Vang Vieng (also Vang Viang) is a tiny riverside town in Laos.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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".