The best things to do in Vang Vieng Laos
This post is about the best things to do in Vang Vieng in Laos. But the first question is whether Vang Vieng is still worth a visit? Vang Vieng is a village in Southern Laos with a fierce reputation.
Once a small laidback rural community where you could experience the authentic Laotian village life. Now a party town overruled by cheap and obnoxious backpackers tubing along the Nam Song river.
Things got so bad that all the drinking and drugs even led to a few deaths of intoxicated travelers drowning in the river. In 2012 authorities put a stop to the tubing in Vang Vieng. The bars with their dangerous zip wires and slides that were serving buckets of alcohol and drugs had to close down.
I had a love-hate relationship with Vang Vieng. The scenery is beautiful with the paddy fields and Karst mountains and there are plenty of things to do in Vang Vieng. But there is no denying that tourism had a very negative impact on this traditional rural community.
Is Vang Vieng in Laos worth a visit?
Is Vang Vieng in Laos still worth a visit? For the party goers I can say that the party has not completely disappeared and you can still go tubing in Vang Vieng. However, there is more attention to safety and the bars no longer serve drugs.
Tubing in Vang Vieng is now much more relaxed. If your idea of tubing in Vang Vieng is leisurely floating down the river in your tube to enjoy the views on the stunning Karst mountains, simply avoid the few bars that are open and float on.
Also, Vang Vieng is much more than tubing alone. There are plenty of things to do in Vang View beyond the Nam Song river. If you are looking for the idyllic rural paradise and a taste of Laotian village life you have to make a bit of an effort, but it’s there too.
Vang Vieng: the good and the bad
I ended up with mixed feelings about Vang Vieng (and Laos in general). It remains a very touristic place, but so were the 4000 islands. Besides western backpackers there are now also a lot of Chinese and Korean tour groups. Yet, the landscape is stunningly beautiful and the further away you get from the tourist center, the quieter and more peaceful your experience will be.
Despite my mixed feelings, I stayed for a couple of days exploring the surrounding countryside. The landscape with the paddy fields and the Karst mountains in the back is spectacular. And with a number of caves, blue lagoons, waterfalls and viewpoints there are enough things to do in Vang Vieng.
It’s one of the few places where pictures do more justice as you won’t see and hear the tourist crowds. So yes, in my opinion Vang Vieng in Laos is still worth a visit.
Things to do in Vang Vieng
The Nam Song river
The Nam Song river is at the heart of Vang Vieng and a lot of popular things to do in Vang View revolve around the river.
Tubing: There are enough posts about tubing in Vang Vieng. Basically you leisurely float down the Nam Song river on a large tube from where you can enjoy the beautiful landscape. A few bars are still open and this is where you can still find the infamous party scene. Not interested in the party? Just float on. It takes between 3 to 5 hours to float down the river and there are a number of companies in town to arrange it.
Kayaking: You can also take a kayak on the Nam Song river. Most Kayak tours start at Khmu village 10 kilometers north of Vang Vieng from where you will peddle down the Nam Song river.
The blue Lagoons of Vang Vieng
Besides tubing, visiting the blue lagoon is another very popular thing to do in Vang Vieng. There are in fact several blue lagoons in the vicinity of the town. They all require an entrance fee that ranges from 10,000 to 30,000 kip.
Blue Lagoon 1 (8 km from town): This is the most popular blue lagoon and very crowded with tour groups. There are swings, platforms, tubes and life jackets for those who can not sing. The water is a deep blue turquoise. You can also visit the Phoukam cave here.
Blue Lagoon 2 (10 km from town): Another popular blue lagoon that is slightly more quiet than the first one. It is also a bit larger and has several pools for swimming with platforms and slides. Nearby you can visit the Thang Cham cave.
Blue Lagoon 3 (17 km from town): This lagoon is popular because of its natural beauty and quiet atmosphere. Because of the distance from town not that many people venture this far. Nearby you can also visit the Patong cave and blue pools and climb up to a viewpoint. The roads to this blue lagoon are bumpy so I recommend a motorbike or a tuk tuk.
Blue Lagoon 4 (15 km from town): This is the most rustic lagoon near Vang Vieng. Probably because it is a bit difficult to find. That is why it is also the most quiet lagoon. There is no restaurant so bring snacks and drinks with you. Nearby you can visit the Tham Nam cave and Elephant cave.
The caves around Vang Vieng
There are several caves surrounding Vang Vieng. If you intend to visit several caves I recommend wearing good shoes and bringing a headlamp. Although you can rent headlamps at the most popular caves this is not the case with the more remote ones. Be careful when you enter the caves without a guide. The rocks can be slippery.
Tham Chang Cave (2 km from town): this is the most accessible cave near Vang Vieng. There are paths and lights and therefore it is easy to navigate. Note that you have to pay an entrance fee for the bridge and a separate entrance fee to enter the cave.
Num Bor Kheo Cave (5 km from town): Not many people visit this cave that is not too far from town. More quiet and rustic than the Tham Chang Cave.
Phoukam cave (8 km from town): A small cave with a buddha statue inside. Very popular with tourgroups because it is near blue lagoon 1.
Phapoungkam cave (9 km from town): Large and wide cave with stalagmites. A little bit further away from Phoukam cave, but way more quiet because it requires a steep climb up.
Angel cave (4 km from town): Not the most spectacular cave, but close to town with paths and lights.
Tham Nam water cave (14 km from town): A popular cave where you can go cave tubing in the dry season (in the rainy season the water levels are too high). You get a helmet and there are ropes to pull yourself along.
Elephant cave (14 km from town): Close to the water cave. It’s a very small cave with a rock that resembles an elephant.
Vang Vieng Viewpoints
Another popular thing to do in Vang Vieng is climbing up to some of the viewpoints around town. As you can imagine this requires some steep climbs that can be slippery when it rains. Wear good shoes and bring enough water with you as you will sweat a lot.
Pha Ngern viewpoint (4 km from town): the trail to the Silver cliff viewpoint and the Pha Ngern viewpoint is well marked with a steep staircase. It takes about 40 minutes up to an hour to the first viewpoint at Silver cliff and another 40 minutes to an hour to the Pha Ngern viewpoint where you have the best views.
Nam Xay viewpoint (8 km from town): this is one of the most popular viewpoints in Vang Vieng and it has indeed spectacular panorama views. It’s a 30 to 40 minute climb up. The trail can be slippery, especially when there’s been rain. There is a motorbike on top for selfies.
Vang Vieng travel tips
Where to stay in Vang Vieng
Where you stay in Vang Vieng has a big influence on whether you will have a party experience or a laidback rural experience. As a rule of thumb, the further away from town, the more quiet and peaceful.
Budget Party: The Vang Vieng Freedom Backpackers 2 or the Vang Vieng Freedom View are good hostels if you want to join the party crowd. They are similar and both have dormitories and a pool with a convenient location in the center of town. If you prefer a bit more luxury and privacy I would recommend the Jungle Paradise Bungalows.
Budget quiet: The more quiet hotels and bungalows are on the outskirts of town or across the Nam Song river. You won’t find the low budget prices in town, but in my opinion the peace and quiet are well worth the money. The Pasanchai bungalows on the riverside are a good budget option just across the river near the bridge. South of town you will find the Happy bungalows and the Garden Resort that has clean rooms away from the hustle and bustle of the center.
Mid range quiet: far from town are some excellent mid range options that give you the true rural experience. Across the river are the nice Bearlin bungalows (3 km from town) where I stayed. Although far away from town, the friendly owners are very helpful in arranging tours and you can easily rent a bicycle.
Up Market luxury: If money is no concern and you want to treat yourself on some luxury there is the beautiful ViengTara Resort
How to get there
The most popular way to get to Vang Vieng is by bus. You can take a bus from Vientiane, Luang Prabang or other major cities in Laos. The journey from Vientiane takes about 3-4 hours, while the journey from Luang Prabang takes about 5-6 hours. You can buy the bus tickets at bus stations or travel agencies in the cities.
How to get around
Vang Vieng itself is not a big town, but to explore the countryside you will need some kind of transport
Cycling: Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation in Vang Vieng. You can rent a bike from many guest houses and shops in the town. A bike can be a great way to explore the surrounding countryside and nearby attractions. That said, the roads can be bumpy. Make sure you rent a sturdy cycle or even better, a mountain bike
Motorbike: Motorbikes are another popular way to get around. There are many places where you can rent one for the day. It’s important to wear a helmet and drive safely.
Buggying: It’s also possible to rent buggies. As a cyclist I found them very annoying, but I can imagine they are fun when you are in them and they are great to navigate the bumpy roads.
Tuk tuks: Tuk-tuks are a convenient way to get around, especially if you are traveling with a group. You can negotiate a price with the driver before you get in.
When to visit
The best time to visit Vang Vieng in Laos is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. During this time, the weather is sunny and warm, with lower humidity levels and less rainfall. This makes it an ideal time to explore the countryside, go hiking, kayaking, or tubing. The average temperatures during this period are around 25-30°C (77-86°F), making it a pleasant climate for most travelers.
However, it’s important to note that this is also the high season, and the island can get crowded with tourists. Accommodation prices may also be higher during this time. If you prefer a quieter experience, you may want to consider visiting in the shoulder season, which runs from May to October.
During this time, the weather can be more unpredictable, with occasional rain showers and higher humidity levels. However, Vang Vieng is much quieter, and you may be able to find better deals on accommodation.
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