Vang Vieng (also Vang Viang) is a riverside town in Central Laos.
Once no one could ride a bus changing stations 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 in South East Asia, you've no doubt heard about "Tubing," an activity that dominates the town and its 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.
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. Vip buses from Vientiane cost about 50,000 Kip. Minivans leave Vientiane all day and cost in between 70,000-80,000 Kip. The tourist bus and minibus to Luang Prabang costs 90,000 kip and 105,000 kip (Sept 2010) respectively. Tickets can be purchased at almost every guesthouse.
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 20 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 30,000-40,000 kip for the entire day.
Several tuk tuks are also scattered around town. 10,000 Kip per person will be plenty to get to anywhere within Vang Vieng. To rent a Tuk Tuk for the whole day cost about 130,000-150,000 Kip.
- Tubing no booking needed... just 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. 55,000 Kip for the Tube + 60,000 deposit From around 12 to 14:00 is reasonable to go because earlier everone else would be still asleep 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 have 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. Tubes get stacked up at each bar so keep an eye on how many are left, especially at the first few bars where lots of people arrive without their own tube. If you're not used to drinking liquer: stick with beer. The ammount of alcohol in buckets can be seriously high and can kick in suddenly; you won't be the first one to be too drunk to make your way back on the river. During rainy season there are more water in the river and the eye infections are not common. Get yourself eyedrops(available at the local pharmacy for 20,000 KIP). Also: consider talking to your doctor about taking doxycyclin.
- Tham Poukham - Blue Lagoon 7 km west from town, maps provided where you can rent bicycles, accessible by bicycle or motorbike. Be careful along the way, in recent years a number of imposters have shown up, all claiming to be the 'blue lagoon'. Keep to the main road and you should be OK. 8:00-18:00 10,000 kipA 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.
- Lao-style steam sauna
- Kayaking the river This covers the same part of the river as tubing (and a more untouched part further upriver). Kayaking includes lunch and different caves. Some of the caves takes more than an hour to walk trough, with bat`s and different funny and scary looking creatures.
- 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 10,000 kip for the hill, 15,000 kip for the cave, 30,000 to go to the cave lagoon 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".
Prices for tourist packages are quoted in both kip and 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.
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 20,000-45,000 kip.
For quick eats and late night snacks, numerous pancake and sandwich stalls dot the streets. But be carefull...the food has been in the heat allday so your stomach might feel a little bit funny later on!!!
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 "ecstatic" will contain an undetermined amount of marijuana or Magic Mushrooms
- Organic Farm Cafe - original and interesting menu with excellent surprises like deep-fried mulberry leaves in honey (15,000 kip)
- Central Backpackers - woodfired pizza, sandwiches (10,000 Kip), western style food & also cheap Thai-/Lao food... Best coffee in town e.g. Latte or Cappucino for only 8,000 Kip and Fruitsmothies for only 5,000 Kip! Take a look at Today's Special!
- Enjoy Restaurant - good pizza
- Bamboo Bar - Vegetarian buffet (in high season or on request by ten people or more.)
- B&P Restaurant & Bar - Very good Lao, Thai and Western cooking. Try the homebaked applepie with an espresso, cappuccino or a big pot of e.g. mulberry tea. Very clean and nice looking restaurant. --Lao/Dutch Management.
- How people think when they decide to combine drinking on the river and jumping off 10 meter high swings in shallow water, nobody knows, probably not the revelers either who tend to die frequently. More clever to do the tubing at daytime and the drinking at night.
- About 5-20 Western employed promoters on the river will of course try make you get drunk at their favorite bars and they seem to believe that it is quite safe and normal to do so on the river. They sometimes keep repeating the names of the bars that feed them and others are completely under cover.
- The Bamboo bar stands out a bit from the rest and offers Mojitos (also alcohol free) served in bamboo with bamboo straws whilst watching the late tubers come in and watching the sometimes spectacular sunsets and thunderstorms over the mountains. Located on the island in the river at the end of the tubing surrounded by bamboo. A sauna is being built for the high season and vegetarian buffet is ready after one hour on demand by a larger group. Cheaper bars close by also offer drinks and food.
- Sakura in the village center stands out with style and also has a projector and a pool table.
- Tacky cheap plastic buckets are available all around Vang Vieng by bars covered with Christmas lights and the buckets are usually very strong because Lao whiskey is actually cheaper than soft drinks. They are usually loaded with other drugs and methamphetamine in particular.
- The 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 and Family Guy as well). Buy dinner, stay for the movie and order a milkshake & some food.
- A "Jack Johnson" bar and Israeli bar is there if you for some reason dislike Bob Marley now and then.
- Babylon Bar has the fastest Free wifi, Sakura has qood quality Wifi (20,000 kip minimum spend) and a large menu, for a diffrent feel there is the laid back relaxed 'on street' feeling at 'F-shop' who also offer free, if a bit slow WiFi, if you buy a shake or food now and then.
- 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 dealing with. Local criminals sometimes set you up.
There are now a couple of halfway-decent midrange "hotels" and attempts at boutique style residences.
Generally though, double rooms go for US$5-10, 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". Alternatively CENTRAL BACKPACKERS shows a wide range of sitcoms including Southpark, Simpsons, Family guy and How I met your mother.
- Central Backpackers (Vangvieng-Backpackers@hotmail.com // +856 23 511593) recently opened up, offering triple rooms for only 60,000 kip which works out at 2€ per person. It's centrally located on the mainroad in between Q-Bar and the Vip Bus stop and only 2 minutes walk from the TUBING rental outlet! The Backpackers offers cheap, clean and safe rooms as well as big chill out area in the Restaurant, which is a great place to meet other Backpackers. It offers cheap and tasty Thai-/Laofood and an extensive western menu! In a relaxed atmosphere, many backpackers enjoy evening to evening, the legendary Beer Lao watching South Park, Simpsons, Family Guy, Two and Half men, or How I Meet Your Mother before going to the Bars afterwards!
- Babylon Guest House  - Is an established inimitable accommodation that's either loved or not. Being in the center of town at the start of the main bar street many characterful guest enjoy the accommodation. 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 food. Cheap huts on the Island, down stairs. Friendly local family and traditional-style rooms. Rooms with river/mountain view are priced at around 100,000 kip while those without are priced at between 40,000-70,000 kip.
- 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.
- Nam Song Garden Malay's and Arne's place, at the moment leased by a young western couple. Great view over the mountains from the shaded garden. Cheap rooms from 40,000 kip with free wifi but coverage doesn't currently reach riverbank hillside rooms.
- Island bar Great view over the mountains from the restaurant. Midrange. Grumpy owner. Teach him to say "Sabaidee!"
- Lucky Guest House Great view over the mountains from the huts. Cheap huts on the Island. Friendly local family.
- Nana Guest House is a three-story, simple guest house at the south end of the main street. Advantages are a friendly family-run staff, hot showers, a fourth-story balcony and laundry. Good for sleeping away from the raucousness further north.
- The Elephant Crossing Hotel http://www.theelephantcrossinghotel.com/ US$30-50 A great little hotel where all the rooms have a view of the river, with a restaurant right next to the river. Good selection of food and beer, free WiFi.
Local buses can be taken in the early morning from 06:00-10:00 to Ventiane, either to the central morning market (Talat Sao) or to the private bus station north of town. 30,000 Kip. Bus to the Thai border (Friendship bridge) goes frequently from Talat Sao.
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.
The bus to Vietnam from Vang Vieng and Vientiane can be a really unpleasant experience. Risks are that you get a ticket and the bus is so full that you have to sit in the aisle on plastic chairs or in the back on piles of luggage. It takes about twenty hours (many report longer durations due to being stopped at the border/mechanical failure) and it's not comfortable at all. Even if you get a seat it's not VIP as promised at many of the travel agencies in Vang Vieng. All this gives credence to this bus' popular name, the "Death Bus", a moniker that does not refer to the bus' safety, but rather to it's comfort.
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