of tour operators now offer kayaking tours, zip-lining adventures, and full-day hikes around the mountains.  The new Vang Vieng is working to be the city it always should have been.  It’s trying hard to shed its old reputation and attract a better-quality traveler.

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