When I was in Van Vieng it was all about the tourists. The signs for all the cafés offer "special" toppings such as magic mushrooms on the pizza which assure backpackers a good time. I did not partake in any of these special pizzas. However, I did enjoy the tubing that was so popular!
Tubing was easy, you can be official and "book" an inner tube through your hostel, hotel or guest house. Another option was just going to the river and finding someone renting tubes. It was much less than a dollar for me, but depending on supply and demand prices can vary.
There are some adventurous souls who skipped the tubing all together and preferred to get a tuk-tuk to the river and to swim from bar to bar. I would NOT suggest this, but everyone has their own meaning of a good time.
Once you had your tube you could head straight in the water, or stop by one of the waterfront bars. They’ll normally give you a few free shots of lao-lao to entice you to grab some beers. I opted to skip the bar and start with the water.
While there are a few solitary tubers, usually tubing is done with a partner or in small groups. Even those who start alone surely will join others along the way. I quickly made friends with an Irish backpacker and a British English teacher who had taught in Korea and was backpacking through Asia before heading home.
The tubing experience varied. At some points it is talking and laughing with new made friends. Other times it is enjoying the nature. Mostly though it is hearing the bar touts shout out, “free lao-lao” or their other happy hour specials (half off beer etc.) If you decide to check out one of these bars they will either toss you a rope or a very long pole. You grab this and they pull you to their bar where debauchery may quickly follow.
I have heard some horror stories (broken bones, nasty cuts etc.) so I do feel like I should put my two cents in here. Drink, but know your limits! Try not to do anything stupid (jumping off rocks for example).
I used a ziplock bag I had safety pinned for money, but I saw a wide assortment of options other people used when tubing.
I have read that as of 2013 the bars by the river have shut down (http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/story/tr ... rty-s-Over
). I would still suggest those who are interested in enjoying a more peaceful time down the river enjoy it! It seems like it may be safer, prettier and more tranquil nowadays.
Have any of you been there recently?