Vang Vieng (ວັງວຽງ)(also Vang Viang) is a riverside town in Central Laos.
NOTE: The majority of the bars from the start of tubing into the town are closed, and it is unknown when, or even if, they will re-open: further available are in the Vientiane Times. Tubing without the drugs and alcohol remains available.
Once little more than a bus stop on the long journey 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.
Many who have travelled around South East Asia have heard about tubing, an activity that dominates the town and its visitors. Originally opened up by hedonistic backpackers, the atmosphere of the town itself 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 US sitcoms, Friends and Family Guy episodes until the sun goes down, and then party heavily until the early hours.
A couple of kilometres upstream, the pulsating music, drinking games and drug-fuelled debauchery of the increasingly lively riverside "tubing" bars starts at lunch-time.
NOTE: Be aware that roughly one tourist dies every month while jumping or tubing. Several more get severe injuries - every month, as there are many sharp rocks not visible under the water in many places along the river.
Do not jump at all if you are drunk.
It's very difficult to always predict where you will land in the water while jumping and there are almost always some rocks nearby!
Vang Vieng may have established itself as the exception to the rule that Laos doesn't have nightlife. It does have potential as a base for adventure tourism which attracts a few more sedate foreign sightseers. However, it can be considered a noisy "back-packer hell" and so those wishing to avoid noisy, selfish teenagers away from their parents for the first time and instead seek something Laotian would do as well to either use Vang Vieng only as a base to explore the surrounding countryside or avoid it all together.
Vang Vieng is on Highway #13 between Vientiane and Luang Prabang - by bus (road and bus conditions permitting) about 6-8 hrs from Luang Prabang, around 3-4 hr from Vientiane.
Highway #13 is a sealed two lane road that is slowly deteriorating. The road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang is mountainous and boasts amazing scenery. The road between Vang Vieng and Vientiane is flatter and less interesting.
Tickets for tourist buses and minivans can be purchased at almost every guesthouse and should include transport to the bus station.
VIP buses from Vientiane cost about 50,000 kip. Minivans leave Vientiane all day and cost in between 35,000-50,000 kip. The Express bus to Vientiane costs 60,000 kip (Feb 2011).
Slower local buses to Vientiane without air conditioning run in the early morning (5:30AM-10AM) and cost about 40,000 kip for a 5 hour journey - you can board them either at the northern bus station or the bus stop south of the airstrip.
From Luang Prabang, VIP buses cost 150,000 kip and minivans cost 120,000 kip (June 2012). If you're susceptible to motion sickness you'll be much better off on the slower bus than the minivan.
From the bus station
From Vientiane, buses will drop you off either at the old airstrip (from the Vietnam war, it's now just a giant gravel pad) and the tourist buses will drop you 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 10 min walk away. Buses to and from the North of Laos leave from the new bus terminal 2 km North of town. When leaving Vang Vieng, transport to the bus station is usually included in the price of your ticket.
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.
Motorcycle rentals are also widely available. It's quite easy to rent a motorcycle from a local business for only 40,000-60,000 kip. Petrol may not be included in the rental fee, so check before paying. If not included, it's an extra 10,000 kip (Nov 2012). Always check the details of the contract. At some places you will have to sign a contract which makes you responsible if something breaks or fails to function, even if it's normal wear and tear. If riding out of Vang Vieng to the surrounding villages, be very careful of buses, minivans and trucks, and take extra precautions against the poor road conditions. Gravel, potholes, mud puddles and other hazards litter the road, so it pays to keep your eyes on the road and not on the mountain scenery. Also you are not allowed to go out of the Vang Vieng district, so don't count on renting a bike here to go on a longer tour of the district.
Several tuk tuks are also scattered around town. 10,000 kip per person will be plenty to get to anywhere within Vang Vieng - it's also the price you'll pay to get to the tubing bars irrespective of how many other people are on board. It's better to sort out exact change with fellow passengers as tuk tuk drivers are notorious for giving incorrect change.
To rent a tuk-tuk for the day costs about 130,000-150,000 kip.
The town itself offers no real attractions, but the row of limestone karst mountains across the river provides a stunning backdrop and is the setting for some impressive caves.
Tham Poukham - Blue Lagoon, (7 km west from town, maps provided where you can rent bicycles, accessible by mountain bike 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). 8AM-6PM. A 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 that will eat locally sold fish food out of your hand. The cave above requires a modest 100 m climb up a makeshift bamboo ladder. Once inside, there is a short walk to the Sleeping Golden Buddha and glimmering stalactites about 300 m further inside. 10,000 kip entry and 10,000 kip to rent a head-torch, mandatory if you go deeper into the cave than the Buddha (check the battery in advance). Guides for the cave advertised at 50,000 kip but this is probably negotiable. Guides are recommended as finding the best way to climb through the cave can be quite difficult.
Padeng cave and Ring cave, (cross a footbridge over the river, follow the signs and white flags (garbage bags) on sticks through the field). Across the river a 1.5 km path marked by white flags cuts through the fields towards the limestone mountains. The smallest hill has very rickety ladders (which can be dangerous) to aid in climbing to the top. Halfway up the mountain is a cave. Another 1 km 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".10,000 kip for the hill, 15,000 kip for the cave, 30,000 kip to go to the cave lagoon.
Xang Cave, (on the south end of the main road. Turn right at the sign to Jam Mee Guesthouse). Decent cave but not worth the 15,000 kip entrance fee plus 2,000 kip per person/3,000 kip per motorbike bridge crossing fee. The cave is well lit and has stairs running throughout that makes it an easy self-guided tour. One part has a really nice view of the farms surrounding the city. If you've been to other caves it's really not worth it.
Vang Vieng bar with rope swing on tubing route
Tubing, (There is an office in downtown Vang Vieng that now organizes all tube rentals. It's pretty easy to find--just ask around. They will rent you the tube and organize transportation up the river a few miles.). From around midday to 2PM is reasonable to go because earlier everyone 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 & so cameras can get ruined. To get the deposit back tubes have to be returned by 18:00. In winter temperatures fall from 16:00, so start back early. Ride at least one rapid before starting the party to avoid disturbing guests visiting the Organic Farm. The party scene has taken over and the owners use large 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 stromg alcohol: stick with beer, and for reasons of safety & common sense consider avoiding alcohol if entering the water. The amount of alcohol in buckets can be high, and the effect 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 is more water in the river and eye infections are common.55,000 kip for the Tube + 60,000 kip deposit.
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 through, with bats and other animals.
Watch movies. The US TV-series Friends is shown at many restaurants, and seems to be very popular with the younger party crowd.
High swings. Playing on the very high swings over the river and sliding on a slide. Be careful: perforated eardrums, broken ribs, foot injuries and permanent hearing damage are common injuries, and deaths are not unknown. 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 travel to Udon Thani for treatment. You might have to rely on other tourists for rescue. Most of these swings and slides have been taken down.
Organic farm, 3 km north of Vang Vieng, close to where the main tubing run starts, is an organic farm offering volunteering opportunities. It is noise-free until about 11:00 and again when the last revellers return to town around 18:00. They teach the village children, build mud brick buildings, learn/teach farming, eat organic food and go to sleep at 22:00. The farm has also a kitchen and sells organic food. The organic farm has dormitory (30,000 kip ), budget and more luxurious rooms for rent.
Rock climbing, . There are walls suitable for first timers and professionals. The established climbing outfits in town are Adam rockclimbing and GreenDiscovery. A new shop opened in 2012, Central Climbers, managed by seasoned climber Nom.
Hot Air Ballooning. A flight over the surrounding countryside with stunning views.
Uncle Toms Trails, 2 (On the west side of the river (the path to the blue lagoon )), ☎ 856 (0)2029958903. Uncle Toms is a dirt bike tour operator offering tours of the beautiful trails around Vang Vieng. All new bikes, 125cc four stroke trail bikes. Prices are US$22 for a half day or US$42 for the full day.
SAELAO Project, (Nathong Village, 7km outside of Vang Vieng, near of Poukham Cave and the Blue Lagoon), ☎ 020 2292-8630, . SAELAO project is trying to set an example of sustainable development for local people. There are different projects including building, organic farming and teaching English to the locals. They are always looking for volunteers, but if you don't have time to volunteer you can visit their restaurant to have lunch & learn about the project.
The small shops scattered throughout Vang Vieng sell the standard assortment of snacks, trinkets, sunglasses, and bathing suits. The majority of tourists seem to leave with at least one T-shirt, vest or dress with "In the Tubing - Vang Vieng" emblazoned on it.
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 for larger purchases.
There are several ATMs 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 numerous TV restaurants are interchangeable and all have a similar theme. When it comes to wifi some offer it free, others sell access. Others offer access only at certain times only. They all have similar menus. A selection of Lao, American, Italian, Chinese and Thai food is normally fresh but often of indifferent quality and poorly executed. Small serves average 20,000-45,000 kip.
For quick eats and late night snacks, numerous pancake and sandwich stalls dot the streets. But be careful, food hygiene may have been compromised by being in the heat all day and your gastro-intestinal system may react accordingly. The street running next to the river just to the west of the tube rental office has a few vendors selling large chicken and pork kebab skewers for 5,000 kip each.
Mister Potato, (in the small street along the hospital) is a food cart with tables and chairs to sit. They serve fresh homemade beef sandwiches with potato twists and drinks. The set menu is good value..
Be aware that many restaurants offer "happy" shakes and pizzas: food or drink with the words "happy", "special" or "ecstatic" will contain marijuana or magic mushrooms
B&P Restaurant & Bar, (in between Babylon guest house and Organic farm restaurant). Lao, Thai and Western cooking. Homebaked applepie with vanilla icecream accompanied with an espresso, cappuccino or a big pot of mulberry tea. Very cosy, clean and nice looking restaurant. Free wifi for customers. Friendly staff with a Lao/Dutch management.
Jungle Bar, (turn left at the fork by the tubing centre, beside TCK Tours). Good quality food, relaxed environment with cheap meals. Does not play Friends or Family guy. The friendly owner, Jackie, serves good fruit shakes, pizza and Pad Thai.
Q Bar and Restaurant, . Food and drinks from as little as £1. Steak+drink for 30,000 kip, curry+drink 15,000 kip.
Nisha Indian Food, only open from 2PM. Serves great Indian food.
Organic Farm Cafe. Original and interesting menu. Deep-fried mulberry leaves in honey for 15,000 kip. Goat cheese sandwich for 30,000 kip.
Peeping Som's Bar and Restaurant, Main Rd (just past Wat Kang, next to Chilllao Guesthouse). A small menu offering a change from most other restaurants in town. The English chef focuses on the quality of dishes, preferring to offer a few very well executed meals. Lao drinks such as Lao Hai, Flavoured Lao Lao also on offer.
Pan's Place Guesthouse, (Pan's Place Resteraunt), (on the main street), Vang Vieng (300 Meters South of the centre), ☎ 023 511484, . 7am - 11pm. Western-style menu, including: All day English Breakfast, Spaghetti Bolognase, Beef Goulash, Cottage Pie, fresh fruit shakes, snacks & drinks. Helpful & friendly staff under Kiwi/Lao management.
The Meeting Place, 047 Ban Vieng Kaew (end of the main street, 3 blocks from city centre, beside Laos Haven Hotel & Spa), ☎ +856 23511900. 11am - 10pm. Newly opened restaurant that serves Thai, Lao & Western cuisine. A small, 20-seater establishment. Phad Thai, Spring rolls, Larb and Som Tum(green papaya salad) are their more specialised dishes. USD 3 onwards per pax.
Beerlao is available everywhere in Vang Vieng, but the drink of choice is a cheap plastic bucket filled with liquor and soft drinks. A bottle of Tiger Whisky costs the bar 10,000 kip, so around a third of a bottle goes into your bucket, normally with a choice of 7up or Pepsi, lime and Redbull.
The ramshackle wooden bars in the first stretch of the tubing area are too numerous to single out any individual ones and heave with people in the early afternoon even though many of them haven't rented tubes and some of them have no intention of even going in the water - there are plenty of pathways and bridges to get around. Lie on plastic mats by the river and drink Beer Lao, or dance the day away on an outdoor dance floor.
Westerners employed by the bars for food and accommodation hand out free shots and organise drinking games to encourage you to stick around; many will also offer promotions to encourage you to their visit twin bars in town later in the evening. The competition among the night bars is so fierce that the deals are often genuinely pretty amazing, and if you time it right you can go from bar to bar for free buckets and cheap deals.
Too much alcohol or "special" or "happy" shakes which can contain cannabis, magic mushrooms or any manner of substance are not a good idea if you plan on going back in the river.
Fluid Bar and Restaurant, tam lom (4 km north of town), (email@example.com), . Is filled with abstract art, strange sculptures and an eclectic mix of music. If you want a break from the norm this is the place to be.
Beer and buckets are available all around Vang Vieng in bars covered with Christmas lights (including all the "TV restaurants") and the buckets are usually very strong because Lao whisky is cheaper than soft drinks. There's no shortage of choice but a distinct lack of diversity, especially if you're looking for live music.
The Kangaroo Sunset Bar, Next to New Bridge, River Road., ☎ +856 20 7714291. Australian owned and claims to offer the coldest beer in town. Now run by an English guy and Lao woman. Has some things you cannot get anywhere else such as Marmite, Vegemite, Yorkshire tea, Branston pickle and chilli con carne. Beautiful view.
Kiwi Sports Bar, In between the hospital and Pan's Place Guesthouse, ☎ +856 2028779796. The cheapest beer in town. Play your own music. Free pool, dartboard, internet, whisky and sports on a 60" LCD. Excellent variety of Italian and Lao food. Also has mountain bikes for rent.
Q-Bar, (on the main street). A club environment. Depending on the revolving staff of westerners they play Dnb, dubstep and pop. Open for food all day, and closes between 12 midnight-1AM, depending on the numbers.
The Rising Sun (The Irish bar), ☎ +856 20 7928266 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . The only Irish pub in Vang Vieng. Regular live music, 2 free pool tables upstairs and downstairs and 3 TVs showing live sport. Cold beers and homemade pies.
Sakura, (In the village centre), ☎ +856 20 6506993 (email@example.com), . Is a step above the standard Friends and Family guy bars. They have a projector, with a fairly solid library of both Hollywood and art House films, although you have to be lucky or go in with a sizeable group to get your first choice. They also offer dice roll bucket deals, if you're lucky you win a free bucket. Free wifi here but only available from 9AM-8PM.
For serious drinking, the bars referred too collectively as The Island, reached via some ramshackle bamboo and wood bridges are where most of the tubers end up after a day on the river, particularly after the bars in town start to close. The sandwich pancake pushers hover in a long line as people stumble over the bridge, waiting to prey on drunken western tourists. But be aware of trying to buy eye drops for conjunctivitis around this area. Stories abound of people being drunkenly extorted as much as 5x the normal price for conjuntivitis treatments.
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.
Limbo bar, so named for fire limbo stays open very late.
Rock bar, offers a change in music.
Joker Bar and Sunset Bar, stay open the latest.
There are now a couple of halfway-decent midrange "hotels" and attempts at boutique style residences.
Generally though, double rooms go for US$6-15, make sure you see the room (and bathroom!) before paying. More local, low-key (which is pretty low-key in Vang Vieng to start with) places are by the market and more shiny set ups are on the main road. The party crowd tend to advocate a bungalow on the island, but expect it to be too 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 the US sitcoms "Friends" and "Family Guy".
The Famous Spicy Laos Hostels is no more.
Bee Bee Guest House. Full of great character just nearing the end of the main bar street. Rooms are clean and spacious and the family that runs this guesthouse speaks English and are always ready to help. Free wifi, all rooms have hot showers en suite, drinking water and supplies tourist information. Great roof views from the balconies, safe rooms and great price.Really nice people and staff. A pproximately 20 minute walk from the centre.
Babylon Guest House, . An established inimitable accommodation that's either loved or not. Being in the centre 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 restaurant. Politically incorrect jokes are a must and English speaking staff are helpful. All rooms have hot showers en suite. Great roof terrace views.
Central Backpackers, (On the main road between Q-Bar and the Vip Bus stop), ☎ +856 23 511 593, +856 20 5570 0005 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . In the centre of Vang Vieng and a 2 min walk away from the tubing starting point. It has clean, cheap and safe rooms (doubles, twins, triples & dorms) with safety lockers. Good food available, friendly English speaking staff and big chill-out area with foosball table, games of dart, drinking related activities, water pipes (shisha, hookahs, nargila) and regular screening of TV shows & live sports. Free wifi. Rooms from 30.000 kip
Champa Lao Bungalow. Cheap huts on the island down stairs with river view. 100,000 kip. Friendly local family and traditional-style rooms. Mountain view from the wooden porch with hammocks upstairs cost 40,000-70,000 kip. Breakfast included, tasty food and free wifi.
Champa Lao Villa. Nice garden, tasty food, nice rooms. Breakfast included and free wifi. rooms 60,000-80,000 kip and also family rooms priced at around 250,000-200,000 kip.
Chillao, (On the main road north of Q Bar), ☎ +856 23 511 328 (email@example.com). checkout: 12pm. Centrally located, social hostel offering dorms and some of the cheapest single rooms in Vang Vieng. Adequately clean despite the rather unorthodox plumbing, dorm rooms have broken lockers, free wifi..20,000-70,000 kip.
The Elephant Crossing Hotel, . Small hotel. 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.US$30-50.
Greenview Bungalows and Restaurant, ☎ +856 20 212 8086, +856 20 501 1679. Just across the road from the Phoudindeng Organic farm. Khamsone and his wife Some 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 available.Bungalows with double beds 70,000 kip, other double rooms for 40,000 kip..
Island bar. Great view over the mountains from the restaurant. Midrange. Grumpy owner.
Jammee Guesthouse, ☎ +856 20 5589 8945 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . New guesthouse on the quiet end of Vang Vieng village, but still within walking distance of the town centre with all the party activities. The surrounding views are stunning, the place is quiet and offers comfortable, large rooms, all with private bathroom, hot shower, and either king or queen size beds or twin singles all with innerspring mattresses, free wifi. All the rooms have a veranda or a secured balcony with mountain views. Also a dormitory is available with free mosquito nets provided. Free wifi is available in all rooms and throughout the guesthouse. Water, coffee, tea and bananas, pickup service are all free.
Lucky Guest House. Great view over the mountains from the huts. Cheap huts on the Island. Friendly local family.
Nam Song Garden. Lao born Malay's and Norwegian Arne's place. Great view over the mountains from the shaded garden. Fan rooms and bungalows from 40,000 kip. Free 24-hour wifi, towel, water refill, metal lock-boxes. Book exchange.
Nana Guest House, (at the south end of the main street). 3 story, simple guest house. Friendly family-run staff, hot showers, a fourth-story balcony and laundry. Good for sleeping away from the raucousness further north.
Pans Place Guesthouse, (on the main street). Clean rooms in a quiet location, 300 m from the centre of town and 200 m from the river. Restaurant open from 7AM till late, snacks and meals, internet cafe, with discount rates for guests. TV room with cable TV and DVDs, Communal balcony with views of the mountains and sunsets, Laundry service, free drinking water, All rooms have fans, comfortable beds and are mosquito-proofed.
Phoudingdeang Organic farm, (3 km north of Vang Vieng). Peaceful and serene, an employer of orphans, mountain views. Simple short term rooms, long term residences in adobe houses.
Sengdeuan Guest House, (just past the Kangaroo Sunset bar), ☎ +856 23 511138. checkout: 12 noon. All rooms come with towels, soap, bottled water & toilet paper included. The private pool in the garden has water in it from Feb-Nov. A great place to learn about the history of the area and the Hmong people.Fan rooms with own bathroom s/d 40,000/50,000 kip. Air-con 90,000 kip.
Villa Vang Vieng Riverside, (Near the Kangaroo Sunset bar and the toll bridge), ☎ +856 23 511460 (email@example.com), . Located directly at the river, with a great view. Buildings and rooms are designed in Lao style. Fast, free wifi.US$30-US$50, incl. breakfast.
Le Jardin Organique. Away from the party in a nice location with lovely looking rooms. Hot water doesn't get hot and some find the owners are difficult to deal with.$US18 per night for bungalows with hot water.
Domon Guesthouse, (Beside River). Nice enough double room worth the extra money. Views from the balcony onto the river and towards the mountains are stunning, especially at sunset.60,000 kip.
Chanhthala Guest House. checkout: 11.30. Free wifi with towel and soap25,000-50,000 kip.
Laos Haven Hotel & Spa, 047 Ban Vieng Kaew, Formerly Tony's GH (end of the main street, 3 blocks from city centre), ☎ +856 23511900, . Looks gorgeous from the outside but don't let that scare you away, reasonable prices with very clean basic rooms. Peaceful, quiet location just 5 minutes walk from the "center" of town where the bulk of the restaurants are. The family running the hotel speak very good English, and are very friendly and helpful. Booking of bus tickets, kayaking and other adventure tours through the manager may be cheaper than some other hotels/agents. Offers Spa facilities.
Riverside Boutique Resort, Vang Vieng, Ban Viengkeo (On the right hand side, just before the toll bridge), ☎ +85623511726, . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Located on the banks of the Nam Song River, the Riverside Boutique Resort is a new luxury hotel with a French colonial architecture and a decor that promotes the ethnic diversity of Laos. The property and its large swimming pool offer stunning views over the limestone mountains of Vang Vieng.US$110-US$170. (18.920739490385518,102.44478464126587)
Thousands of tourists pass through Vang Vieng without incident every year, but the combination of outdoor activities, drink and drugs still makes it one of South East Asia's most dangerous destinations for travellers.
Even the town's main street can injure the unwary traveller: you'll need to watch out for the large holes in the pavement through to the drainage ditch below as they are not fenced off.
The medical care available in the town's hospital is rudimentary at best - for serious injuries you'll want to go to Vientiane, or better still, Thailand.
Watersports and alcohol
Floating downstream at a sedate pace in an inflated rubber tube shouldn't be a dangerous activity, provided you leave enough time to get back before darkness falls.
What raises the danger level is the bars offering a combination of strng alcoholic drinks and high platforms to jump from.
Whilst you may find that risk reduced somewhat by the dismantling of some of Vang Vieng's infamous ziplines, swings and slides following recent deaths, you're still going to have use your common sense. If you want to jump into the river, be very careful about where you do so - the Nam Song isn't very deep except where the bar staff have cleared rocks from the river bed. Don't even think of pushing others in: at least one person has died that way.
Needless to say, if the alcohol or drugs you've consumed may impair your ability to swim or climb out, don't enter the water, even on a rubber tube. Remember whisky buckets can be deceptively strong and their effects can kick in very quickly.
The river current is strong in many places - even those who are sober should avoid sapping their strength by swimming against it. It should be easy enough to swim across to shallower water instead.
Historically accepted drugs, such as marijuana, mushrooms and opium are freely available in many bars and restaurants around town. The majority of bars have 'magic menus' with most of these things on. Consuming these drugs on the premises is fairly safe, although drugs are illegal in Laos and nothing is totally safe.
Southeast Asian 'crystal meth' is known as yabba and is available in both pill and smokeable forms. Formerly legal in Thailand as a way for longhall truck drivers to keep awake. Yabba is an epidemic due to its highly addictive qualities. Manufactured locally, the drug can be cut with any number of substances.
Aside from the drugs already mentioned it is inadvisable to attempt to purchase any other substances not freely available on the 'magic menus' around town. The dangers of most drugs should be well known to visitors, and additionally there is also a 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 of 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. Several local policemen are friendly with restauranteurs who sell opium, mushrooms, cannabis and yaba. Customers are not harassed at these establishments: the police wait until they leave. Some of the same police own guesthouses near the island. Never surrender your passport if you can help it, and often the best way out of the situation is simply to pay.
A minor annoyance around Vang Vieng (refered too by locals and long time residents as the Vang Vieng plague) is conjunctivitis, or 'Pink Eye'. This is a viral, and sometimes bacterial, infection which can be caught from the river or other tubers. The onset of pink eye is often felt as an unnatural tiredness, and inability to properly fully open your eyes. If you sense this, or have been sharing buckets with people with pink eyes or wearing sunglasses at night, the best thing to do is shell out for eyedrops as soon as possible to prevent the onset. If this should happen late at night, be aware that eye drops alone should cost a maximum of 20,000 kip. Some of the late night pharmacies attempt to extort tourists, charging up to 5x the normal price for eyedrops.
As well as eye drops, general antibiotics are available from any pharmacy. In some cases eye drops will cause an intense stinging sensation, this can be soothed with an eye bath formula also available at pharmacies. Of course the sensible solution would be to rest your eyes and ease the drinking, but Vang Vieng's non-stop party atmosphere makes this a hard option for most. Should your pink eye last longer than a week you should probably seek proper medical advice, and stop drinking all that Tiger Whisky to give your body time to heal.
When tubing home late, taxi boats may offer to take you back for around 10k each. Howeber, they may just take you to somewhere else, stop and refuse to continue. If you don't want to pay the tuk tuk, the only way to get home is to walk.
The adventurous can make their way 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 and carry you at least part of the way. Expect to pay 170,000-220,000 kip
You can book trips all the way to Bangkok (via Vientiane) but since you'll change mode of transport at least once anyway it's just as easy to arrange this trip at your own pace.
Buses to Vietnam are notorious for taking even longer than expected and being a really unpleasant experience.
Buses also go directly from Vang Vieng bus station to Udon Thani bus station. Bus departs at 9.30am (more like 10am) and schedulied to arrive at 5pm, though this may be on conservative. 100,000 kip for tickets if bought at the bus station.
Internet speed and reliability is variable but not bad by Laos standards. Internet cafes can be found all over the town.
Many guesthouses and restaraunts offer free wifi, although the latter generally expect you to buy something.
Babylon Bar, has the fastest free wifi
Sakura, has qood quality wifi (20,000 kip minimum spend)
Pan's place, has qood quality Internet
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!