Cover photo full
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrVang Vieng is fighting hard to lose its image as the ill-reputed party animal hub of Laos, thanks mostly to the strong-armed tactics of the local Government. Up until only a few years ago, there were just a three reasons why tourists came here: to get drunk on BeerLao, high on dope, and to float downriver for a couple of hours on inflated inner tubes. The aim, for most backpackers, was to do all three simultaneously. Yet due to an incredibly high rate of tourist injuries and deaths (due to drowning primarily), the local authorities have been adamant to transform the town into what they know it can be: a stunningly relaxing spot set amongst a very striking karst mountainside.
The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of Vang ViengOver the last decade, the Laotian Government has found it hard to clamp down on the tourist shenanigans in Vang Vieng, for quite a few reasons. First of all, it’s near impossible to completely stop foreign tourists from wanting to spend a few days in a cheap, beautiful and adventurous place. Secondly, it’s been just as difficult to convince local business owners not to be lured by the flowing tourist dollars. Of the 25,000 inhabitants who live here, almost three-quarters were somehow involved in the running of bars and tube-rental agencies, bringing in a considerable amount of income to the town. Yet an obscene amount of tourist deaths in 2011 (21 young tourists perished) forced the government to take drastic actions, closing down all the bars along the riverfront and tearing down the rope swing and diving platform which were seen to be the most dangerous activities for drunken tourists.
A few spots have since reopened, and by all accounts there is still much fun to be had here albeit in a more subtle, perhaps even mature, way.
Head up to Vang Vieng nowadays and you’ll still encounter a few groups of loud, obnoxious 20 year olds, yet staying away from the most toxic elements, and enjoying all the town has to offer, has become increasingly easy. Tubing (the nice way), kayaking; rock-climbing, cave exploring; hiking, and relaxing are just a few of the activities you can enjoy here.
What to See and Do in Vang ViengThis gorgeous village offers plenty to see and do if you’re in the mood for some adventure, yet along the shores on the southern end of town you’ll find quite a few stunning restaurants and bars where enjoying a sundowner and a superlative sunset is what it’s all about.
Visit the Blue LagoonAbout 7kms west of Vang Vieng (across the vehicle bridge and straight down the main road) is where you’ll find Tham Poukham, an exquisite, turquoise lagoon fed by a stream coming out of a splendid cave. Head here to swim, read, enjoy a picnic and to explore the cave. Many agencies in town will tell you the easiest way to get here is by bicycle and scooter, yet know that the dirt road is corrugated and hard to manage in intense heat. A much better option is to pay a few kip for a tuk-tuk instead.
Kayak Down the Nam SomKayaking down the river is an infinitely more enjoyable than slowly freezing your rear end while bobbing on an inner tube. Tour agencies offer great half-day trips which include transport, kayak hire, cave exploring and lunch. There’s a bit of walking involved to visit some of the more remote caves yet the fun-filled day is especially rewarding as you’ll get to see the less-visited countryside as well.
Rock ClimbingWith enough routes to satisfy the itch of even the most experience climbers, Vang Vieng has always been a magnet for rock-climbers, now more so than ever. Book a trip with Green Discovery if you want to use the best gear in town.
Hot Air BallooningOne of the most surreal sights in Vang Vieng is that of gingerly floating hot-air balloons, sweeping above the river every day at dawn. A sunrise hot air balloon ride is a memorable experience anywhere in the world, yet particularly lovely here. Rides cost about $ 150 USD and can be booked through your guesthouse.
Mountain BikingCycling in and around Vang Vieng sounds much easier than it actually is, thanks to the untarred road conditions and all-year-round high temperature. Luckily, however, it is also a very worthy activity, as you’ll get to explore all the amazing attractions the town boasts within a relatively short distance. 10, 20 and 30kms loop routes are detailed on photocopied maps, which you’ll be supplied with when you rent your wheels. Check brakes and tire conditions before you set off, however, as many bikes seem to be in dire need of TLC.
Where to StayMuch like Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng boasts an immense selection of guesthouses. The northern end of town, where you’ll find the ‘tubing center’, is where you’ll also find the cheapest (and dodgiest) choices, while the southern end is now home to a few boutique resorts. Consider crossing the pedestrian bridge (towards the Blue Cave) to the western end of town and here you’ll find the most peaceful and beautiful lodges of all.
Where to EatVang Vieng boasts two parallel main roads, brimming with western-themed eateries, bars and food stalls. Most guesthouses also have restaurants yet tend to charge much more for the same meals. The best options, both in terms of quality, ambiance and value-for money, are to be found on the south-western side of the river.
How to Get ThereVang Vieng is the obvious stop-over for anyone travelling between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and can be reached by bus in 4 hours from the former ( ₭40,000 ($4.80)) and about 7 hours from the latter ( ₭100,000 ($12)).
Do you see any omissions, errors or want to add information to this page? Sign up.
Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Feb 01, 2015