Vang Vieng is a small tourist town on the Nam Song River in the Vientiane Province in Laos. For far too long, Vang Vieng has been ravaged by backpackers from Australia, the US, Canada, and France, and that earned the town an undeservedly bad reputation.
Thankfully, all that has changed once the government stepped in in the early 2010s to clean up the mess in Vang Vieng, and the steady influx of more affluent and better-behaved East Asian tourists from Korea and Japan is helping to spruce up this beautiful little town.
Where is Vang Vieng and how to get to it?
Vang Vieng is literally halfway between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. You can reach Vang Vieng from either city by minivan, coach or car through the Highway 13. The journey from Luang Prabang can get treacherous at times, and it lasts at least 6 hours. If you can afford a private car with a driver, please do so. If not, a minivan can get very crowded and it does not stop for toilet breaks. There are still many unexploded mines in the countryside, which is why your transport will not stop anywhere for you to stretch your legs.
Enjoy the beauty, peace and tranquility of Vang Vieng
If you seek to escape from your worries and daily conundrums, Vang Vieng is the perfect spot to do so.
The lazy Nam Song River that runs through the city and the mountains behind it, is the perfect backdrop you want to look at every single day.
Now with the backpacker number (and the noises and filth that come with those) dwindling, the more civilised of us can finally enjoy this gem. The postcard view of Vang Vieng is definitely the glorious sunset along the river. Most tourists flock to the riverside to enjoy the moment and the view, I suggest that you move further inwards in the town and find a spot high enough in a café or a restaurant for that, while sipping a fine Beer Lao or a glass of chilled white wine.
Learn a new sport in Vang Vieng
As part of the clean-up, Vang Vieng now hosts a number of sport activities you can enjoy.
On the river, you can do kayaking (and white-water rafting during the rainy season). There are several spots upriver outside of Vang Vieng town where you can try out rockclimbing on some of the most spectacular cliffs. At the same time, you should really try out ziplining in the forested areas in the valleys. You can likewise rent a mountain bike to explore the caves and lagoons around the town. If you’re not afraid of heights, you can certainly try out one of the hot air balloons for a very different view of this beautiful town.
Enjoy barbecue and Beer Lao on the Nam Song river
During the dry season in Vang Vieng, platforms are set up along the banks and locals spend their evening having barbecue and drinking the traditional way sitting around a “pha kao“.
You are literally sitting on the river as the water flows under you. Such a wonderfully relaxing way to enjoy food and the company of your friends, under the star-lit sky!
Don’t forget to try the grilled pork neck, or buffalo satays! Note that Laotians drink their Beer Lao with a bucket of ice. Do not shy away from this or treat it with disdain. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy the beer and certainly the most refreshing!
How else can you support Vang Vieng?
There is not much to visit in Vang Vieng, but it is one of my favourite spots in Laos. The mountains, the river, the horizon – these are the museums and temples of Vang Vieng.
It is important to remember we are guests when we visit a country, and our presence should only enhance the local culture and empower the local community, not harm it.
Please behave in a civilised manner and respect the locals:
- Do not bargain over 100 kip like a backpacker
- Do not go “tubing” or “swinging” on the river
- Do not buy any drugs
- Do not indulge in any drunken and drug-filled “partying”
- Do not walk down the streets dressed in your bathing garments or half-naked
- Do not stay in backpacker hostels; only frequent locally-run hotels
- Frequent locally-run restaurants, try out local dishes and show your appreciation for them
- Show cultural sensitivity by saying some Lao words
Note that there are not many money-changers in Vang Vieng, compared to Luang Prabang or Vientiane. And the rates are really bad. Many places are cash-only. Do make sure you change enough Lao kip before you arrive.
Don’t tip like an American
Last but not least, this is not the US, Canada or Australia. In the rest of the world, we pay decent wages to service staff, who should not be forced to earn their livelihood through tips. Having to serve obnoxious ignoramus and being thrown money for it is not what being a waiter is about. Laotians do not expect a tip, but if you do enjoy the service, feel free to leave a small amount as a token of appreciation.