Vang Vieng (ວັງວຽງ)(also Vang Viang) is a riverside town in Central Laos. The town has been known as a party destination for years, and whilst this still remains more outdoor-oriented activities are now available such as mountain biking, trekking, kayaking, caving, swimming and rock climbing.
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, Vang Vieng has managed to become a destination in its own right – and rightfully so. While the town still isn't much more than three streets and a bus station, it is the stunning scenery of river and rock formations surrounding this place that will keep you dreaming of Laos long after you've settled back into real life. If you aren't into the rowdy party scene that seems to dominate this town's image, try to come in the off-season (Apr–Jun, Sep-Oct) and you'll have this place almost entirely to yourself.
Many who have traveled around South East Asia have heard about tubing on the Nam Song River, an activity that long-dominated the town and its visitors. Originally, the bars catering to tubers along the river were opened up by hedonistic backpackers. At one time, as many as 20 bars lined the river, with pulsating music, drinking games and drug-fueled debauchery becoming the norm. However, after 27 tourists died while partying on the river in 2011, the local authorities clamped down on drugs, shut down many of the tubing bars, put restrictions on the volume of bar's music, and removed riverside swings and ‘death slides’. As of July 2015, five bars operate each day along the river on a two day rotation.
However, those upstream bars still have a profound influence on the town itself, which has an atmosphere of lethargy by day and debauchery by night. In town, tourists sprawl out in the pillow-filled restaurants called ‘TV Bars’, watching re-runs of US sitcoms ‘Friends’ and ‘Family Guy’ until the sun goes down, and then party heavily until the early hours. Free alcohol is served at many of the tourist-oriented bars in town, providing hours of free drinking for the frugal backpacker.
NOTE: While tubing has become much safer recently, be aware that in previous years roughly one tourist died every month while jumping into the river or tubing. Many more got severe injuries 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 predict where you will land in the water while jumping and there are almost always some rocks nearby!
Please be a conscientious traveler not discarding your rubbish to pollute the environment. If you notice fellow travelers attempting to discard their rubbish into the rivers and banks, give them the evil eye!
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, whilst the main attraction for many visitors remains the tubing, it is easy to avoid the party scene and use the town as a base to explore the surrounding countryside.
Note: As of 2015, the tubing and party scene in Vang Vieng is absolutely nothing like it used to be a few years ago, when there were thousands of drunk/high youngsters at the dozens of bars tubing on the river every single day. Those days are well and truly over. Now there are only 4 or 5 bars and a few hundred people a day tubing on the river.
It is rumored that the Lao government stepped in because of all the deaths and injuries happening on the river that were highly publicised in western media newspapers. So they closed almost all the riverside bars overnight to prevent Laos' international image in Vang Vieng being damaged any further.
As such, most the bars in the town of Vang Vieng itself have gone out of business and more and more close every week. Do not go to Vang Vieng expecting wild full moon parties and a huge party scene, because this just doesn't happen anymore.
That said, there are still a dozen or so bars still clinging to the town's party vibe past: Bucket booze, psytrance music, an Irish bar etc.
To many, this is a welcome change. Vang Vieng is now quieter, like it used to be before the tubing really kicked off in the mid-2000's. So you can enjoy the numerous spectacular caves, lagoons, and adventure sports in the surrounding area without the all night raves and many drunk/high tubers severely injuring or killing themselves whilst tubing.
Either way, don't be put off: Vang Vieng is one of the most beautifully scenic places in the region, if not the world, and there is plenty to do to warrant a week (or even more) here.
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 two-lane road in poor condition except for a few bumps closer to the cities, nothing to worry about. The road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang is mountainous and boasts amazing scenery as well as worthwhile glimpses of Lao village life. 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.
Buses from Vientiane cost about 50,000 kip (GBP4, €5, USD6). Minivans leave Vientiane all day and cost about 50,000 - 90,000 kip. The The Express VIP bus to Vientiane costs 70,000 kip (Sep 2016). Slower local buses to Vientiane without air conditioning run in the early morning (05:30-10:00) and cost about 40,000 kip for a 5 hour journey. The minivans and local buses leave Vientiane from the Northern Bus Station. The Northern Bus Station can be reached from the city by taking the number 8 bus, which can be flagged down along its route or can be caught at the Central Bus Station, downtown. The number 8 bus cost 5,000 kip as of September 2016.
From Luang Prabang, VIP buses booked through agents in town cost 150,000 kip and minivans cost 120,000 kip (June 2012), you can purchase tickets directly from the Southern Bus Terminal, the VIP bus is 105,000 kip and minivan via the travel agent opposite is 110,000 kip (July 2013). Many guesthouses also sell bus tickets, however, be aware that they often call the normal local bus a minibus. These local busses are much slower (can take up to 8 or 9 hours, if you are unlucky). On the bus ticket, it says that it is 85,000 kip (January 2017) and at the bus station the sign says 95,000 kip. Expect to pay around 120,000 kip, if you buy it from a guesthouse (which then includes transport to the bus station). Also included in the price is a small lunch (sandwich or rice with curry). If you're susceptible to motion sickness you'll be much better off on the slower bus than the minivan but it does mean a longer transit time. Buses from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng stop at the Northern Vang Vieng Bus Terminal which is 2km from the city centre, tuk tuk's can take you to town for 10,000 kip each. Get off at Friends bar as you come into town and explore from there otherwise your driver will take you to his/her preferred guest house.
Taxi from Vientiane airport to Vang Vieng costs USD 90 (Jan. 2015), for which one shall buy a taxi ticket. It will take 3.5 hr without traffic jam or stop.
By rental car
AVIS has locations in Vientiane (downtown only - arrange free airport pickup ahead of time) and Luang Prabang (same). If you'd like to make the scenic drive independently and be able to stop and take in the scenery, two-day one-way rentals start around $200 (~$50/day with a good promo code + $100 one-way fee) + $40 gas (for the direct route). If you have more time, you could stop by the plain of jars too, which would perhaps add another day of rental and some more gas.
Vientiane <-> Vang Vieng 3-3.5 hrs
Vang Vieng <-> Luang Prabang 4.5-5 hrs (leisurely pace with multiple scenic stops).
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. Tuk tuks will want 20.000 kip per person (Feb 2018) for the short distance into 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. Most outfits charge 20,000 kip for a day's rental, however newer bikes in excellent repair may cost slightly more.
There are few Motorcycle rentals available near the river bank and at the main street - good selection of scooters for instance at M/c Rental (across the street and about 50 m East from Whopping Burger). You can rent a small semi-automatic scooter for 40,000 (morning to evening time) - 60,000 (24 hour) kip. Some Chinese dirt bikes (small 125cc 100,000/150,000 kip or bigger 150cc 150,000/200,000 kip) can also be found. Petrol may not be included in the rental fee, so check before paying. If not included, it's an extra 10,000 kip (oct 2013) in a petrol station. Always check the condition of the bike and details of the contract before signing anything. 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 by contract 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. But somewhere is possible to rent a bike and go all the way to Vientiane if you need to make a visa run for example.
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 and surroundings are the real attractions, including the rows of limestone karst mountains across the river to provide a stunning backdrop and is the setting for some impressive caves.
- Tham Poukham - Blue Lagoon, (7 km west from town, accessible by mountain bike or motorbike). 8AM-6PM. Well signposted, with a number of other sites en route. The toll bridge in town on the way costs 10,000 kip. 10,000 kip more to enter the lagoon/cave site. The lagoon is a small pond, no more than 10m wide, and surrounded by a parking lot, vendors, and tables. On most days, it is plenty crowded, with tourists practically landing on top of each other from the rope swing. Super crowded with Laos families at the weekend, it's a nice spot for a family picnic but hardly an exciting day trip in its own right. There's a water slide - you guessed it, 10,000 kip. The cave above is decent. A modest 100 m climb up rocks and stairs. Once inside, there is a short walk to the Sleeping Golden Buddha and glimmering stalactites about 300 m further inside. Take a head torch or rent one for 10,000 kip, essential 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 probably not necessary since the path inside is well worn and marked in spots. Don't fall down the holes towards the back.
- 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 will initially only charge 10,000. However, on exit, they'll shake you down for 50,000 for the guide and 50,000 per lamp. A couple of guys carving reeds with machetes are nearby so negotiation may be difficult. Recommend avoiding. 10,000 kip for the hill, 10,000 kip for the cave, 50,000 kip for the guide, and 50,000 kip per torch..
- 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.
- Nang Oua Kham Cave, (On the way to 'Blue Lagoon' turn left after Phone Ngeun village. There is a sign to 'Nang Oua Kham Cave, 8km'. After around 4km you come to an intersection where you turn right. The sign there states it's around another 4km. After about 3km you see third sign where you turn left. The last part is a small dirt road that leads to the ticket stand. Past there you will find some new facilities and the cave.). Well worth the trip it was more adventurous feeling and much more secluded than the one at Blue Lagoon. You might feel the entrance a bit tight at first time but when you get past that most parts are easy to walk. In the end there is mud and water so be prepared with rubber boots or to soil your feet if you want to explore the entire cave. Price includes head lamp. Map cordinates 18°53'55.7"N 102°21'09.3"E. 10,000 kip.
- Tham Loub and Tham Hoi, (Heading north on Route 13 approximately 9 km north of Vang Vieng, turn left onto the road at GPS coordinates 19°01'22.1N 102°26'47.2E, just north of Phoxay village. Follow the road through some fields and across a bridge until you encounter a canal and a village. You will see signs for an “amazing” cave. At the intersection, make a right and follow the path along the canal for a while, passing the previously advertised Pha Thao cave. From here there are a couple routes, but the simplest is to continue toward the signposted water cave. Just before the water cave there is a Y-junction where you’ll want to make a left and follow this path until you come across a clearing with a pavilion and some toilets. The approximate GPS coordinates are 19°02'20.6N 102°25'25.7E.). These two caves together offer several hours of great adventuring away from the more commonly visited caves nearer to Vang Vieng. While Tham Loub offers some impressive columns and a lovely, albeit short, walk, Tham Hoi will likely occupy most of your time. A large Buddha statue sits just inside the entrance, and, continuing past it, you can walk along the relatively flat path for 10-15 minutes until the cave narrows considerably, after which you will need to be prepared to get wet and muddy on your hands and knees to continue. Depending on your pace, you can spend a good 2-3 hours exploring the cave to the end, enjoying some impressive flowstone formations along the way. And while the corridors are fairly flat, some areas will require a bit of scrambling as well as squeezing through narrow openings on your belly. Bring a headlamp and batteries. If you arrive before 5 pm, you may encounter some locals near the entrances demanding 10,000 kip for a headlamp and the right to continue. While this is typical for Laos, be aware that, after paying, someone may accompany you into Tham Hoi unsolicited and lead you in for a few minutes before demanding 30,000-50,000 more for his “guide” services and announcing that you’ll head out. He shows you absolutely nothing you could not discover on your own, so if you wish to avoid this unnecessary fee as well as discourage this kind of dishonest behavior from locals, politely but firmly tell him you don’t want a guide. Arrive after 5 pm to avoid the locals entirely. 10,000 kip. (19°02'20.6N,102°25'25.7E)
Vang Vieng bar with rope swing on tubing route
- Tubing, (There is an office in downtown Vang Vieng that now monopolizes all tube rentals. They will rent you the tube and organize transportation up the river a few miles.). From around midday to 14:00 is reasonable to go because earlier everyone else would be still asleep. What was probably once a lovely experience has been more or less tainted by hordes of drugged out young foreigners with infected mosquito bites desperately consuming whatever alcohol or drugs can be found. Nowadays there are five bars all congregated at the very beginning of the river and no more swings or slides seem to be up. 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, but be warned that the place will keep 20,000 kip if you arrive past 6pm. Also DO NOT hand over your tube or ticket without receiving your deposit as the place will take everyone's tickets at once, cash out a few people, and then claim they've "already" given you your money. Generally untrustworthy people all around, probably better just to go down river with your own flotation device you can buy in a nearby shop. Best not to deal with the tuktuk drivers near the last bar if you can help it, either. 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. You can look at the magnificent view of the mountains rising directly beside the river, but 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. 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 strong 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 or to die on the way. During rainy season there is more water in the river and eye infections are common. Also, when you get back to town, please respect the local culture and wear more clothing than your swimming suit or bikinis only. 55000 kip for the Tube + 60,000 kip deposit.
- Lao-style steam sauna. It's small like a toilet. And like a toilet divided into two parts-for men and women. Pairs with the smell of herbs (lemon grass). Wash under running water on the street. 20.000 kip.
- Kayaking the river. This covers the same part of the river as tubing (and a more untouched part further upriver). Kayaking trip can include a quite exciting swim on the tube through a cave situated about 15 km from Vang Vieng and lunch. Some of the caves takes more than an hour to walk through, with bats and other animals. A kayaking trip from 9:00 - 16:00 including swim on the tube trough a cave and lunch costs 120,000 kip (feb 2015).
- Watch movies. The US TV-series Friends is shown at many restaurants, and seems to be very popular with the younger party crowd.
- Uncle Toms Trails, 2 (located now at Ban Naxou,Kasi,55km north of Vang Vieng town), ☎ 856 (0)2029958903 ([email protected]). Uncle Toms is a dirt bike tour operator offering tours of the beautiful trails around Kasi District. All new bikes, 125cc four stroke trail bikes.geared up to teach total beginners and packages for overnight. Prices are very reasonable,full day training now available with advanced bookings,amazing mountain setting now, please book ahead as only small groups catered for,Kasi is a non touristic town,real Laos..accommodation available and can be included in a package with the training.
- 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.
- Rock climbing. There are walls suitable for first timers and professionals. The established climbing outfits in town are Adam's Climbing School (N18° 55.355 E102° 26.784) 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.
- Teach English to rural kids with EEFA, (Phoudindaeng Village, 4km north of downtown; office is located at Vang Vieng Organic Farm), ☎ 020 78008555, . Equal Education For All (EEFA) believes that in order to improve the system we must start by improving it locally. EEFA believes in building from the bottom up one village at a time. Volunteer teachers are always welcome since there is always shortage of teachers. A minimum stay of one month is ideal but if you can only stay for a couple of days, it's better than nothing. Look for Alex at the Vang Vieng Organic Farm or send a message to Equal Education For All on Facebook.
- 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.
- FruitFriends, ([email protected]), . A transparent organisation providing volunteer the opportunity to immerse in Lao society. FruitFriends profits are used to execute community activities, building schools, set-up youth movement, English classes, ... If you want to participate in a transparent organisation respecting its staff and following the law on labor FruitFriends is the place to be. More information on their website www.fruitfriendslaos.org
- Zipline (Vang Vieng Adrenaline), Tham Nam Cave (10km north of Vang Vieng), ☎ +856 20 5503 3665. Opens 09:00. Newly opened at Tham Nam (The Water Cave) is a western standard series of ziplines. A world away from the ziplines of old at the tubing bars. Set above the Water Cave it offers tourists a chance to venture into the countryside away from the bars. You can visit Elephant Cave & the Water Cave, swim and tube inside the cave and of course soar through the jungle.
- Mountain Biking. One of the best ways to get around Vang Vieng and the surround villages is by mountain bike. Many outfits in town rent Giant bicycles for around 20,000 kip. There are three main treks to do in the area by bike. The most common is the ride out to Blue Lagoon and back, which goes along a fairly flat (but bumpy) dirt road west of town. Another trek is a 30km flat loop through the villages west of the Nam Song river, which also takes riders past Blue Lagoon and numerous caves. More adventurous riders can take an eastern loop, which goes over rolling hills. Fortunately, all three are extremely scenic. To best guide yourself, purchase the highly detailed "Hobo Map" of Vang Vieng, available at many hostels and guesthouses for around 20,000 kip.
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 many 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. But some reports that use VISA with no problem. BCEL-bank give a poor rate. LDB-bank give better.
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.
"Happy" or drug-filled delicacies are only offered at two or three restaurants now. Vang Vieng is much less wild than it once was.
- Sae Lao Restaurant,. 500 meters before Blue Lagoon n°1. Local food, mains from 15-45k in April 2018. The restaurant is part of a project supporting education for kids from nearby villages. Staff works here to learn english and are happy to discuss with you if you want to.
- Vangvieng Thai / Happy Mango, (next door to Sakura Bar). Very good Thai food, extensive menu, mains from 25-55k in Feb 2018. Service is charming and attentive.
- Viman Thai German, The owner lived in Germany for 34 years and makes a terrific pork schnitzel (60k for regular size / 100k for giant size in Feb 2018). Thai curry also comes highly recommended. Slightly wider selection of beers than most places.
- 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 is now called Milan Pizza, . Food and drinks from as little as £1. Steak+drink for 30,000 kip, curry+drink 15,000 kip.
- 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 Lao chef recommends the Korean BBQ, but also has a nice Korean menu and hotpot (including a vegetarian variant). 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.
- Bamboo Tree Bar & Restaurant, (18.925137,102.449137) Offers a large menu with a wide variety of dishes from pizzas and pastas to authentic laos dishes and milkshakes. Happy Hour is from 6pm-10pm. Restaurant also offers free wifi (pw: 7766556688).
- The Green Restaurant, (Next to the bamboo bridge toward the island. In front of Aussie Bar), ☎ 020 28 608 030. 6:30am - 11pm. Large menu with western and laos food for decent price. Great for breakfast. Serving can be a bit slow when busy. Great view over the river. 20-50,000 kips (2017).
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.
There are 4 main bars open along the river, the rest who did not have connections were abandoned (the 2nd bar is owned by the chief of police). Drugs are not sold along these river bars however balloons (nitrous oxide) are. There are a few local bars open further down the river but are pretty empty, if they have anyone in them at all. Tubing groups depart at 11am, 12pm, 1pm. You rent a tube from one of the two local tube places (owned by the same company/police). You pay more than you should for a tube and they say that you will get your security deposit back if you return the tube by 6:00 PM. You take a tuk-tuk with your tube to the first bar, Bar Zero. You drink there for a little bit, until it starts getting crowded, then people start to make their way to the river and tube to the next bar. This bar is very close to the starting bar and has a huge open area to hang out in. The following bar (Bar Two) is the most fun bar of the four. There is a basketball court with water shooting out of the backboards, and there art sculptures everywhere. You then get in a tube and go to the last bar. By this time, it is around 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM. Don't bother leaving for the town after 5:15 PM. If you do try to make it to town before the 6:00 PM deadline to get your tube deposit back, you are out of luck. The tuk-tuk drivers make sure you don't get back in time. They then split the profits with the tube company. Just enjoy the bar and come back after 6:00 PM, when the bar starts to die down. Avoid the stress and know from the beginning that you aren't getting your deposit back. It's a great time, just enjoy the river.
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. These are sold at the bars if you ask for them. The only things that aren't there anymore are the death swings, death slides, and zip lines. If the water level is too low, these activities wouldn't be happening anyway. You would be surprised how shallow the water is at parts.
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.
- Sakura Bar, In the village centre, ☎ +856 20 78008555 ([email protected]), . Popular backpacker party bar jointly managed by a Lao-Filipino couple. The bar is famous for its 'drink triple, see double, act single' vests sported by backpackers across Southeast Asia which you can get for free for every purchase of two vodka drinks. Cheapest cocktails in town, and they do free whiskey cocktails from 8 to 9pm. Currently, it is the busiest nightspot in town with beer pongs, dance floor and happy hour promos every night. (18.925228,102.448773)
- The Kangaroo Sunset Bar, Next to New Bridge, River Road., ☎ +856 20 7714291. Australian and Laos co-owners, excellent service, and they usually give a free cocktail on arrival. Free T-shirts with the name of bar if you buy a cocktail. Free barbeque (mostly vegetable) at evening time. BeerLao is cheapest in town at 15k kip or 10k during happy hour (in shop 10k). Pool table, beer pong, dart board, laughing gas, organized games most nights. Half of all profits are donated to charities and volunteer organizations such as COPE Vientiane and SAELAO Project where co-owner Rhino also volunteers.
- Gary's Irish bar, ☎ +856 20 7928266 ([email protected]). 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. However, be warned about the extremely loud music played at night time! Earblugs recommended.
- Warm Up Bar ("), (down the road from the tubing offices, near the island on the same road as otherside and banana restaraunts), . A new bar in town with a great selection of well made cocktails and free shots with every drink. A great place to hang out before heading to the clubs. Offer a free mojito between 8 and 9 and also have free pool and beer pong tables.
- Room 101, (On the main road through town. Down a path next to Milan Pizza). Open from midnight on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. One of the two clubs in town that alternate the days they are open. Room 101 offers good DJ's playing electro and breaks till the early hours.
- Viva Vang Vieng, (On the main road through town opposite Room 101). Open on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Open on the opposite days to Room 101. Viva offers commercial dance music through the night. Big dance floor, inside and outside bars and a pool table. Has free beer inside and free whiskey drinks outside from 9 to 11 pm.
- Jungle Project, (2km outside of town. Free tuk-tuks available from town centre). Open every Friday from 10pm. A big outdoors party with similar music to Room 101. Gets busy after midnight with fire show from 1am. 30,000k entrance charge.
- Smile Beach Bar, (On the island, entrance opposite Aussie Bar.). Beach bar with fruit shakes, great burgers and drinks. Chill-out music during the day, with hammocks, free stationary tubing, volleyball and petanque. Pop/dance music by night with a dance floor and a large campfire.
- Moon Bar, (On the other side of the old airstrip). A club for locals on the other side of the airstrip They play Dnb, dubstep and pop. Open from 11:30 till 4ish, depending on the numbers.
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".
Spicy Laos Guesthouse is a bit hard to find, it is all the way down the road with the tubing.
- 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. Approximately 20 minute walk from the center. The neighboaring Karaoke is guaranteed to put a smile on your face - up to the moment you realise that is was not just one Chinese/Lao 'artist' that sings thát off-tune - it's all of them. Luckily, the abondance of noise seems to kill shortly after 10pm, after which a quiet night should be possible untill the first enthousiasts start off-singing again some time after lunch.
- 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, . At the heart of Vang Vieng just metres away from Bus stop, bars and markets. This new Hostel offers spacious and clean rooms (doubles, twins, triples and dorms) with safety lockers and balconys with great views of the surroundings. The Restaurant with attached Bar offers some tasty food and cheap drinks (Beers, Buckets & Cocktails). The friendly English speaking staff is always there to help you out. Big chill-out area with games of dart, drinking related activities and regular screening of TV shows & live sports. Great place to meet people. Free Wifi, but extremely slow or nonfunctional at times. Dorms from 30.000 kip / Doubles/Twins 80.000 Kip / Triples 120.000 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 protected]). 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, free tea and coffee. June 2015: this guesthouse is currently under construction. May 2017: 40,000 kips for a bed in dorm & 100,000 kips for a private room. free breakfast between 7-10 a.m. (omelette, pancake, banana, baguette, jam, butter, coffee and tea) and free Lao whiskey after 17.30 until when a dozen of bottles finish.
- Dokboua Guesthouse, (In fromt of BCEL bank). Clean nice rooms. Free Wi-Fi in rooms. Free coffee and tea. Double fan room with private bathroom 80,000 kip (Jan 2018). from 60,000.
- 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 ([email protected]), . Guest house with spacious bright rooms on the quiet end of Vang Vieng village, but still within walking distance of the town center 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. All the rooms have a veranda or a secured balcony with mountain views. Free WiFi and complimentary breakfast is available in all rooms and throughout the guest house. Water, coffee, tea and bananas, pickup service are all free. from 70,000-130,000 Kip. (18.916441,102.446126)
- 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. May 2017: 80,000 kips for a fan room. 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.
- Sengkeo Guesthouse, (South end of town a block past Wat Si Sou Mang). Family-run guesthouse, nice and quiet (roosters rather than techno) and chill atmosphere, wifi, hot water and tea station. A ranch-style row of nice, basic rooms facing a lovely garden. One person staying in a fan-cooled room with two twin beds, ensuite bathroom was 87,000 kip in Jan 2018. ".
- 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 protected]), . 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 soap 25,000-50,000 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 Backpackers Guesthouse, (On the island). checkout: 11:00. Located on the island, guesthouse has a nice big rooms.
- 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. Email: [email protected] US$110-US$170. (18.920739490385518,102.44478464126587)
- Rock Backpacker Hostel. New budget hostel (January 2017). There are mixed and female only dorms with (very nice) shared bathrooms and private rooms with attached bathrooms. All rooms include breakfast (omelette, fried or scrambled eggs or jam & butter with bread, bananas, hot drinks). It is a bit north of Peeping Som's on the main road. Its comfort level and facilities are very similar to a nice European hostel. The bar has a pool table and lots of games, however, the drinks are pricey (big bottle of beerlao for 15,000 kip). dorm from 5 USD.
- Roungnakhon Hotel, (Across the Street from Tube Rentals), ☎ +856 023 511 679, . Recently opened, this modern, no frills hotel boasts 110 rooms in a very central location. Grand Opening promotions running, with free breakfast and wifi thrown in. The rooms facing the Karsts have great views. (18.926390,102.446944)
- Bountang Guesthouse. Great prices on very clean rooms. The surrounding views are stunning, free WiFi. 60.000k. (+18° 55' 42.36,+02° 26' 51.33)
- Many Guesthouse. Big double room with en suite shower and balcony with stunning mountain view next to smile beach bar and across the river from the green restaurant price updated 2018 100,000.
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 strong 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 (red in color) and smokeable forms. Formerly legal in Thailand as a way for longhall lorry 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.
- Luang Prabang and Vientiane are normally the next stop, depending on the direction you're heading in. In both cases remember, as always, to not leave anything valuable in your luggage, the bus staff has a plenty of time to go through your things, and they do.
- 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.
Cheap tickets for all the destinations can be bought at the MART (local supermarket) instead of all the different companies on the street (that charge up to 60,000kip more).
All the companies use the same bus company settled in Vientiane (not available for booking during bank holidays).
Vang Vieng Bus Station
|| Departs hours
|| Approximate price (kip)
|| Duration (hours)
|| Last update
||Every 20 min'
|Vientiane (Local bus)
|Luang Prabang (MiniVan)
|Luang Prabang (VIP / Coach Bus)
Internet speed and reliability is variable but not bad by Laos standards. Most guesthouses and restaraunts offer free wifi. Buy yourself a Laos SIM card with data for 50,000 kip or less.
|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!