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Vang Vieng

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Asia : Southeast Asia : Laos : Central Laos : Vang Vieng
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Vang Vieng (also Vang Viang) is a tiny riverside town in Laos.

Understand

Once no more than a bus changing station 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. However, the backpacker scene is so enthusiastic that many people extend their stays and consider it the highlight of their trip.

Get in

Vang Vieng is 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. Buses to Vientiane leave bright and early between 05:00 and 07:00 and cost a fixed 25,000 kip; you can also try to share a tuk-tuk for slightly more. Less crowded and more humanely timed tourist buses leave at 10:00 and 13:30 (in theory - they tend to wait until full before departing) and cost US$4. A minibus leaves at 09:00 and costs US$5. Tickets can be bought in almost every guesthouse (for a US$1 commission).

Get around

Touts offer cyclo or taxi rides from the bus station into town, but it's only a 5 minutes walk to the center, and about a 2 minute walk out the other side.

Your only other transportation option is on one of the day or overnight trips down the river by inner tube or kayak. Packages from one of the tourist shops include a van ride back to town. On the smaller scale, locals will rent you an inner tube and pick you up on their motorbike.

Do

  • Lao-style steam sauna
  • Movies shown at a few restaurants
  • Walk out to the nearby caves
  • Tubing down the river. U$3.50 includes ride to start point. Dry bag US$1. 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. Many beer and other pitstops along the way. Also, try the diving stop.
  • Kayaking the river.
  • Playing on the swing over the river. Please be careful - perforated eardrums and permanent hearing damage are common injuries resulting from falling the wrong way. The local hospital is not equipped to diagnose or treat this injury - 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.
  • 3km north of Vang Vieng, where the main tubing run commences, there's an organic farm. Here you can escape the town's dirge, teach knowledge to village kids, build adobe buildings, learn/teach farming, eat some good quality food and stay a night, a week, a year...

Buy

Locals accept Thai baht and US dollars, as well as Laos kip.

There is one government office that changes traveller's checks.

There is one ATM that takes Mastercard and Plus cards; otherwise you can take money out at one of the banks with a Visa card, make sure you have your passport ready and if it's not a recognised institution they won't let you take money out. The Lao Development Bank changes money at good rates and processes cash advances.

Eat

All your basic backpacker fare and a few local dishes. See the Laos article for more about local food. There are numerous places specialising in pizza, which is fresh but often of indifferent quality.

Many will frown this type of activity, but many restaurants along the main road also offer "special" shakes and pizzas of various sorts, just be careful!

  • DK3 - Milan Pizza - woodfired pizza
  • Enjoy Restaurant - good pizza

Drink

  • The newly instituted killer pool competition at the Xaliph Café bar finishes at about midnight, then the tendency is to migrate down to the Island Bar (really several places on a bridge across the river) offering bonfires and beer.
  • Nearly all bars screen movies during the evening (mostly episodes of Friends). Buy dinner, stay for the movie and order a milkshake.
  • Be prepared to listen to a lot of Bob Marley (it's as if someone bought the complete Friends box set and Bob Marley Legend and burnt copies of them for the entire town)!
  • 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.

Sleep

Double rooms go for U$1-5, 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".

  • Babylon Guest House [1] - in the centre of town at the start of the main bar street. Clean and comfortable with hot showers, views from every room and English speaking staff.
  • Champa Lao - best view of mountains, great massage, affordable tasty food.
  • 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.

Get out



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