I made the mistake of staying in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, too long. I wanted to find something I really loved about the place and although it was definitely worth visiting, in hindsight I should have given up, settled for just liking Vientiane and left for Vang Vieng a few days earlier.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to do and see in Vientiane but then I arrived in Vang Vieng and wished I’d got here sooner. Maybe I simply prefer small towns to cities but the fact that I arrived in the dark of night and immediately knew I was going to love it here, tells me that Vang Vieng is a pretty special place.
Oh and btw, my instant love of Vang Vieng was not due to being wasted at my time of arrival. That’s a big no no here these days. Read and abide by the sign:
Ok here’s a little history on Vang Vieng. You should know that this sweet town with the Nam Song river running through it was once the ultimate backpacker party town famous for it’s anything goes hedonism.
The Vietnam war put Vang Vieng on the map when the US placed an Air Force Base in the center of town. Years after the end of the Vietnam war the natural beauty combined with the lawlessness of Vang Vieng resulted in bus loads of carefree bikini/swimming trunk-clad, vodka-bucket wielding tourists flocking here to go raving and tubing down the river, opium cocktails in one hand, spliff in the other.
Guys, where have you gone? No wait, Vang Vieng isn’t like this anymore, get off the plane/train/bus/camel and get back to reading…
This dangerous concoction of unlimited alcohol, drugs, zip lines and waterslides resulted in twenty or so travelers a year losing their lives to drug-induced heart attacks, broken necks and drowning. After international outrage and local’s complaining about having their home town disrespected, the Laos government began cracking down on Vang Vieng. They closed the waterslide, most of the bars and effectively ended the good old party days.
Don’t cry! There’s a silver lining…
The Vang Vieng that I visited has a new appeal, that of an oasis of calm for eco-conscious tourists with a penchant for outdoor adventures. After many years of upset locals and then dwindling tourist numbers when everything got shut down, the town has found a middle ground, one where the natural beauty of Vang Vieng can finally shine brighter than a glow stick.
Wondering what you can do in Vang Vieng?
Float down the river on a tube or zip line over the jungle canopies, climb the limestone mountains that surround the town, explore the many caves or watch Friends episodes all day long, which are bizarrely playing on repeat in every bar, cafe and restaurant.
Here’s the top 5 things to do when in Vang Vieng;
1) Go Tubing
Vang Vieng is most famous for its tubing! Float down the gorgeous Nam Song River and soak up the serene surroundings. Tubing down the river no longer goes hand in hand with being high at the same time but you can stop for a Laos Beer or two at the bars along the way or grab a bite to eat at the many restaurants lining the river.
Aim to get to the riverside by about 11am, rent a tube then jump in a van to get to the starting point. You’ll need to pay again to get a ride back into town afterwards so bring enough cash in a waterproof wallet.
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2) Visit Than Nam Cave
Tham Nam is considered one of the prettiest caves in Vang Vieng. If you enjoyed your tubing experience then Than Nam is for you because during rainy season you can stay on your inner tube as you cross through the cave with the help of a line of rope over your head. The Nam Song River has a small offshoot that trickles through, however during the dry season the water levels are usually too low to do this.
Beware! You will be surrounded by complete darkness from the moment you enter this cave so make sure you rent a torch so you can see the rock crystals, stalagmites, stalactites and random cave dwelling creatures.
3) Sail Through The Sky On A Zip Line
If you want an adrenalin pumping afternoon in Vang Vieng then you can sign up to go zip lining. Travel to Tham Nam, also known as the Water Cave and then sail through the air on a zip line while admiring the jungle canopy that surrounds most of the caves.
Zip lining is a relatively new addition to Vang Vieng’s adventure activities and you can find some tours that will combine all the best adventures into one epic day for you; tubing, kayaking, trek through rice paddies, hike mountains and zip line.
4) Get High In A Hot Air Balloon
If you’re good with heights then float over Vang Vieng in a hot air balloon to admire its natural beauty from up above. More tour companies are offering hot air balloon rides around Van Vieng these days and for the optimal view plan your ride to coincide with the sunset.
5) Rock Climb Pha Daeng Mountain
Take advantage of the limestone mountains surrounding Vang Vieng, which offer a great rock climbing opportunity for those with rock climbing experience and a good level of physical fitness. Although there’s lots of different locations in Vang Vieng to do rock climbing, Pha Daeng mountain is by far the best place due to its easy access (located over the river from town) and the fact it has dry trails during rainy season.
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Check out the Jetset Bunny Guide To Laos including the basics, things to do, eat, stay and plan: Laos Travel Tips