The once sleepy village of Vang Vieng went through a hedonistic tourist explosion from 2007 until 2012. Today there are still lots of bars and restaurants here, there’s still tubing on the river, but the focus is much more about exploring the natural beauty of Vang Vieng and the great outdoors. The best things to do in Vang Vieng revolve around exploring the area, and of course relaxing in oodles of bars and restaurants when you’re done being energetic. Here’s a host of the top things to do in Vang Vieng – and where you can find the best spots.
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Why Go to Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng used to be famous for tubing down the River Nam Song. No, wait. Before that it used to be famous for the hedonistic heavy drinking, partying and drug-taking that took over the town between 2007 and 2012.
In 2012 27 tourists died in accidents on the river. Some drowned, some hit their heads on rocks while jumping on rope swings, some took accidental drug overdoses. The government clamped down, shut many of the bars that had sprung up along the river, cut down the rope swings and generally limited the dangers.
Today, Vang Vieng is playing more to the traveller or tourist who wants to explore the natural beauty that the town is surrounded by. It’s a lot calmer now. There is still tubing, but there’s a whole lot more and there is really quite stunning scenery, that reminded us of the Phong Nha area of Vietnam. It is a stunning area. There are rice fields here, limestone karst mountains and a seriously easy lifestyle. This isn’t a shy retiring place, and you’ll find lots of bars, restaurants and places to stay, but it is worth a few days of your time to explore the glorious natural beauty of the town.
How long do you need in Vang Vieng
The amount of time you spend in Vang Vieng will depend on your interests. If you just want to tube down the river and hang out in some of the Friends TV bars, then one day should suffice. Take a second day though and you can explore the surrounding countryside, on a motorbike, or as part of a tour and see a little bit more of what makes this area so great.
It’s really easy to arrange some seriously cheap trips to see and do a variety of activities in Vang Vieng – and if you want to make it easy for yourself we recommend the following Vang Vieng itineraries – and they’re seriously cheap. you’ll get a FULL day tour for around US$16!!!
One Day in Vang Vieng Itinerary
- Get up early and take one of the world’s cheapest hot air balloon trips (read on for more detals or book your trip here.
- Then take a full day trip – by bike to explore the countryside – see the local area, and chill out in the Blue Lagoon pool > see the options here.
- Find a spot on the river and sip a cocktail before chilling out in one of the Friends TV restaurants
Two Day Itinerary in Vang Vieng
- Fill your day one as above
- On day 2 have a bit of a lie in, although if you thought the hot air ballooning was that awesome you can always go again!!
- Vang Vieng is famous for tubing, but today you’ll get to explore some of the local caves – and THEN get to choose between kayaking or tubing down the gloriously lazy River Nam Song. Your choice. And so cheap. How can you resist? See your options here!
Now head off to another of those, sink a few Lao Lao cocktails, or enjoy some of the amazing Laos Food (check here what to eat), but don’t forget to book your onward travel from Vang Vieng.. unless of course you want to stay another day!
The Best Map of Vang Vieng
Before we arrived we were somewhat confused as to the layout of Vang Vieng – and where to find thins. So here’s the best map we found of Vang Vieng, from hobomaps.com
The Best Things to do in Vang Vieng
The number one thing to do in Vang Vieng is to go tubing down the river. It’s no longer the beer and cocktail drenched drunken float that it used to be, but a whole lot safer. That said you can still buy beers and cocktails as you float down the river. However, tubing in Vang Vieng is just one of the things to do here. Many of the best things to do in Vang Vieng relate to the natural beauty – and you’ll find kayaking, motorbiking around the area and even climbing as some of the popular activities in the area.
Go Tubing in Vang Vieng
It’s the most famous thing to do in Vang Vieng. Go tubing on the River Nam Son. It’s an easy way to spend a day. You can pick up a tube from a lot of places in town, get a tuk-tuk or minivan to Mulberry Farm and then float down. Or you can book a caving and tubing combo here for a seriously low price – which includes pick up from your hotel or hostel. When you’re ready to stop for a drink, you’ll find the open bars will throw a rope out for you to grab on and haul you in. Don’t forget to take a dry bag to keep your dry clothes, money, phone and camera safe. All the bars close as the sun sets and there are wardens at the end to ensure you know where you have to get out.
Go Rock Climbing in Vang Vieng
A series of rock climbing schools have grown in the area – and it’s easy to hire reputable guides and experts from both European and Lao climbing schools to take you out for a half or full-day. If you’re more serious about rock climbing then multi-day options are also available. Note that rock climbing might not be possible in the rainy season. Check out Adam’s climbing school for one that has a good reputation. or take a basic rock climbing course – you’ll get expert instruction and pay a fraction of the cost what you would at home.
Go Hiking Around Vang Vieng
Depending on how energetic you want to be, will decide where you head hiking from here. You can wander through the rice fields near the river, head on some uphill treks or to hilltops for stupendous views. Want to hike but with a guide? Check out private hiking and trekking options here.
One popular hike is to go to the top of Phangern Mountain. Once you reach the base you’ll be scrambling up boulders and ladders for around 30-45 minutes, but there are awesome views at the top. You’ll know which one it is by the white flag flying at the top.
Sip a Cocktail on the River
Whether your drink of choice is a cold Beer Lao or a cocktail, both are cheap here in Vang Vieng. Lao Lao is the local rice spirit that forms most cocktails. So find yourself a cushion in a bar overlooking the river Nam Son and enjoy watching the rest of the world float by.
Walk Through the Rice Paddies around Vang Vieng
If your idea of hiking is to stay on the flat then you can get out of town and see rural Laos quite easily. Go over the wooden toll bridge, and just keep walking. You’ll find cows, huts and rice paddies. It’s very chilled out once you leave the roads behind.
Ride in a Hot Air Balloon in Vang Vieng
Hot Air Ballooning is relatively new to Vang Vieng. It’s one of the cheapest places to take a hot air balloon in the world, so why not treat yourself? You’ll need to get up before dawn, but you’ll get to see spectacular views of both the mountains and the river. As there are 3 balloons based in Vang Vieng there are a few trips each day (but the sunrise one is the best in our opinion), but demand is usually more than supply, so we recommend you book early once you know your travel dates.
You can book directly with Vang Vieng Balloons for US$90 per person (it doesn’t appear to be a secure connection, so be aware), or use Expedia, which is a little more expensive, but definitely secure).
Don’t forget you’ll need to ensure that your travel and medical insurance covers you as you’ll be asked to sign a disclaimer before getting into the balloon, they don’t cover you in case of injury. Don’t have the right insurance – get a policy even if you’ve already started your trip – check out our post on long term travel insurance here.
Go Caving in Vang Vieng
You don’t need to be an expert caver to enjoy caving in Vang Vieng. There are four caves in the local vicinity of Vang Vieng and they can be easily visited with a cost-effective tour from the town. All four caves are within walking distance of each other and they’re situated about 13 kilometres (8 miles) from Vang Vieng.
- Tham Xang is known as the Elephant cave as it has an elephant-shaped stalactite inside.
- Tham Hoi has a Buddha at the entrance
- Tham Loup has stunning stalactites.
- Tham Nam is popular as you can float or tube through this cave.
Swim in Vang Vieng’s Blue Lagoons
There are 3 “Blue Lagoons” close to Vang Vieng, where you can head for a cooldown, swim or jump off the swing. Bear in mind that you won’t be the only ones wanting to do this, so don’t expect to have the place to yourself. And, if you’re not travelling in the dry season don’t expect blue either. Rainwater tends to colour the water to more of a muddy rather than blue colour. The best time of year to see the Blue Lagoons at their most blue is from September to March.
The first Blue Lagoon is the closest to Vang Vieng and the one that tends to be used for all the half-day and day tours that you can take from town. There’s a big car park here, so if you’re driving a buggy or a motorbike there’s somewhere to park. There are also food and drink stalls here, so you won’t want for snacks and rehydration.
It’s above this Blue Lagoon that you’ll also find the cave with the sleeping Buddha – note that this cave is closed during the months of June to August. It costs 10,000 KIP to enter the Blue Lagoon. You can book a private tuk tuk transfer to the Blue Lagoon easily and seriously cheaply here.
If you have a hankering for visiting other Blue Lagoons, this post explains the difference between the 3 in Vang Vieng.
Go Kayaking in Vang Vieng
The kayaking in Vang Vieng is easy. It’s mainly floating with the current down the Nam Song river. You can easily either take a tour or rent a single or double kayak and head off. It’s not energetic floating down the same Nam Song river that the tubers float down, but you can also take other routes. Check out your options here.
Go Ziplining in Vang Vieng
If you don’t have the budget to go on the simply awesome Gibbon Experience in Northern Laos, then zip lining in Vang Vieng might be a great alternative for you. It’s seriously cheap to combine this with a kayaking or caving adventure here in Vang Vieng. – want to know how cheap? Check out these options for ziplining in Vang Vieng here.
Go Cycling in Vang Vieng
Renting a bike and taking either a private or group tour around Vang Vieng is a fabulous way to see more of the country here. Get collected from your hotel or hostel and go off-road on a mountain bike – follow the river, head over the bridge and take a break from the bike to visit the Phu Kham cave.
Return to your bike and cycle to the Blue Lagoon where you can relax and cool down. Your route takes you through small villages, where you can stop and learn more about the culture and traditions of the area. This full-day tour starts at 0900 and ends at 1600 and is a fabulous way to see the local area and pack a lot into one day.
Rent a Motorbike in Vang Vieng
On our first full day in Vang Vieng, we rented a motorbike for 40,000 kip near the Malany Villa Hotel and headed to the Mulberry Farm – the start of the tubing – a few kilometres upriver. The bikes here are semi-automatic Chinese knock offs of a Honda Wave, although you can get proper Honda Waves apparently.
We took a route around through the rice fields, up and down the river. And had an awesome time just exploring the local area.
How to Get to Vang Vieng
We arrived in Vang Vieng from Vientiane – it was an easy trip. There are morning or afternoon trips available – and pick up is included from your hotel. You’ll be dropped most likely in the centre of Vang Vieng – but nothing is very far from anywhere here. Read our post for all the options on how to get to Vang Vieng from Vientiane.
Where to Stay in Vang Vieng
There are some awesome places to stay in Vang Vieng these days. You can get a dorm in the Vang Vieng Backpacker hostel with breakfast included for US$6. Upgrade to a triple room at the Real Vang Vieng Backpacker hostel with a pool for US$11 for two people. Most private rooms with private bathrooms won’t cost you more than US$15-17 per night and usually include breakfast. I personally love the Simon Riverside Hotel with the incredible pool and views.
What to Eat in Vang Vieng
Eating is seriously easy in Vang Vieng. There are roadside stalls open at all hours providing pancakes, eggs, sandwiches. There’s pizza. Burgers.
You will find some Laos food, but not very often good stuff. You’ll also find a lot of catering to the Korean tourist. Vang Vieng is a big spot for Koreans. (I do believe they can outdrink the Irish… and that’s saying something!). Laos is a big destination for Koreans. And there are groups of them tubing, hanging out in the restaurants that have Korean menus, drinking along with the westerners. The Koreans we found during our time in Korea are THE drinkers of Asia. And like their hiking, they’re pretty damned good at it.
But here, it all seems pretty tame, or perhaps we just go to bed too early and the real partying happens later.
Where to Drink in Vang Vieng
If you’re tubing down the river, then you can stop in at the bars that are open and pick up a beer or cocktail. Vang Vieng bars (and restaurants) have a variety of seating areas. Most of them are given over to the lower level platforms with the triangular cushions to support you as you lounge decadently slurping your cocktails. Watching TV.
Because the bars are also famous as TV lounges and show endless loops of “Friends” all afternoon. As if the cheap booze wasn’t enough to lull you into a coma, then the TV repeats will do it.
Most bars have happy hours, with free shots of Lao whisky for hours on end. All have the same menu of food and drink, barring a small minority.
Leaving Vang Vieng How to Move on
We headed off from Vang Vieng to Phonsavan where we were taking a self-guided motorbike tour of the Plain of Jars. It’s not possible to book this route online, we bought a ticket from a travel agent in Vang Vieng – just look for signs.
There are two options when it comes to bus times. A night “VIP Sleeper Bus” which costs 140,000 kip, leaves at 23:00 and arrives at 07:00. The road is supposed to be very windy, very bumpy and very beautiful and so we opt to see it during day time and take the 09:30 bus (arriving Phonsavan at 16:00), costing 110,000 when we buy the tickets at the MART supermarket (about 30,000 kip cheaper than all the other agencies in town).
Most travellers from Vang Vieng head to Vientiane and you can check details of how to do that here