Vang Vieng (Laos) between fun and peace

If it hadn’t been for the disastrous conditions of the seats of the bus line that took me from Vientiane to Vang Vieng, the over 100 km routes would had been a nightmare.

The frequency of stops along the way and the poor conditions of the road that runs along the Nam Song River made the 4 hour journey all the more exciting. In fact, these breaks gave me the chance to appreciate the scenery as we took our pit-stops alongside paddy fields, steep terraces or directly on the slopes of the hills. I was glad of the opportunity to admire the mountains of Phou Phanang National Bio-Diversity Conservation Area, with glimpses of distant waterfalls made more impressive due to the rainy season.

The small town of Vang Vieng, just a little bigger than a village with a population of less than 25,000 people, is now a famous tourist destination, especially among young travelers and backpackers making a fun pit stop as they explore South East Asia.

The history of Vang Vieng goes back about 700 years ago when the town was founded as a staging post along the road between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. The current name has French origins (given during the colonial era at the end of 1800s) and its expansion can be attributed to the U.S. army during the Vietnam War when they established there their base.

The landscape, with its beautiful limestone rock formations, rivers, green mountains and caves, brought this small town to the fore in recent times.

The main road through Vang Vieng is an uninterrupted strip of guesthouses, hostels, bars, restaurants and tourist agencies. All along you encounter signs with accommodation deals. The only issue being you may find yourself unable to sleep at all due to the 24 hours party atmosphere.

 Aware of what to expect I decided to book accommodation in advance in order to combine affordability, comfort and tranquility with a not too central riverfront location. Arriving at Ban Sabai by Inthira I immediately had the feeling it was an oasis apart from the chaos of the rest of the village. My room was in a simple but cozy bungalow, with bathroom, hot water, air conditioning and a balcony that allowed me to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The restaurant is also worth a visit, not just for the included breakfast. I could have found a place to stay for much less than the $ 32 I paid for the room, but it’s likely I would have had some complaints about the lack of peace.

Going down the Nam Song river by tube or kayak are the must do experiences, but why to risk your life? Statistically, at least one tourist dies every month while performing these activities and many others end up injured in hospital. I have personally seen people jumping into the water drunk and I wondered fun if can be if you’re not able to remember what you did. Along the river it’s possible to find several bars that sell alcohol at anytime of the day.

A word of warning: keep an eye on your vessel (tube or kayak) while you stop along your way to avoid someone taking them, or else you end up without your transportation and lose your deposit from the store you rented it.

It is little wonder there was a recent decision on 22 August 2012 by the Lao authorities to shut down, maybe  permanently, many of the bars. This decision takes effect all along the stretch of river where tubing has become popular, and includes a strengthening of drug policing (including hallucinogens such as “magic mushrooms” – where the menu in many bars and restaurants offer in no uncertain terms “magic dishes”). This action is part of a program already announced to promote Vang Vieng as ecotourism destination that is safely controlled.

Apart from the activities on the water, Vang Vieng’s surrounding areas offer opportunities for hiking and climbing along the cliffs, and visiting several caves with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. Among the most famous and easily accessible caves I suggest the Thang Giang Caves (entrance fee for foreigners only 15 thousand Kip – equal to € 1.50) with a sort of balcony on the side of the mountain with an amazing landscape .[Interruzione automatica][Interruzione automatica]Unfortunately, I could spend only a short time here, but I will certainly go back to Viang Vieng as soon as possible to visit the Organic Farm and, maybe, volunteering at their school.

Have you been to Vang Vieng? What were your experiences? Share it with us in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Vang Vieng (Laos) between fun and peace”

  1. This is the only post I have ever read about Vang Vieng that ISN’T about partying. Personally, I have never been enticed by the destination, as it sounds like a giant, never ending frat party, which is far from my style. However, your photos and experiences definitely show that there is slightly more to the city.

  2. I was not really excited about going to Vang Vieng for the same reason. Luckily I decided to go: it’s easy to find what you want, probably now even more since the majority of the bars from the start of tubing all the way down into town have now been shut down. I will go back for sure: too nice to stay so short time!

  3. I have always wanted to go to Vang Vieng, but not because of the tubing, but because of the beautiful landscape surrounding it. I always felt that you cannot really escape those young partying backpackers, so have decided against going there, as this is just not my type of thing anymore. However your article showed me that you can actually escape the madness, so maybe I should go.

  4. … go, go, go! If you want to see beautiful landscapes Vang Vieng is the right place! I’ve already planed to go back with my parents (not exactly backpackers 🙂 ) after Christmas… Now I am in love with Laos and Isaan!

  5. I skipped it on my way to Luang Prabang, even though it would have broken up the twelve hour bus ride nicely.

  6. The waterfall is definitely worth going to here, a good day trip. I really enjoyed stopping at the bars on the way down and just socializing – never jumped off of anything and never got drunk. It just made for a more fun ride. Bummer that people got so irresponsible – you could see that one coming a mile away.

  7. @ Michael Hoyt … it’s a “natural” stop between the 2 main cities in Laos and it’s in a perfect location to relax and enjoy nature and landscapes. You should go back, I wanna go back!

    @ Tom Gates You are right! I could see irresponsible people coming a mile away and it was not fun. Laos is an amazing country and I hope they will take back control of the situation, not just in Vang Vieng 🙂

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