Vang Viang is a tiny riverside town in Laos.
Once no more than a bus changing station on the long haul between
Vientiane at the Thai border and the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang,
it has managed to become a destination in its own right. Still not much
more than three streets and a bus station, the main attractions are the
river, laid back countryside and cave-filled rock formations. And to
anyone who's been travelling anywhere is South East Asia, you've no doubt
heard about "Tubing," an activity that dominates the town and it's
visitors. Originally opened up by hedonistic backpackers, the city's
predominant ambiance is one of lethargy by day and debauchery by night:
tourists sprawl out in the pillow-filled restaurants, termed "TV Bars,"
watching re-runs of Friends and Family Guy episodes until the sun goes
down, and then party heavily until the early hours. Nevertheless, there is
a growing number of more sedate foreign sightseers.
Get in Vang Vieng, Vang
Vang Vieng is on Highway #13 between Vientiane and Luang Prabang - by bus
(road and bus conditions permitting) about 6-8 hours from Luang Prabang,
around 3-4 hours from Vientiane. Tourist buses leave from Vientiane at
10:00 and 13:30 (in theory - they tend to wait until full before
departing) and cost 45,000 kip, including pick-up from your hotel (Jan
2009). A minibus leaves at 09:00 and costs US$5. The tourist bus and
minibus to Luang Prabang costs 90,000 kip and 105,000 kip (Jan 2009)
respectively. Tickets can be purchased at almost every guesthouse.
Get around in Vang Vieng,
From the bus station:
Tourist buses will drop you off either at the old airstrip (from the
Vietnam war, it's now just a giant gravel pad) or in front of a hotel on
the main street in town. The airstrip is directly behind the main street,
so in either case there is no need to take a tuk tuk or cyclo if you plan
to stay in the main area of town. The island and bungalows along the river
are about a 10 minute walk away.
Vang Vieng is so small that everything is easily reachable by foot. If you
want to venture outside of town, bicycles are widely available and can be
rented from hotels or local businesses. You should not have to pay over
10,000 kip for a day's rental. For the more adventurous, motorcycle
rentals are also widely available. It's quite easy to rent a motorcycle
from a local business for only 30,000 kip for the entire day. Hotels will
tend to charge 40,000.
Several tuk tuks are also scattered around town. $1 USD per person will be
plenty to get to anywhere within Vang Vieng, and about $3 USD per person
to reach more remote sites.
What to do in Vang Vieng, Vang Viang
* Tubing down the river, no
booking needed (go to the bank and walk towards the river, the villagers
have two companies in cartel alternating the service approx 100 meter from
the river). From around 9:00 to 13:00 is reasonable to go because the sun
hides behind the mountains around 15:00 and it gets very cold on the
river. Look at the magnificent view of the mountains rising directly
beside the river. Many beer and other pit stops along the way. Also, try
the diving stop and the swing. Some dry bags may not be of the best
quality, often digital cameras get ruined by faulty dry bags rented to
tourists, so beware and if in doubt, don't bring your camera. Tubes have
to be back by six pm to get the deposit back, and in winter it gets a bit
cold from 4pm, so start early to make the most of drinking your way down
the river. Ride at least one rapid before starting the party to avoid
disturbing guests visiting the Organic Farm. Some westerners has the job
of promoting bars. The party scene has taken over and the owners use
humongous loudspeakers, effectively blocking out any singing of birds.
Beware of tubes getting stolen while stopping at bars, you may lose your
deposit and the ride down. 55.000kip + 60,000 kip deposit, Dry bag 20,000.
* Tham Poukham - Blue Lagoon, (7 km west from town, maps provided where
you can rent bicycles). 8:00-18:00. A spring fed lagoon at the bottom of
"Golden Cave". Nice place to relax, swim and play on the rope swing. The
waters are inhabitated with a few hundred carp fish that will eat locally
sold fish food right out of your hand. The cave above requires a modest
100m hike up a make shift bamboo ladder. Once inside, there is a short
walk to the Sleeping Golden Buhdda and glimmering stalactites about 300m
further inside. 10,000 kip. edit
* Lao-style steam sauna.
* Kayaking the river. This covers the same part of the river as tubing
(and a more untouched part further upriver).
* Movies and the TV-series Friends is shown at many restaurants and seem
to be very popular with the younger party crowd.
* Playing on the very high swings over the river and sliding on a slide.
Please be careful - perforated eardrums, broken ribs and permanent hearing
damage are common injuries resulting from going the wrong way and also
foot injuries hitting rocks and consequently also death when going head
first or falling off platforms when drunk. The local hospital is not
equipped to diagnose or treat these serious injuries - Vientiane has the
closest (if spartan) ENT facility but no English speaking specialists, so
you may have to head all the way to Bangkok for treatment. You might have
to rely on other tourist for rescue.
* 3km north of Vang Vieng, close to where the main tubing run commences,
there's an organic farm. It is noise free until about 11:00 and again when
the last revelers go back to town at about 18:00. The organic farm has
dormitory, budget and more luxurious rooms for rent. They teach the
village kids, build mud brick buildings, learn/teach farming, eat organic
food and go to sleep at 22:00.
* Internet. The local internet cartel charges $US2 an hour for internet,
however, the bandwidth is very good for Laos and they encourage customers
to use it! (meaning downloading mp3's and the such).
* Rock climbing. There are excellent walls to everyone from first timers
to pros. The day trips (includes guide, all gear, lunch, transport etc.)
starts from 20USD. Contact Adam (tel : 856 205010832 email : email@example.com)
or visit by the shop at the northern end of the main street.
* Hill and Cave trek, (Cross a footbridge over the river, follow the signs
and white flags (garbage bags) on sticks through the field). Across the
river a 1.5km path marked by white flags cuts through the fields towards
the limestone mountains. The smallest hill has very rickety ladders (read:
dangerous) to aid in climbing to the top. Halfway up the mountain is a
cave. Another 1km along the path past the mountain goes through a small
forest and arrives at a cave. A few sleepy Laotians guard the cave's
entrance and a hand painted sign says that guides are mandatory. It costs
extra to go to the lagoon in the cave, and the guides will let you know
that "tipping extra is ok". 10,000 kip for the hill, 15,000 kip for the
cave, 30,000 to go to the cave lagoon. edit
Prices for tourist packages are quoted in US dollars. Restaurants, hotels,
and pretty much everything else is priced in kip. Most places will accept
kip, US dollars and Thai baht.
There are two ATM's that now take all major credit cards but are known for
running out of cash. Some tourists have reported only being able to use
cards on the Maestro (Mastercard) network.
The Lao Development Bank changes money at good rates and processes cash
advances. BCEL will also do cash advances on credit cards.
The small shops scattered throughout Vang Vieng sell the standard
assortment of snacks, trinkets, sunglasses, and bathing suits.
Where to Eat in Vang Vieng, Vang Viang.
The numerous TV restaurants all have similar, if not photocopied with the
name changed, menus. A selection of Lao, American, Italian, Chinese, and
Thai, the food is fresh but often of indifferent quality and poorly
executed. Entres average 20,000 - 40,000 kip.
For quick eats and late night snacks, numerous pancake and sandwich stalls
dot the streets. 10,000 - 13,000 kip.
Be aware that many restaurants offer "happy" shakes and pizzas. While this
may be obvious to many, any food or drink with the words "happy",
"special" or "escatic" will contain an undetermined amount of marijuana or
* Organic Farm Cafe - original and interesting menu with excellent
surprises like deep-fried mulberry leaves in honey (15 000 kip)
* DK3 - Milan Pizza - woodfired pizza
* Enjoy Restaurant - good pizza
* Bamboo Bar - Vegetarian buffet (in high season or on request by ten
people or more.)
Where to drink in Vang Vieng, Vang Viang.
* Enjoy Mojitos with style, served in bamboo with bamboo straws as well as
wild honey whiskey in bamboo shots at the Bamboo bar, sitting in the tree
house amongst bamboo or on the riverside on the center of the party
* Cheap buckets overfilled with cheap whiskey (because Lao whiskey is
cheaper than the soft drinks) and humongous loudspeakers polluting each
other and the valley at Bucket and Rock in the south of the party island
and in the Joker, Sunset and Smile in the north.
More chilled in the north south passage between the loud bars at Bamboo
* On the riverside, Jaidee's Bar offers a chilled out atmosphere for those
looking to escape the loud music and rowdy club atmosphere of the island
bars. Has great prices during Happy Hour (6-10) including whisky buckets
for 10,000k. Somehow manages to keep open when everyone else has to close
fearing fines from the police.
* The newly instituted projector large screen PS2 Pro Evo competitions on
the main street are a good distraction on a rainy evening.
* Many bars screen movies during the evening (mostly episodes of Friends
but some show the Simpsons/Family Guy as well). Buy dinner, stay for the
movie and order a milkshake & some food.
* Be prepared to listen to a lot of Bob Marley (it's as if someone bought
the complete Friends box set and Bob Marley Legend and burnt copies of
them for the entire town)! If you get sick of it there is a "Jack Johnson"
bar which plays something else.
* Lie on plastic mats by the river and drink Beer Lao. Some places will
build small bonfires.
* Some bars near the river have DJs or at least loud music and an outdoor
dance floor. This is the scene for people looking for a more raucous time.
* Please be aware of the "special" shakes which can contain Ganja or Magic
Mushrooms. They are not a good idea while tubing...
* Although marijuana, mushrooms, opium and methamphetamines are freely
available and advertised in Vang Vieng (all are illegal), there is also a
large police presence. Plain clothed policemen frequently take
unsuspecting tourists to the local police station for smoking a joint. The
usual outcome of this involves having your passport seized until you cough
up a hefty "fine", typically betweek 3-5 million Kip. Once the fine is
paid however the matter is generally taken no further and the passport
returned; however, the punishment will depend on the officer you are
Hotel, Lodge, Guest House in Vang Vieng, Vang Viang for sleep.
There are now a couple of halfway-decent midrange "hotels" and attempts at
boutique style residences.
Generally though, double rooms go for US$1-5, make sure you see the room
(and bathroom!) before paying. More local, low-key (which is pretty
low-key in Vang Viang to start with) places are by the market and more
shiny set ups are on the main road. The party crowd tend to advocate
choosing a bungalow on the island, but expect it to be quite noisy if you
want to sleep during the night.
Most guesthouses have large TV-viewing areas, practically coated in the
Southeast Asia signature triangular cushions, where they serve food. But
be forewarned - you'll be hard pressed to find a place screening something
other than "Friends".
* Babylon Guest House - in the center of town at the start of the
main bar street. With Free Wifi and Internet for guest and a downstairs
bar & organic restraint. Politically incorrect jokes are a must and
English speaking staff helpful. All rooms have hot showers en suite. Great
roof terrace views.
* Champa Lao - best view of mountains, great massage, affordable tasty
* Phoudingdeang Organic farm (3km north of Vang Vieng) - peaceful &
serene, an employer of orphans, mountain views. Simple short term rooms,
long term residences in adobe houses.
* Greenview Bungalows and Restaurant (Mobile: 8560202128086, 5011679) Just
across the road from the Phoudindeng Organic farm. Khamsone and his wife
Sone offer comfortable clean bungalows with hot showers, great Lao food,
and occasional campfires and singalongs. A great place to escape the noise
of downtown. Bicycle and Motorbike rentals are also offered. Bungalows
with double beds 70 000 Kip, other double rooms for 40 000 Kip
How to get out from Vang Vieng, Vang Viang.
Buses leave from the station in the morning and afternoon. VIP tourist
(air-conditioned, genreally comfortable.) buses are easily booked from
your hotel. If you are travelling to Vientianne, a 3 hour local bus (non
air-conditioned, perfectly acceptable for short trips) departs several
times a day for 36 000 Kip One Way
Another transportation option is on one of the day trips to Vientiane down
the river by kayak. The trip should leave in the early morning, placing
you in the capital by 6pm. For your belongings, dry bags are available or
you can opt to place them in the accompanying van which will take them
along. Expect to pay 170,000 - 220,000 kip but you may be able to find it
for a cheaper price.
For more information of Laos visit