I have to admit that after visiting Thailand, we had grown accustomed to the friendliness of the locals. On the other hand, in Laos, it was a totally different story. Smiling locals were actually hard to find. It’s not that they were deliberately rude, they just weren’t particularly friendly like the Thais. But this really didn’t bother us that much, at least not until we arrived in Vang Vieng and checked into our guesthouse.
Our guesthouse was across the river from all the action (that’s what we wanted, we are getting a little old after all!) and it offered the most amazing views of the limestone karsts and of cows grazing in the rice fields (wearing the cutest cowbells).
But the owners made us feel so unwelcome that it was unpleasant. How can any hotel owner make you feel so uninvited? But those views, I couldn’t believe my eyes. We put up with their rudeness because I just couldn’t give up those views!
Like our guesthouse, Vang Vieng is one of those places you want to hate but you just can’t. Vang Vieng is a party place, it’s popular with backpackers and drunken Asian tourists. Alcohol is consumed like water and don’t expect to get any sleep at night if you stay in the centre of town. The town itself lacks character. Aside from one street that overlooks the river, it’s full of concrete buildings with no style. There is really nothing special about the town of Vang Vieng itself.
So why should you still go to Vang Vieng?
Well, Vang Vieng is surrounded by towering limestone karsts and rice fields. There’s a river that flows through the town and there are lush jungles and caves only a short bicycle ride away. It’s an amazing place for hiking, caving, kayaking and much more.
Vang Vieng is full of things to do if you dare to stay sober for it. So even despite all the frustrations, you’ll encounter during your stay, you just can’t help but fall in love with that breathtaking scenery.
How to get to Vang Vieng?
You can get to Vang Vieng by VIP bus or minivan from Luang Prabang or Vientiane. Trying to decide between taking the bus or the minivan was a major challenge for us because we’d heard some terrible stories about both options.
We’d read about unsafe buses, very bumpy roads, passengers having to get out and clear away landslides, and people vomiting for the entire journey. To be honest, both of the options seemed very unglamorous to say the least. I suffer from travel sickness and many people said that the minivan was the worst option if you do.
However, after debating the options for a whole week (yes, literally the entire length of our stay in Luang Prabang!), we decided to take the minivan anyway. The minivan is quicker, cheaper and just a little bit safer.
After all of our worrying, the trip turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. I took travel sickness tablets and was absolutely fine the whole way. The scenery was once again nothing short of spectacular and it took us only 4 and a half hours to reach Vang Vieng.
But I wouldn’t necessarily use this as a guide because road conditions seem to change constantly. It appears that the rainy season is a lot worse because of the poor drainage on the roads so you might want to rethink travelling on either bus or minivan then. We read that the travel time can double during the rainy season.
If you’re coming from Vientiane, the drive from Vientiane to Vang Vieng is a lot smoother. Minivans are ok unless you need a lot of space. Don’t expect a lot of space on any minivan rides around Laos. They like to cram you in like sardines!
Cost of the minivan
Tickets from Luang Prabang to Van Vieng cost 110,000 Laos Kip and tickets from Vientiane to Vang Vieng cost 50,000 Laos Kip.
Cost of the VIP bus
Tickets from Luang Prabang to Van Vieng cost 120,000 and Laos Kip and tickets from Vientiane to Vang Vieng cost 60,000 Laos Kip.
Buying Tickets Online
You can buy your tickets to Vang Vieng online with 12go.asia. Use the search box below to find available seats:
How to get around in Vang Vieng?
Although you can walk around town easily enough, if you want to explore the countryside, you’ll need a bicycle, a scooter or a tuk-tuk driver.
Bikes or scooters
We hired bikes for one day and a scooter for the other. If you want to go further out into the countryside (such as to lagoon 3), scooters are your best bet. Many of the roads are unsealed with plenty of potholes. If you hire a scooter, try and get one with decent suspension (such as the Air Blades) for the same reason.
Cycling is quite difficult on those roads and the bikes you can hire are not great. The ones we hired had no gears and barely any brakes! If you’re staying close to town and only going as far as Blue Lagoon 1 then bikes are fine. Both options are a great way to explore the countryside, local villages and rice fields. We also saw people with buggies but they seemed to be getting in a fair bit of trouble!
Bike hire: from 15000 Lao Kip
Motorbike hire: from 50000 Lao Kip
If you don’t fancy either of those options, there’s no shortage of tuk-tuk drivers in town. Just be sure to negotiate a deal with your driver beforehand and pay at the end if you’re hiring him for the day.
You can also take one of the many organised tours in town. However, this could turn out to be rather frustrating. We signed up for one and ended up on a tour full of South Korean tourists who had no desire to sightsee but only wanted to get drunk with our tour guides.
Their constant drinking delayed us for nearly two hours. We ended up finishing the tour at 6pm instead of 4pm and only spent an hour kayaking instead of the 2 hours we were promised. To top it all off, we ended up at lagoon 1 instead of 4, presumably because we were so late and it was closer to town.
The Koreans were very friendly though and Simon did get to try some North Korean blueberry liqueur, so it wasn’t a total waste of a day!
What to do in Vang Vieng?
Vang Vieng might be small but there is no shortage of things to do. Here are our top picks:
Tubing down the river
Hire yourself a tube and float down the river. It’s a fun and relaxed way to enjoy the river and you can stop at the many riverfront bars along the way for a drink. Vang Vieng used to be infamous for its wild tubing parties. But after a few people died, the government cracked down on them and it is now a lot more chilled out than drunken. Although you will still see a few drunks!
For us, the best part of Vang Vieng was the hiking. There are so many karsts and so many hikes. Try hiking up to the Big Phangern viewpoint for the best view of the surrounding countryside. It’s a tough hike, and you’ll need about 2 and a half hours to reach the highest point. But the view is spectacular! It’s absolutely worth the blood, sweat and tears.
Note: A few minutes before the turn off for this hike is the turnoff for another hike with a similar name, the Phandern Viewpoint. We started with this one thinking it was the Big Phangern but it wasn’t. It was pretty tough too and only once we’d finished it did we realise the mistake we’d made!
After a bit of deliberation, we bought some more water and dragged ourselves up the actual Big Phangern! But if you don’t fancy doing both hikes, try and make it to the top of the Big Phangern viewpoint as it has the best view of the two. If you only have one day available for hiking, I wouldn’t recommend attempting both hikes (we were exhausted at the end of it).
Regardless of which hike you do, start early in the day and bring plenty of water and some snacks for energy. It’s hot and humid and you tire pretty quickly in the heat. Wear good shoes as the trail can be slippery. We saw a lot of locals doing the hikes in flip flops and sandals but I wouldn’t recommend it. It also wouldn’t be a good idea to do either of the hikes after heavy rain as the trails will be muddy and slippery.
Walk through the rice paddies
Just across the toll bridge, it’s a totally different scene. The bar scene is replaced by rice fields, grazing cows, water buffaloes and local bamboo houses. In the rainy season, you can walk through the flooded rice fields and enjoy the amazing greenery. When we were there in the dry season the harvest had been done and the fields were dry. But it was nonetheless a lovely ride through the countryside.
Explore the many Blue Lagoons
Vang Vieng is home to a few Blue Lagoons where you can go swimming and rope swinging. They are numbered 1,2,3,4,5. We’d recommend passing on number one. This is the most famous one and it’s also the most packed. It’s so packed that it’s not even enjoyable anymore. We enjoyed Blue Lagoon number 3 the best and right next door to Blue Lagoon 3 is the recently opened Blue Springs. The Blue Springs were a delight because they are not well known and we pretty much had the whole lagoon to ourselves.
Visit the water cave
Although touristy, Tham Nam (the Water Cave), is a fun place to visit if you are not claustrophobic and if you enjoy tubing through a water cave. I wasn’t so keen on it as I don’t enjoy being stuck in the dark but Simon really liked it. While at the water cave you can also sign up for zip lining. We were just too spoiled with our recent zip lining experience with Flight of the Gibbon in Chiang Mai that we decided not to do it.
Catch a sunset over the river
Head to one of the river bars for sunset, grab a cocktail or a Beer Lao and enjoy a spectacular sunset!
Hire a kayak
Vang Vieng’s river is so beautiful, so why not spend more time on it! You can hire kayaks and slowly make your way down the river. Bear in mind that some areas can be rocky so be careful. We became stuck on a rock and struggled to get off it! The current can also be quite strong in some parts of the river, so take your time if you are not an experienced kayaker. The river is not very deep in the dry season so if you fall off it’s not a big deal.
Hot Air Ballooning
An incredible way to start the day is by taking a Hot Air Balloon ride high above the karsts while enjoying the stunning scenery below.
Where to stay in Vang Vieng?
As we mentioned earlier, we did not love our accommodation so we won’t be recommending it here. But we would suggest staying across the river from town unless you want to party.
The Lao Valhalla Bungalows & Restaurant was recommended to us after we left. We only went there one night for dinner but we enjoyed our food and the owner was lovely and super friendly. We were told that the bungalows are very comfortable and clean and the views are exceptional too. It’s a little further out of town, so it’s also very quiet.
There is accommodation for all budgets in Vang Vieng, so if this does not appeal to you, you can search for more accommodation here: