Vang Vieng is a small town about 3 hours from Vientiane along the road to Luang Prabang. Set on the beautiful Song river and surrounding by rice paddy fields and spectacular karst limstone mountains, Vang Vieng is a particulary stunning part of Laos. Vang Vieng also provides a wide range of adventure activites such as caving, tubing down the river, rock climbing and mountain biking.
Once no more than a bus changing station on the long haul between Vientiane at the Thai border and the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, it has managed to become a destination in its own right. Still not much more than three streets and a bus station, the main attractions are the river, laid back countryside and cave-filled rock formations. Originally opened up by hedonistic backpackers, it is now host to numerous internal tourists and more sedate foreign sightseers.
Vang Vieng is between Vientiane and Luang Prabang – by bus (road and bus conditions permitting) about 6-8 hours from Luang Prabang, around 3-4 hours from Vientiane. Buses to Vientiane leave bright and early between 05:00 and 07:00 and cost a fixed 25,000 kip; you can also try to share a tuk-tuk for slightly more. Less crowded and more humanely timed tourist buses leave at 10:00 and 13:30 (in theory – they tend to wait until full before departing) and cost US$4. A minibus leaves at 09:00 and costs US$5. Tickets can be bought in almost every guesthouse (for a US$1 commission).
Buses leave from the station in the morning and afternoon. VIP tourist buses are easily booked from your hotel.
Another transportation option is on one of the day trips to Vientiane down the river by kayak. The trip should leave in the early morning, placing you in the capital by 6pm. For your belongings, dry bags are available or you can opt to place them in the accompanying van which will take them along. Expect to pay 170,000 – 220,000 kip but you may be able to find it for a cheaper price.
Touts offer cyclo or taxi rides from the bus station into town, but it’s only a 5-10 minute walk to the center, and about a 2 minute walk out the other side.
One would be remiss to visit Vang Vieng and not venture outside of the central area of town. A number of transportation options are available. Tuk Tuks are easy to find for quick and convenient transportation.
Bike rentals are widely available and can be rented from hotels or local businesses. You should not have to pay over 10,000 kip for a day’s rental.
For the more adventurous, motorcycle rentals are also widely available. As with bicycles these can be rented from hotels or businesses. Bear in mind, however, that your hotel is likely to add 10,000 kip to the price of the rental. It’s quite easy to rent a motorcycle from a local business for only 30,000 kip for the entire day. Hotels will tend to charge 40,000.
Tours of the surrounding area are also easily arranged. The tours will take you to all of the major sights. You might swim in the local caves, then drift downriver on an inner tube, and see the local landscape. Tours should cost around 80,000 kip or less.
Things to Do
- Blue Lagoon: 3 km down stream from town brings you to a spring fed lagoon at the bottom of “Golden Cave”. Nice place to relax, swim and play on the rope swing. The waters are inhabitated with a few hundred carp fish that will eat locally sold fish food right out of your hand. The cave above requires a modest hike up a make shift bamboo ladder. Once inside, there is a short walk to the Sleeping Golden Buhdda. Entry fees are about: 10,000kip per/person.
- Lao-style steam sauna
- Movies shown at a few restaurants
- Tubing down the river. US$3.50 includes ride to start point. Dry bag US$1. Some dry bags may not be of the best quality, often digital cameras get ruined by faulty dry bags rented to tourists, so beware and if in doubt, don’t bring your camera. Many beer and other pitstops along the way. Also, try the diving stop.
- Kayaking the river.
- Playing on the swing over the river. Please be careful – perforated eardrums and permanent hearing damage are common injuries resulting from falling the wrong way. The local hospital is not equipped to diagnose or treat this injury – Vientiane has the closest (if spartan) ENT facility but no English speaking specialists, so you may have to head all the way to Bangkok for treatment.
- 3km north of Vang Vieng, where the main tubing run commences, there’s an organic farm. Here you can escape the town’s dirge, teach village kids, build adobe buildings, learn/teach farming, eat some good quality food and stay a night, a week, or a year.
- Internet. The local internet cartel charges $US2 an hour for internet, however, the bandwidth is very good for Laos and they encourage customers to use it! (meaning downloading mp3’s and the such).
- Rock climbing. There are excellent walls to everyone from first timers to pros. The day trips (includes guide, all gear, lunch, transport etc.) starts from 20USD.
Shopping and Money
Locals accept Thai baht and US dollars, as well as Laos kip.
There is one government office that changes traveller’s checks.
There is one ATM that now take all major credit cards but is known for running out of cash.
If these cases or with cards that are not accepted you can take money out at one of the bank, make sure you have your passport ready and if it’s not a recognized institution they won’t let you take money out.
The Lao Development Bank changes money at good rates and processes cash advances.
Restaurants and Food
All your basic backpacker fare and a few local dishes. See the Laos article for more about local food. There are numerous places specialising in pizza, which is fresh but often of indifferent quality.
Many will frown this type of activity, but many restaurants along the main road also offer “special” shakes and pizzas of various sorts, just be careful!
- Organic Farm Cafe – original and interesting menu with excellent surprises like deep-fried mulberry leaves in honey (15 000 kip)
- DK3 – Milan Pizza – woodfired pizza
- Enjoy Restaurant – good pizza
Bars and Nightlife
On 18th July 2008, due to especially high rain to the north the Nam Song suddenly rose to higher levels then normal. The island bars suffered flooding and as normal for the time of year, the bambo bridges where damaged and some washed away.
The raised water subsided within 4 days and as of 22nd July the bar owners started to repair damage.
Although the tour companys where able to kyake and carry on bissness as usal, the tubbing was suspended for 4 days and restarted on the 23rd July.
As with most things in Laos, what might seem as being unsurmountable time consuming tragedies to a westerner, are easily over come by the Lao people with things returning to normal as of 23/07/08
- On the riverside, Jaidee’s Bar offers a chilled out atmosphere for those looking to escape the loud music and rowdy club atmosphere of the island bars. Has great prices during Happy Hour (6-10) including whisky buckets for 10,000k.
- The newly instituted projector large screen PS2 Pro Evo competitions on the main street are a good distraction on a rainy evening.
- Many all bars screen movies during the evening (mostly episodes of Friends but some show the Simpsons/Family Guy as well). Buy dinner, stay for the movie and order a milkshake & some food.
- Be prepared to listen to a lot of Bob Marley (it’s as if someone bought the complete Friends box set and Bob Marley Legend and burnt copies of them for the entire town)! If you get sick of it there is a “Jack Johnson” bar which plays something else.
- Lie on plastic mats by the river and drink Beer Lao. Some places will build small bonfires.
- Some bars near the river have DJs or at least loud music and an outdoor dance floor. This is the scene for people looking for a more raucous time.
- Please be aware of the “special” shakes which can contain Ganja or Magic Mushrooms. They are not a good idea, whilst tubing…
- Although marijuana and various other drugs are freely available and advertised in Vang Vieng (all are illegal), there is also a large police presence. Plain clothed policemen frequently take unsuspecting tourists to the local police station for smoking a joint. The usual outcome of this involves having your passport seized until you cough up a hefty “fine”, typically betweek 3-5 million Kip. Once the fine is paid however the matter is generally taken no further and the passport returned; however, the punishment will depend on the officer you are dealing with.