Cave Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

What I thought was going to be only a quick one night stopover in Vang Vieng, Laos, turned into several days as I realised that there was so much more to this popular backpacker town than drunken tubing. The town itself is pretty much as expected – lots of backpackers, bars, guesthouses and laid back restaurants, however to really get the most out of Vang Vieng, you have to head out of town.

The day before, I had rented a bicycle and cycled out through the countryside on my own to explore Poukham Cave, and today I had joined a tour to go cave tubing and kayaking down the Nam Song River.

The typical potholed roads of Laos made the drive to the caves a lot longer than it should have been, but the beautiful scenery made the bumpy drive worthwhile. When we finally arrived at our destination, after a quick safety briefing, we had to hop straight in our kayaks and paddle across the fast flowing Nam Song River to the other side, where we hiked through the drizzling rain to the caves.

There was a small restaurant built on a picturesque waterhole next to a tall cliff, but I couldn’t see any caves anywhere. The tubes on the bank of the creek meant that it must be somewhere nearby. It turned out that I was looking straight at the cave the whole time, and it was the rushing creek itself that flowed out through the cave under the cliff in front of me.

Tubing through caves in Vang Vieng, Laos

A group of people entering the cave on their tubes. It’s a tight fit!

The water was refreshing in the humid heat of the Laos wet season, and as I sat in my tube I had to fight the current by pulling myself along the guide ropes that had been put in place. At the cave entrance, I had to lie down flat to fit under the mouth of the cave, using the rock itself to get myself under. The cave opened up only slightly inside, and if I sat up I still would have hit my head on the roof. This is not a place for claustrophobic people.

With our head torches on, we explored the cave by pulling ourselves along the guide ropes, until the water ended and we ventured off on foot. What I found was some spectacular rock formations and patterns that have been formed by the flowing water.

Those of us that were more adventurous in our group went on further with our guides, squeezing through tiny gaps, at times having to monkey crawl just to get through. If it wasn’t for my guide, I would have been completely lost.

Eventually, as my legs and back began to tire, I found myself back in a fast flowing stream, and I used the water to carry me down the narrow cave, using my hands and feet to navigate the rocky bottom. This tunnel of water joined back onto the main water course where we rejoined the rest of our group, before exiting out of the cave the same way that we had come in.

If you’re claustrophobic, I wouldn’t recommend this experience, but if you’re adventurous like me, you will love it. Cave tubing is a whole lot of fun!


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12 comments… add one
  • this is exciting. wish I can do this in Laos 🙂 I have yet to set foot there so your blog is useful for me 🙂
    Wends of Journeys and Travels recently posted..Photo Sunday: The monks say cheeseMy Profile

    • Dean Wickham Dec 4, 2012

      Cheers Wends. Laos is a very beautiful country with a nice slow pace of life. I highly recommend visiting.

  • I did the tubing in Laos as well and really enjoyed the cave bit, which was just like how you describe it, but the whole drunken backpacker bit wasnt for my taste
    Jade – recently posted..Travelling With Children – Interview With GreenGlobalTravelMy Profile

    • Dean Wickham Dec 4, 2012

      Hey Jade. I had no interest in tubing down the river with the drunken backpackers either. While I was kayaking down the river I witnessed first hand what they are like. The tubing is a lot of fun but the drinking part is a bad idea. It’s no wonder that people die.

  • I skipped the tubing as well, but had a great time cruising around the country on a rented motorbike. The landscape is simply amazing and swimming in caves and waterfalls and riding on a bike with the wind in your face is a much better way to beat the heat than baking under the sun in a tube.

  • They’ve actually shut down a bunch of the bars a long the river recently anyway, so it seems the Lao government has finally gotten tired of the party reputation.
    Daniel McBane – Funny Travel Stories recently posted..Would You Get a Haircut at this Vang Vieng Barbershop?My Profile

  • Christy Dec 9, 2012

    It’s funny, I felt less claustrophobic when I was in a cave with water than a cave where I had plenty of room to walk. Water in cave is just such a cool feeling. I wish I had known about this when we were in Laos.
    Christy recently posted..McWay Falls at Sunrise – Big SurMy Profile

  • cheap car hire USA Dec 10, 2012

    I thought tubing was shut down due to an increasing number of deaths! I would like to ask you – The appeal has gone or is still there?

    • Dean Wickham Dec 15, 2012

      Yes I think the government has begun at least shutting down the bars.

  • nbd Jan 2, 2013

    Oh wow some seriously jealous viewing going on here, great photo and it looks so much fun!!

  • Nate Jan 12, 2013

    Sounds awesome!! I didn’t do this when I was in Vang Vieng (got a bit caught up in the tubing scene) but definitely plan on going back and will check this out. Thanks!

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