Vang Vieng, formally know for its wild party scene and tubing down the river with a head full of magic mushrooms has since taken steps back from this life and moved towards appreciating the beauty of its surrounds. While this aspect is still very much alive in town and there is always a party to be found, there is also peace and tranquility. As I sit here writing this I’m looking out over limestone mountain ranges that look like they’re from another world. There is gentle music coming from somewhere down near the river, there are kids playing in the river and there are little bamboo bungalows nestled amongst the jungle. Vang Vieng has progressed from being a Drug fueled party town to both that and a place of tranquil beauty.
WHERE TO STAY
This place is perfect for the budget traveler, cheap hostels, guesthouses and bungalows are plentiful, if you’re coming to town I’d only book your first night and then wander around and find the place that suits you. Dorm beds start at around 30,000kip which is $4-5 and private rooms aren’t much more. With a little search you can find some amazing rooms facing the mountains especially if you walk a few hundred meters from the central party area.
Getting to Vang Vieng is a couple hours from either of its closest cities. Chances are you’ll either be coming from or through Vientiane (Lao’s capital) or Luang Prabang. The easiest way is via minibus/van. From Vientiane to Vang Vieng its roughly 50,000kip and 3-4 hrs and from Luang Prabang you’re looking at 4-5 hrs and 100,000kip.
The traditional dish in the area is called Laap, its the closest thing Loas has to a national dish and is slightly different depending on who’s making it. Generally it consists of a minced meat commonly duck or pork with cilantro, mint, lemon grass and other herbs and spices. It kind of feels like a minced meat salad that is often complimented with sticky rice and it delicious!
Eating on the street will cost you next to nothing with huge baguettes going for 10,000 to 20,000kip depending on what you get in it. Do yourself a favour and get the chicken bacon and cheese! Another must from the street food vendors are the fruit smoothies especially the coconut or mint shakes and if you’re so inclined they mix rather well with the local whisky 😉 Also on a side note beer here is drank with ice, its a little strange at first but thats just how they do it!
Water – 1.5L = 5000 Kip
Beer – beerLao 640ml = 10,000 Kip
Bottle of local Whisky 10,000 Kip
Standard drink in a bar 25,000 Kip
Fruit Smoothie in a resturant 5,000-10,000 Kip
Big Beer in a bar 10,000-15,000
BARS & RESTURANTS
Amigos — Yes, it’s Mexican in Laos and its fucking amazing, this coming from someone who has lived in Mexico! Bruce the owner there is also a lovely human and makes you feel at home in his little backyard restaurant. Order the enchiladas, or the fajita platter, or the chimichangas. You know what, just get anything from there but beware the margarita jugs are potent
Il Tavolo — Again, yes Italian in Laos and yes again its amazing! Handmade pasta and pizza bases with only fresh ingredients and made in true Italian style. Everything we ordered was fantastic. You’ll have to ask a local how to find it though because its on the outskirts of town well away from the tourist beat.
Earth — This funky bar/restaurant has a great atmosphere and an even better view from the outdoor area. Definitely one of the best ways to watch the sunset. While you’re at it you may as well enjoy the extended happyhour and enjoy the best burgers in town.
OffBeat — The best coffee in town, and some of the tastiest baked goods. it also has a nightclub bar behind it but it wasnt open during the time i spent in town
Viva & Sakura — You’ve got Viva pub and Sakura Bar. Sakura has more beer pong tables than I’ve seen in any bar ever. They have free Whiskey and beer from 8pm-9pm and then happy hour following that. Its loud, dirty and a fun open air club. From there the party generally heads to Viva pub which is less of a pub and more of a thumping nightclub to get down and sweaty!
Space — For your higher needs this is the place to go. They have plenty of comfy daybeds and an extensive menu of opiates and hallucinogens. As the name goes its definitely the place to Space out. Also give Doug the Pug a little scratch for me!
Smile bar — If you want to relax head down to this place on the river. You’ll find rows of little thatched roof cabanas with hammocks and day beds. There are tubes tied down in the river that you can just float in and let the river wash away any worries you have. There is always relaxing music playing which, come to think of it, is probably the relaxing tunes I can hear that seem to be coming from the mountains
All the other restaurants and bars offer pretty much the same extensive menu. If you’re going to eat anywhere else, I’d recommend heading to the little place to the left of the steps before you head down towards Smile Bar. It doesn’t have a name but the local couple that work there are lovely and they must have some secret ingredient in their food because everything is amazing!
ACTIVITIES & TOURS
The fun Stuff! There are so many things do do around town and even more people offering package tours at fairly reasonable prices. These operators need to be bargained with though. I was recommended to use ‘Wonderful Tours’ Laos and had a great experience with them. I did my research and bartered with a bunch of other operators that all offer essentially the same thing.
A package deal is the easiest way to jam all the the tourist fun into one day. The day tour I arranged included a morning of kayaking down river via all the tubing bars, followed by zip lining at Neverland campground and then tubing in a cave at the same place followed by lunch and then off to Blue Lagoon 1 for the afternoon. The full day cost 200,000Kip which is roughly $25USD
Zip lining wasn’t the hugest one that I’ve done but its always fun to zip between the trees and get the blood pumping!
Cave tubing didn’t last very long but was pretty awesome to float around in the dark with huge caverns above you that lead into very low tight tunnels
Kayaking down the river was beautiful, the guides were great and playful. It wasn’t a hard or treacherous paddle as it flows with the current and the whole time you’re surrounded by mountains, lush jungle and the occasional grazing water buffalo.
Blue Lagoon 1 is flooded with tourists and honestly isn’t enjoyable but the cave 100m up the mountain from it is stunning and probably the most easily accessible. For a better experience head out to blue lagoon 3. Its much further out from town but because of this it doesn’t have the hoards of tourists and with a group of 6 or so it’ll only cost you 30,000kip each plus 4000kip to cross the Nam Song bridge.
There are also options like hot air ballooning and powered hang gliding that are around 80-100USD which I’ve only heard great things about but unfortunately my budget backpacking life doesn’t accommodate
Personal Average Daily Budget in Vang Vieng
Accom 40,000 Kip
Food 60,000 (Street)
120,000 Kip = 15USD
With activities and transport as an extra