Vang Vieng is a small riverside town in Laos once known as party central for backpackers. It has since quieted down, which gives visitors a chance to marvel more at the surrounding nature while still having fun. Check out my list of ten things to see and do in Vang Vieng below.
While tubing in Vang Vieng was once a crazy binge drinking fest filled with lots of alcohol, drugs, and even death, it has since calmed down after a crack down from the Laos government. However, this infamous pastime is still alive and well, though a bit more relaxed than it used to be. The concept is simple: rent a tube, catch a free ride up the river, and float your way back down. There are still several bars open along the route and lots of fun to be had. While I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘bar crawl’ aspect of it, what stood out to me the most was the beautiful scenery between bars that surrounded me and the chance to meet so many cool people.
Cost: 55,000 kip (~$6.75) for tube rental; 60,000 kip (~$7.35) deposit (given back in full if tube returned before 18:00 (6:00 PM)
Insider Tip: The best time of the year to go tubing is during the dry season (November to March) when the river flows a little slower, giving you even more time to enjoy floating along. Best time of day is around midday when the crowds are a bit bigger and you can meet lots of people.
Read more about Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos
2. Hot Air Balloon Ride
There is nothing more magical than floating in a hot air balloon basket high above the earth. In Vang Vieng, the company Balloons Over Vang Vieng (BOVV) has been taking visitors on these aerial flights for many years. These affordable hot air balloon rides are something that should not be missed on your visit to the riverside town. It is not everyday that you can sail away like Dorothy home to Kansas!
Cost: $80 per passenger through Wonderful Tours
Insider Tip: I would recommend the sunrise ride; it was stunning being able to watch the sun peek over the mountains despite a very early start to the day. In order to secure a spot, email Wonderful tours in advance and pay upon arrival in Vang Vieng.
Read more about a Hot Air Balloon Ride over Vang Vieng, Laos
3. Blue Lagoon & Cave
The Blue Lagoon is a great place to cool off in the Laos heat. The water flows down from mountain side streams and is a beautiful blue color that is very refreshing. Make sure when you visit to check out the cave in the mountain nearby. The climb is not very difficult and takes about 15 minutes. Once at the entrance, enjoy at least an hour or two exploring the cave. Flashlights are available to rent for a few thousand kip that can help you explore some of the deepest, darkest parts of the cave. Can’t be missed! Afterwards, climb back down and jump into the lagoon off the overhanging tree or swing in on a rope like Tarzan!
Cost: Admission to the lagoon and cave is 10,000 kip ($1.23). There is also a toll bridge on the way that cost 5,000 kip (~60 cents)
Insider Tip: Rent a bicycle and take in the stunning Laos countryside on your way to the Blue Lagoon. The journey is not that far and is mostly flat. Bikes can be rented for about 30,000 kip ($3.68) from places in town who will also provide you with a map.
Read more about visiting the Blue Lagoon and Cave in Vang Vieng, Laos
4. Eat like a local
There are tons of affordable and delicious places to eat in Vang Vieng. Below are a few of my favorites and recommendations from some of the locals themselves!
- Amigos Mexican – Since I moved to Thailand, good Mexican food is extremely hard to come by. I therefore was so excited when I heard about Amigos in Vang Vieng. It is tucked away in a little garden haven and the American owner is extremely welcoming and friendly. Filled with benches and lounge areas, the food was as good as the atmosphere. Mexican craving satisfied!
- Sandwiches – Another thing I miss since living in Thailand is good bread! Thanks to the French influence in Laos, they have some amazing baguettes on which to layer an awesome sandwich. My favorite was the chicken sandwich filled with grilled chicken and lots of veggies. Even better, you could find many sandwiches for just 10,000 kip ($1.23)
- Pancakes – In Thailand, this delectable dessert is known as Roti. It is made from a dough that is rolled out, fried with some butter, and then filled with a filling of your choice. My personal favorite is banana and chocolate.
- Noodle Soup – A traditional Laos meal, the noodle soup in Vang Vieng was very good. There are tons of noodle shops where you can get a bowl for 10,000 kip (again thats only $1.23)! The broth is filled with your choice of meat along with veggies and hints of spices like ginger.
5. Relax with Friends
A remnant of the days when the town was overrun with backpackers are the bars lining the main street and showing reruns of the TV show Friends. It pretty much is all Friends all the time, which for me is heaven on earth. Who doesn’t love when a Friends marathon comes on? As a fan, I spent a few hours having dinner and then reclining in the comfortable cushions to watch one of my favorite shows.
Cost: Only what you buy to eat or drink
Insider Tip: The bars are all open to the air and street. Avoid bug bites with longer loose pants or apply bug spray.
6. Bars and Night life
At night, Vang Vieng picks up a bit as people come back from days out tubing or exploring the surrounding areas. The most popular is Sakura bar, partially because they give out free whisky drinks between 8:00 – 9:00 pm everyday. After that the party picks up with dancing and some more happy hour specials. Another trademark of the bar is their tank top shirts that can be seen worn around town by many people. I’ve even seen people wearing the shirt in the south of Thailand; they are literally everywhere. It is easy enough to get one – free with the purchase of two vodka drinks! Another trademark of theirs is the balloon filled with nitrous oxide. Wait until they announce a happy hour special for reduced price on those.
Another great bar to check out is Smile Beach Bar. This isn’t where you want to go for a wild party, but it does have some of the best sunset views on the river. Head down an hour before sunset to bask in the last rays and swing in one of their hammocks while watching the tubers float by. Then witness a spectacular sunset over the mountains of Laos. Every day is happy hour from 3:00 – 7:00 PM (Buy-1 Get-1 Free Whiskey buckets!!) and at sunset they start a bonfire. Super chill and relaxed vibe.
7. Water Cave (Tham Nam)
There are many caves to choose to explore when visiting Vang Vieng. One of the most popular caves is the water cave because you get to go through on a tube! When you arrive you are given a tube and then pull yourself along a rope into the darkness. Once inside, you continue to float along in total darkness, but it is possible to get a head torch in order to see all around you. The cave isn’t very large, and you can make it through in about 30 minutes. A nice experience worth checking out! A visit to this cave can easily be combined with a few others on a day tour. To find out, visit one of the many tour offices in the town and inquire about combo packages that include a stop at Tham Nam.
Cost: 10,000 kip (~$1.23) which includes entrance fee, tube and head flashlight. Day tours that include this cave average 100,000 kip (~$12.25) depending on what you want to do.
Insider Tip: This is one of the most popular caves to visit in Vang Vieng and can get very busy with tour groups. To avoid them, go earlier in the day or later in the afternoon on your own.
8. Elephant Cave (Tham Chang)
Located above the town of Vang Vieng, this cave is just a leisurely 20-30 minute walk from the town across the Nam Song River and past rice paddies. The climb is not at all difficult and the view you get from the top of the town below is beautiful. There is a small lagoon located at this cave that visitors can splash around in if they desire. The inside of the cave is well lit and easy to explore, a perfect place for beginners looking to get a good introduction to Laos caves.
Cost: Before getting to the cave, visitors must pay a toll of 2,000 kip (~25 cents) to cross a bridge. The entrance fee to the cave itself is 15,000 kip (~$1.84).
Insider Tip: It can be very wet inside, so good shoes are recommended. I also would go early in the day or a bit later in the afternoon to avoid walking in the midday heat and other tourists.
9. Kayaking and Canoeing Tours
Because Vang Vieng sits on the Nam Song River, it is easy to find activities that involve exploring it. One great way to see more of the river is kayaking! During dry season, the river is relatively calm and you can just float along while admiring the beautiful nature all around you. In the wet season, the river flows a lot faster with a few rapids along the way. Again, there are a multitude of tour companies that you can rent a kayak from for half a day or full day. Usually the kayaking can be combined with some cave exploring, like Tham Nam (see #7) or Tham Chang (see #8).
Cost: A day trip that includes kayaking averages around 100,000 kip (~$12.25) but there are definitely some tour companies that will charge you less – just gotta look around or barter!
Insider Tip: To avoid any accidents with your belongings, purchase a dry bag to hold your phone, wallet, etc. These can be purchased at many of the stores in town for cheap.
10. Rock Climbing
The limestone mountains of Laos are not only perfect for the formation of amazing caves, but lots of crags that are ideal for rock climbing as well. If rock climbing is something you would like to try, then Adam’s Climbing School is the place to go. The school is run by Adam who is incredible knowledgable and well trained. During the course, students are taught tope-rope climbing, belay techniques, safety measures, and basic climbing techniques.
Cost: There are three options to choose from: Half Day Course from 9:30 AM to 1:00 PM, perfect for beginners (180,000 kip, ~$25), Full Day Course from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM (260,000 kip, ~$35), or Three Day Course (1, 325,000 kip, ~$165).
Insider Tip: While the guides will help you to learn the basics, they will not give you a vocal map of where to place your hands and feet. Be prepared to just start climbing. If you get stuck, they will call out a few places to try, but it is mostly up to you!
Have you visited to Vang Vieng? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.