Many find themselves asking the same question when they arrive in Vang Vieng. It seems logical to rent a tube in order to go tubing, but in reality, its not that simple. A tube costs 55,000 kip to rent as well as a 60,000 deposit. This is to insure you return the tube before the 6pm deadline. With that in mind, the answer to your question really depends on what your plans are for the day.
If your plan is to party first and see where the day takes you, its likely you’ll end up using your tube very little and eventually bringing it back late or not at all, wasting money that could be put to better use. This is because the bars are relatively close together and all line one small portion of the river. On top of this, a bridge spans the river allowing you to visit bar after bar without even getting in the water. I’ve seen many enthusiastic tubers jump in their tubes and begin to float, only to climb right back out 10 seconds later. Their tube sits outside the bar for hours and is basically forgotten until the day and its time to return to Vang Vieng. Nine times out of ten, its past the return time and the deposit has already been forfeited.
If, however, you would like to float along and enjoy the scenery on the river, a tube is obviously for you. This is not to say you can’t still spend time at the bars, have a few drinks and ride the zipline or slide. It just means that you don’t plan on lingering at the bars all day and are planning on seeing the rest of the river.
Many people who have multiple days in Vang Vieng mix a few days of both. They party a few days and then float the length of the river another when they need a day to relax and need a break from the madness.