You may have heard the name Vang Vieng, the once notorious little town in Laos. If you have not then a brief history is in order. According to the story we heard, local children, bored and looking for kicks as children tend to do, used to float down the rapids of the local Nam Song river on the innards of old tires.
Thanongsi Sorangkoun, owner of an organic farm in Vang Vieng, bought a few rubber tubes for his farm volunteers to relax on along the river, those volunteers invited other tourists and those tourists brought alcohol, and well volunteers or tourists plus alcohol equals disaster.
Things spiraled rapidly out of control, and seeing the possibility to make money from the crazy foreigners the world and its mother started building more and more outrageous makeshift bars along the river. Soon it was completely littered with bars, rope swings, high dives and debaucherously drunken tourists
Unfortunately, this combined with an ease of access to narcotics meant things got out of hand quickly, like, “The Hangover” out of hand, and a whole bunch of people died. There were 27 tourist deaths recorded in 2011 alone!
As a result the government took notice and decided to take action. As the majority of these bars had been put up without any type of authorisation the government shut them all down, permanently, like by burning them to the ground. To combat the drug problem they imposed VERY serious fines for those caught in possession of, even minor amounts of, narcotic substances. Don’t get me wrong *apparently* there are still bars where you can engage in a “mushie shake” or easily access marijuana, but with those kind of fines in effect, and the terrible wages the cops are on, it just wouldn’t be a good idea to even try.
Luckily for us Vang Vieng has managed to turn itself around and according to some of the people there, its attracting more tourists than before, although less westerners apparently. So we decided to see what this beautiful little berg had to offer (in its new narcotics free version of course).
From Don Det To Vang Vieng:
Vang Vieng was the next stop for us after a few glorious days in Don Det and the 4000 islands. You can get transfers all the way, i.e. a boat to a minivan to a sleeper etc. for 250,000 LAK (€25) from any of the many tour operators in Don Det, and from what we see they all seem to charge the same, or like us you can take the long, local way and save yourself about €2 (totally worth it). Read here for more details.
Accommodation In Vang Vieng:
We arrived in to Vang Vieng with nothing booked and did our usual “door to door” in search of the cheapest place to lay our weary heads. Owing to the rising popularity of the town and the new influx of Chinese and Korean tourist (locals told us they spend more money than western tourists) accommodation in Vang Vieng is not the cheapest.
In the end we settled for Pans Place Guesthouse. They offer:
Dorm (10 bed) 40,000 LAK (€4)
Single 90,000 LAK (€9)
Twin / Double 110,000 – 130,000 LAK (€11 – €13)
As we were there in off season we were able to negotiate and got a twin room with shared bathroom, which was basically a bamboo cabin with a mattress on the floor, for 60,000 LAK (€6).
There’s a restaurant onsite that serves Laos and western food and although it did look and smell AMAZING, it was a little out of our price range.
Things To Do In Vang Vieng:
Rent a Motorbike:
Rent a motorbike from R.G Adventure (across the road from Vang Vieng Orchid Guesthouse). It’s the perfect way to explore Vang Vieng and the surrounding area. It makes it a lot easier to reach some of the local attractions that may not otherwise be accessible. Just bear in mind the roads can be hella bumpy, especially in rainy season.
Bike 8am-8pm 24 hours
Automatic 50,000 LAK (€5) 90,000 LAK (€9)
Manual 40,000 LAK (€4) 70,000 LAK (€7)
Nam Xay Viewpoint:
One of the main “To do’s” in Vang Vieng is to take to one of the numerous viewpoints to get yourself a Gods eye view of the rolling green hills and limestone karst valleys. Industrious locals have set up parking and viewing platforms with bamboo handrails to aid tourists in their ascent, in exchange for a few kip. You can hardly blame them; it’s a fairly smart way to make a few quid off your land in our opinion.
The most well-known of these is Nam Xay Viewpoint. Head out of town towards Blue Lagoon 1, across the bridge (which costs 10,000 LAK (€1) to cross on the bike) and follow the signs for Nam Xay. Entry to the viewpoint is 10,000 LAK per person but this includes parking.
A 30 minute, 250 meter climb will see you reach a stunning 360º view of the valley. There are plenty of places to stop for lunch so we totally recommend you bring a packed lunch and picnic it when you get up there. This is not one to do in Flip flops though, the last 30 meters or so is pure scrambling!
We went for around 1.30pm and had the entire peak to ourselves.
Another Vang Vieng attraction is the Blue Lagoon, although there are actually (at least) 3 of them. Under the advice of our guesthouse owner and some locals we spoke to, when it came time to visit one of these turquoise tubs, we opted for the Blue Lagoon 3 as it was supposed to be the least touristy of the three.
Don’t be fooled in thinking you will have the place to yourself it will be busy, not rammed, but busy. We will admit, despite being anti-social loners, we really enjoyed our few hours here. A Tarzan swing, zip line, kayaks, rubber tubes and bamboo rafts mean there’s no fear of boredom.
The scenery is insanely beautiful and as an added bonus there is a viewpoint and a cave to explore. The cave is pitch black so you will need a light, we found it too difficult to navigate our way with just our phones as there is a climb down into the cave and you will need both hands!
Tham Chang Cave:
Starting with a nice easy 140 steps up to reach the cave, there is small viewing platform. The cave is well paved and brightly lit; we managed easily in flip flops. At the back of the cave, when you head to the left, there is another viewing platform where you can see the Nam Song River.
Go either early in the morning or later in afternoon to avoid the arrival of the day tour groups. You will easily spend an hour in the caves if you take your time, so maybe try to combine it with another activity to make the most of your day.
The cave is open daily from 8am-11am and 1pm-4pm and has a 15,000 LAK (€1.50) entry fee.
To get there you will need to cross a toll bridge 2000 LAK (€0.20) per person, 3000 LAK (€0.30) per motorbike or 2000 (€0.20) LAK per bicycle. Walking from town is simple and only takes 25 minutes.
While tubing in Vang Vieng is now more strictly monitored and regulated and the safety standards have increased dramatically, it’s not an activity that interested us or a stereotype we want to perpetuate, so we didn’t even look into prices, but if it’s your bag a quick google search should give you all the info you need.
Just be sure to go with a reputable company, don’t get pished, wear your life jacket and for the love of Jesus be careful will ya.
As always, give us an auld shout if you have anything to ask or add!
Happy Travels TUG x