Vang Vieng

Sunset in Vang Vieng

  • Accommodation: Laos Haven ($30 USD/night for triple with A/C & private bathroom) – Laos Haven seems very out of place in Vang Vieng as it’s this big white gaudy structure in the middle of this bizarre town. The couple who run it, Michael & Sue, are very chatty and helpful in booking transportation and excursions. Our room was clean and spacious, and we had a private bathroom. It was definitely a comfortable place to stay for a couple of nights.
  • Restaurants:
    1. Organic Farm – Right near the entrance to the tubing is an organic farm that operates a restaurant. It’s about 4km outside of town. We took a tuk-tuk here one night for dinner. They have a lot of vegetarian options, and I ordered pumpkin soup that was very good.
    2. I can’t remember the names of the other places we went to, but one was an Israeli falafel cafe (so random) and we went to a vegetarian restaurant not far from Laos Haven, where we also ordered falafels.
    3. Travelfish’s list of where to eat in Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is the weirdest place I’ve ever been in my life. It’s a really small town that caters completely to young, western backpackers looking to party and go tubing. A lot of the restaurants and bars in the town play episodes of “Friends” on repeat all day long. You’ll be walking down the street and there are all of these kids just staring at big flat screen TVs, watching “Friends” while getting high. You’ve probably heard about Vang Vieng’s tubing, as its the main reason people come here. We actually had no desire to go to Vang Vieng, but it’s en route to Vientiane from Luang Prabang, so we figured it was a natural place to stop and spend the night.

Biking to Elephant Cave

The scenery outside of town is actually really beautiful and it’s a shame more people don’t take advantage of all the outdoor activities available. One day we rented bikes from our hotel (30,000 kip per bike) and biked outside of town to the Elephant Cave. The most famous cave in the area is the Blue Lagoon, but it was a bit far, so we opted to go to a cave that was closer. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how we found it, but I do remember biking through a big open field and then going across a river, where the entrance booth to the cave is located. I’m pretty sure we were the only people who had been there that week, maybe even month, because the guide looked startled when he saw us. The entrance fee was 15,000 kip/person. He gave us headlamps and told us to follow him. He took us to a couple of caves, and the second one had a watering hole where they tied up some tubes so you can float around in the water in the pitch black. It’s a little hard to describe, but hopefully the picture does it some justice. I actually don’t particularly like caves – I get claustrophobic – but this cave had high ceilings so I didn’t feel trapped. It was a strange sensation to swim in the pitch black in a very remote cave. I couldn’t help but wonder if there were water snakes swimming about as well, but the guide seemed pretty carefree so I tried to just relax and enjoy it. It was a really cool experience and this trip has definitely given me a newfound appreciation for caves!

Tubing in Elephant Cave

After we returned from our caving adventure, we decided to go tubing in the afternoon. We rented the tubes in town and then a tuk-tuk picked us up to take us to the entrance of the river, which is about a 10-15 minute drive. The tube rentals were 55,000 kip/tube plus a 60,000 kip deposit. You lose 20,000 kip if you return the tube after 6pm, and you lose your entire deposit if you return it after 8pm.

We went into it with a bad attitude, thinking it was going to be a stupid waste of time. We didn’t have any interest in watching 18 year olds black out, hit their head and drown in the river, which apparently happens multiple times every year. (You have to wonder why a town that size has a pretty decent hospital). The tubing represents everything we disliked about certain SEA backpackers – the rowdiness, the disrespect for the local people, and the lack of interest in anything that doesn’t involve partying.

Tubing down the Nam Song River

At the entrance to the river all you see are lots of kids drinking and dancing at one of the many bars that flank the side of the river. We entered through the first bar, bought 3 beer laos and chilled for a little bit before we started tubing. A lot of people never even go tubing, they just hang out at the bars all day. As skeptical as we were in the beginning, it actually turned out to be a really fun time. As you’re floating down the river various bars will throw out a rope to reel you in. They can be quite aggressive as they really want your business. Some guys even jumped into the river and pulled our tubes back to their bar. We felt obligated to go to that bar, but if they just throw you a rope you obviously don’t have to take it. We ended up only going to 2 bars and we stayed at both for no more than 15-20 minutes. There are probably 10-15 bars lining the river, most of them are towards the beginning, but there are a few further down the river as well (since we were there in the off-season a lot of the bars were closed). A lot of the bars have rope swings and water slides but be especially careful of rocks if you decide to jump off one.  We floated down the river for about 3 hours and then got out when it looked like we were back in town, where we walked back to the tube rental office.

The bottom line with tubing is this:  it’s a really fun activity to do once or twice if you just want to drink a couple of beers and float down the river with your friends. Unfortunately not many people approach tubing like this; they see it as an opportunity to get wasted instead of a chill way to spend the afternoon. And now it’s a catch-22 situation because the town is so reliant upon the tourism from the tubing that if things were to change all the bars along the river would surely struggle. But at the same time I’m sure the local people can’t stand the rowdy, inconsiderate throngs of farangs that come to town with zero interest in doing anything else but tubing and drinking. Hopefully Vang Vieng’s natural beauty will eventually attract a different kind of tourist in the future.

Back at Laos Haven, we told Sue that we needed to arrange transportation to Vientiane. She suggested combining a kayaking trip with a way to ultimately get to Vientiane. She told us about Happy Tours/Green Adventure kayaking trip that leaves from Vang Vieng in the morning and drops you off in Vientiane in the late afternoon. This sounded perfect, so went ahead and booked it through the hotel. It was 200,000 kip/person. A songthaew picked us up at 9am the next morning along with 2 other boys and we drove for 1.5 hours on very bumpy and dusty unpaved roads. When we reached our destination my face was completely covered in dirt from all of the dust!

Kayaking to Vientiane

We launched 2 double and 3 singles kayaks into the river and began our trip. The water level was pretty low since it was April (I think the rainy season starts in May), but there were still a few small rapids that were fun to paddle through. I liked taking in the beautiful, peaceful scenery. Who knew Laos was so naturally beautiful? We stopped for lunch when we reached a set of big boulders. Our guides made a fire and cooked us vegetarian kebabs for lunch, which were surprisingly delicious. The guides also showed us a place we could go cliff jumping. It was really high up and there were so many rocks around that it didn’t look like the water was deep enough, but one of the guides went first to prove that it was fine. Then one of the other boys in our group went, and next it was my turn. I jumped as you would make a pencil dive, but somehow I ended up landing on my back and neck, and I got bad whiplash. My neck was really sore the next few days!

Cliff jumping

After lunch we continued kayaking until we reached the spot where the songthaew was supposed to pick us up (we left our packs in the truck and they drove them down for us). It was another 2-3 hours to Vientiane on mostly unpaved roads. We also picked up about 10 people on the way, so the last hour or so was pretty squished. Brit even had to hang off the back of the truck because there wasn’t enough room. They dropped us off with our stuff in the center of the city around 5pm. We had been wanting to kayak at some point on the trip, so I’m glad that it all worked out so well. I would definitely recommend it to anybody who’s looking for a fun, alternative way to get from VV to Vientiane.

Songthaew ride to Vientiane