Vang Vieng: A New Beginning

I have been three times to Vang Vieng. The second time I went, I didn’t remember how beautiful the place was. The scenery is exceptional with the mountains and the river.

View from the balcony, at Laos Haven hotel. Nice place for only 18 USD, very clear, air con, etc. (picture from 2012)

Vang Vieng is well known as the tourism capital of Laos and it is very popular with backpackers. It can be reached easily from Vientiane, a bus ride should take about 4 or 5 hours and should cost around 10 USD. Most of the tourists are young westerners going to Vang Vieng to party on the river and all around. However, around 2013, the government shut down many bars located on the river because there had been a number deaths. Drunk young people injured themselves, fell on the rocks, or drowned. In 2014, the bars started to slowly re-open, and it is not as crowded as it was before being shut down. And we feel, from what we saw this last time, is that it is better and will continue to improve. There are less drugs, less reckless behavior, less alcohol-fueled foolishness, even if some bars stay open quite late.

Bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng.

This small city is found along Nam Song River and you’ll know that you are there when you see the Karst Hills landscape that makes up the surroundings for the region with the city itself sitting in panoramic beauty. Along with cheap accommodation that is easy to find, visitors to Vang Vieng have quick access to restaurants, internet shops, bars, diners, and travel agencies. The Nam Song River offers attractions to tourists and fun outdoor activities such as kayaking. I found it quite special that almost every restaurant or guest-house played American sitcoms like “Friends” or “The Family Guy”, giving the impression that you are not actually deep into the Laotian jungle. So deep, in the past, it seemed like laws didn’t seem to apply in Vang Vieng. It was easy to find drugs. In 2012, the smile bar was the place near the river.

Party in one of the bars, each day. Cheap “buckets” for everyone!

Now, this place is closed. There is an Irish bar in the city and the bar just in front is also popular. You can also have what is called “hilarious gas” a balloon, for 15,000 kip. It will make you dizzy, and it is supposed to be N2O. It was very popular in the city in 2014.

There isn’t much to see in Vang Vieng, besides the breathtakingly beautiful scenery. The main attraction is the river itself: people go tubing down the river, lazily tipping back beers and buckets during the ride. There are tons of small bars around the river playing techno or dance music and people are just partying all around this beautiful river.

Guest-houses and restaurants playing Americans sitcoms.

There is nothing to worry about if you don’t have all the right equipment, because there are bars that rent equipment for all kinds of activities. Thanongsi Sorangkoun who introduced the inner tubes to organic farmers in late 1999 for the farmers to be able to relax especially during wet season where the river experiences torrents. Now, available to anyone and everywhere. In 2012, it was about 55,000 kip to rent a tube for the day but you had to pay a deposit of 60,000. Be careful about 2 things:

First, DO NOT erase the number written on your hand. That is the number to get back your deposit.

And second, keep an eye on your tube. Some tubes wash down the river while a person went into a bar, or worse some get stolen. No tube means your deposit is gone.

Tubing in the river.

The ride is now about 4.2 km on the river and takes about 2 or 3 hours. Bars are throwing you ropes to bring you on their side of the river. I remember that few years ago, the ride was longer. It depends on the season, if the water is high or low, etc. And since 2013, there are less bars opened.

The river seems quiet…but….

Be aware of the danger of tubing while intoxicated. This video is a good example:

Beside tubing in Vang Vieng, there are other fun activities that are not just meant for backpackers, but also for adventurers who want to try extreme sports. That includes trekking, rock climbing and limestone mountaineering.

On the road to the blue lagoon, only 3 or 4 KM from the city. Here is a 360 picture taken in this area of Vang Vieng.

About 7km north of the city is the blue lagoon. There isn’t much to see except clear blue water but the cave is quite interesting, called the Tham Phu Kham cave. You have to be prepared because this cave is an almost ½ hour away going to Vang Vieng and you need to ride a tuk tuk to be able to get there. From the city, we suggest renting bicycles (about 1 USD per day) or motorcycles (about 7 USD per day) to travel to this place. Again, you will have splendid scenery all along your ride. You have to pay a small entrance fee to the blue Lagoon. And if you go in the cave, we recommend to rent a torch if your mobile phone does not have a light! Some places are really dark.

The Blue Lagoon

Here is a 360 picture of Tham Phu Kham cave at the Blue Lagoon.

Vang Vieng is full of western foods like pizza, burritos, sandwiches, and ice cold drinks will surely complete your vacation. You can also ask for the “Happy Menu” or “Magic Shakes” in many of these places. They will put some herbs on your pizza or your drinks that will make you smile and happy.

Vang Vieng is also a nice stop if you are traveling between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. We recommend to book your hotel on you will get great prices and have your room ready and waiting for your arrival.

More pictures of Vang Viang (2012) here:

Here’s tubing in 2014:

And a special ceremony in a temple in October 2014:

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