If Laos is on your itinerary, then you know that Vang Vieng used to be the place to be to party it up. Travelers from all over the world would use Vang Vieng as a base to hang out for a while and let loose. It had become a wild town where you could freely (though illegally) do drugs, drink and brawl.
You will probably also know that Vang Vieng has since reinvented itself. It is still a popular tourist spot, but for other reasons. The dramatic landscape with caves and mountains, the clean air, the river on a hot summer day now also call for a different type of traveler. While it’s still definitely possible to find happy hours, drugs and lethargic TV cafes, Vang Vieng has started to aim at group travelers that tend to spend more money and cause less ruckus.
Should any of this turn you off? Definitely not. It’s one of those places that has something for everyone. We were a little worried we would not like it (we’re getting old, after all) so we had only booked 2 nights, but ended up staying for a week!
6X: Things to know before you travel to Vang Vieng
Hot air balloons
Myanmar might be know for its famous pagoda landscape and air balloons, but Vang Vieng is a really great place to take an air balloon ride as well. The only balloon company in town does 2 rides a day, at sunrise and sunset. You will ride for about 45 minutes, at around $80-90, which is significantly cheaper than in Myanmar. The view might be different, but still beautiful!
Come sunset, finding a riverside bar and watching the balloons (and the odd tuber) float by is a wonderfully relaxing experience.
It is totally possible to avoid the party scene
Vang Vieng is a great place to take a break from your trip, lounge around and enjoy the scenery. There is a quieter side of town, not every street is a party street and there are many ‘nicer’ hostels and small hotels that don’t specifically cater to backpackers. We stayed at the Nice View Guesthouse on the north end of town (they really do have a nice view!) and enjoyed uninterrupted sleep and the local morning market on our doorstep.
The surroundings lend themselves perfectly for walks into nearby ricefields or a hike up Pha Ngeun (or any of the other mountains, plenty to choose from!) Don’t be like us though, and go in the morning and wear proper attire…!
Be a good tourist
Keeping the history of Vang Vieng in mind, it will be no surprise that the locals have grown a bit weary of partiers. Yes they make money off of it, but the side effects aren’t always pleasant. Being a good tourist or traveler sounds easy and most people are, but we found the following things really helped getting smiles and appreciation.
- don’t wear bikinis / shorts only around town
- don’t litter
- the buggy’s are a nuisance. They’re loud and cause an insane amount of dust, bicycles or mopeds will get you anywhere just fine
- don’t ask around for ‘happy’ drinks. If they’re available, you’ll know. (Better yet, don’t do it at all, reports of meth-laced drugs have been doing the rounds)
Tubing is different these days
10 years ago, the local government put a stop to the excessive drinking and tubing after years of deathly accidents on death slides and swings. Nowadays, only a few bars operate on the shores of the Nam Song, and in rotation only. During your float, you will find only 3 bars open. There is still music, drinks and drinking games, (and if you’re into it, laughing gas) but the slides and (most of the) swings have disappeared.
Floating starts between noon and 2, and depending on the season, group size varies wildly. We were only 6! The water was shallow, and it was an easy, slow float. And yes, we drank at all the bars we came across and tried a swing or 2, but the whole ordeal was pretty relaxing. The rapids were not so rapid and it took us about 3 hours to get to the end. If you book in town, you will get a drop off and pick up.
Blue Lagoon 3 is the best
There are several lagoons around Vang Vieng, but we loved number 3 the best! It is also the furthest from town (about 16k) but because of that, tends to be a bit less crowded. The roads are long, bumpy and dusty, but once you’ve arrived nothing stands in the way of a good cooling down! There are swings and ziplines, tubes to lounge around in and several different pools.
Blue Lagoon 1 is the most popular and very close and easy to get to, but also the busiest. It is frequented by tour groups and hungover backpackers. Lots of people are hanging out at the tables around the pool watching the activities, which adds some pressure. We were a bit nervous to leave our things as there were just so many people, so we took turns. The nice things about this one is that everyone gets lots of cheers and encouragement if they dare jump from the tree!
Try (or not) the local whisky
Lao whisky is a thing y’all. It will be offered during happy hours around town and it.will.do.the.trick. Don’t mistake it for actual whisky, this stuff will burn its way down and not let you forget about it soon! But who knows; maybe you might learn to appreciate it!
We loved our stay in Vang Vieng! Slow down, taking some time to relax and getting to know the other Vang Vieng won’t disappoint you.