Located about halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is Vang Vieng, a small town on the Nam Song river surrounded by karst limestone mountains.
Until recently, Vang Vieng was known as a major party scene for young backpackers. The small town attracted over 100,000 young people yearly, who enjoyed partying and tubing down the river.
The town was lined with countless bars, disco’s, hotels and internet café’s. As a result of drinking and the easy availability of opium and hallucinative mushrooms, tubing accidents were frequent. Several deaths and countless injuries occurred every month.
New rules for tubing
The accident rates and concerns about the easy availability of alcohol and opium to local youngsters that did not fit with the conservative traditional way of life have made the authorities step in. In 2012 many of the bars closed down and new rules have been put in place. Tubing is now only allowed wearing life jackets and without alcohol.
Thanks to its attractive setting, quiet and rural surroundings, the Nam Song river, the karst mountains and the many caves, Vang Vieng is now starting to attract a different kind of visitors. All kinds of outdoor activities are available to nature lovers like trekking tours, climbing, rafting, exploring caves and bicycle tours along local villages and rice paddies in the magnificent karst landscape.
To do & see in Vang Vieng
Just a few kilometers from Vang Vieng are the Tham Phu Kham cave and the blue lagoon. A 200 meter climb up the limestone cliff leads to the Tham Phu Kham, a large cave with chambers, galleries and crevices filled with stalagmites and stalactites. The main chamber contains a large reclining Buddha image. The blue lagoon with its crystal blue waters at the base of the cliff is an enjoyable place to cool down and wash off the dust.
Of the many other caves in the area, the Tham Chang cave near Vang Vieng is worth a visit. The large, well lit cave in the limestone mountains requires a climb of some 150 steps to the top, from where great views of the surrounding area can be had.
The Vang Vieng area is very suited for outdoor activities like kayaking, trekking and climbing. Several companies offer kayaking trips on the river, often combined with hiking, cave exploration or a visit to a local organic farm. Half day and full day trips can be booked at Vang Vieng travel agents.
The karst mountains around town provide an attractive setting for climbing. Several rock climbing schools offer courses for beginners and experienced climbers, from half day to several days. Climbers are rewarded with great views of the karst landscape surrounding Vang Vieng.
A relaxed way to enjoy the area is make a bicycle tour. Bicycles can be rented at 10,000 Kip per day, mountain bikes double or triple that. Local roads will often be in poor condition with lots of pot holes and have little or no street lights at night.
Where is Vang Vieng & how to get there
The town of Vang Vieng is located on Route 13, about halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. From Vientiane, catch a bus or minivan from Khua Din bus station near the Talat Sao market. The 155 kilometer trip will take about 4 hours and cost between 50,000 and 60,000 Kip per person. From Luang Prabang, the 185 kilometer trip by bus or minivan takes about 7 hours and cost between 130,000 and 150,000 Kip.