Long known as a party town, Vang Vieng still resembles something like a 90’s European club town where the strip comes to life at night with promo girls and guys on the street offering free shots to enter their bar / club. If you’re there to party you won’t be disappointed but whatever you do don’t let that be the only reason you come. The overwhelming natural beauty of the area around Vang Vieng is difficult to beat in Laos, limestone cliffs dwarf the town, with lagoons, caves and more all easily accessible. There are so many amazing activities to keep you busy during the day and sweating off the revelry from the night before:
Climb the highest peak
Pha Ngern mountain viewpoint is about 4 KM outside of town. It’s on an unnamed road but is easy enough to find following google maps. It’s an 1100 foot mountain which you hike to the top of, it takes about 30-40 minutes depending how hot it is and fit you are. This is a proper adventure, the walkways are crumbling apart there are old wooden ladders to climb up, hardly a handrail in sight which all adds to the adventure. Once you reach the top the views are spectacular, long reaching over the paddy fields which are below the mountain that seems to burst out of the largely flat surroundings. Entrance fee is 10,000 Kip and it is best enjoyed at sunset, so head up here at 4.30pm and stick around to watch the sun drop behind the distant horizon.
Swim in a blue lagoon
It’s easy to lose count of how many blue lagoons there are around Vang Vieng, there are 4 or 5 main ones that people regularly visit. If you speak to the locals they’ll tell you about ones that they use where you won’t find anyone else. All of them are pretty magnificent, the water tends to be ice cold which is ideal when it’s so hot outside. At the lagoons you’ve got ziplines, rope swings, bamboo rafts, high platforms to jump off and much more. All of which creates an amazing atmosphere and makes for a mini theme park in the beauty of a turquoise blue lagoon. Some have entrance fees many, especially the ones the locals visit, are completely free.
Check out some caves
Due to the volume of limestone cliffs that surround Vang Vieng there are a lot of hidden caves that are well worth a visit. One of my favorites, as it combined climbing a mountain was close by to the town. There is no name for it that I could find (on google maps it’s Phangern viewpoint), but from town cross the river using the bamboo foot bridge and just keep walking straight, there’s a small walkway to the left of a set of bungalows, follow that and you’ll hit a farmers field where you need to just keep heading to the limestone karst about 500 metres in front of you. Once there you pay the farmer 5000 Kip and have free reign to explore the mountain and the caves within it. This isn’t for the faint hearted, safety isn’t very high on the farmers list of priorities and once inside the cave you’ll see huge boulders propped up by bamboo. It is awesome to explore some of the cave but if you don’t like dark enclosed spaces avoid this and just head to the top of the mountain. The climb up it fairly treacherous but the views at the top are definitely worth it and it is much less crowded than Pha Ngern viewpoint.
The most famous activity in Laos, tubing down the Nam song river is almost a right of passage for anyone that visits Vang Vieng. It’s not the cheapest at 60,000 Kip ($7) but that does give you most of the day to tube down the river hitting one of the 3 bars that are left on that stretch. Their used to be over 20 but as a result of a number of accidents the government stepped in and limited the number of bars. It’s a full day drinking event but I’d recommend taking it easy, accidents still happen in the river and you’ll be lucky if you don’t see some poor soul suffering from too much alcohol and not enough sunscreen!
Head for an underwater cave
Tham nam underwater cave sits 12km north of Vang Vieng. It’s easy to rent a motorbike and drive down there, the drive is pretty epic with karsts lining one side of the highway and open fields on the other. Once there you jump in a tube and enter a small opening on the water which enters the pitch black cave. With a guide directing your path you pull yourself along a set of ropes in the pitch dark all through the underground cave system. It’s an awesome way to explore for a few hours, our guide must have been 70 and couldn’t speak much English but he was hilarious and guided us safely all through the pitch black cave.
Hot air ballooning
Laos is reportedly one of the cheapest places in the world to go hot air ballooning and if you’ve got the budget the views and scenery are meant to be pretty spectacular. Flights cost around $90 per person which was way out of my budget, but if you’ve got the budget and enjoy hot air balloons this is about as cheap as they get. Just be warned it’s a pretty no thrills operation, from what I hear there isn’t much in the way of safety briefings but the views and flight are meant to be pretty special.
Watch Friends in a bar
Now most of you are probably thinking why would I travel halfway around the world to watch Friends in a bar and I would have to agree with you. Almost every bar / restaurant in Vang Vieng seems to be playing Friends on repeat which is just a weird experience. After 4 months on the road having not watched a single TV show it was actually a welcome relief and after a busy day exploring it was great to sit back, relax and watch arguably the most popular TV show on earth (If you were born in the 80’s)!
There is so much to do in Vang Vieng other than partying your budget away, so put the free whiskey down and get out there to explore the natural beauty of the area!!