Vang Vieng in Laos

Categories Laos, Southeast Asia2 Comments

Having read so many reviews which advised us to miss this town out we were not very excited to be heading here. However, we were meeting up with an old friend who had opened a hostel in Vang Vieng (Easy Go Backpacker Hostel) so we added a few days to the itinerary.

Now, it’s true that the town itself is not attractive and there are a lot of bars, but all you have to do is lift your eyes above the rooftops and you see giant green hills or you can jump on a bike to explore the stunning scenery.

We ended up really enjoying our time here.

What we did… 

Balloon ride ($90 pp):

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This is offered at every tour agent and hotel in town at $90 per person with no room for haggling. We decided to do this as it was something we had always wanted to try but it had always been too expensive. Though the price was still steep, we felt it was probably the cheapest way to give it a go.

It was great fun watching the huge colourful balloons fill with hot air and, as we were going second, we got to watch the group before us sail off into the sky.

We then eagerly piled into our basket and had our own Wizard of Oz moment as it began to rise. There were about eight of us in the basket and this gave us just enough space to shift places to take pictures.

The views were incredible and allowed us to see the layout of the town and the countryside beyond:

The only issue was that the ride was around 40 minutes and it felt that as soon as we had got up we were heading back down again.

Overall, it was a lot of money for the amount of time we actually spent in the air so we would only recommend doing this if it is something you had always wanted to try but not to bother if you are in two minds about it.

Partying:

We went along on a group pub crawl with Easy Go Backpacker Hostel which took us from bar to bar keeping up with the happy hour in each one where free drinks were available. We have no idea how the bars make their money as there were enough bars that there were free drinks on offer up until midnight and we did not spend a signal penny.

The bars all had different vibes and music and although people were drinking a lot it seemed pretty tame compared to the stories we had heard and we had a really good night.

As an alternative to club music we spent our other evenings at Gary’s Irish Bar. The food was so good (they had pies and stew and beans on toast!) and they had great live music and a pool table.

Tubing:

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Tubing down the river

Tubing – the famous activity of Vang Vieng. We went in a group and hired our Tubes from the Yellow Tubing company in town. It cost 55,000 kip per person and we had to leave a deposit which we got back by returning before 7pm. You also have to sign a waiver incase anything goes wrong!

Stage 1 of the tubing experience – the bars:

There are 3 bars right at the start of the river where the Tuk-Tuk drops you off, it is a short 5-minute tube ride to the first one (and then again to the second and third). The staff throw ropes into the water with water bottles on the end which you have to grab on to be pulled up to the bank (if you miss it then it is too late).

At the time that we got there (it was early afternoon) these bars were already crazy. Now, we like to go out and have a drink but this was on a whole other level. Think girls dancing on tables and wrestling in mud in bikinis and a Chinese guy who rocks up with fancy dress and body paint (apparently, he has tubed 11 times doing this same thing).

Needless to say, the majority of people in these bars did not even make it to stage two and grabbed Tuk-Tuks back to town so only actually tubed for about 15 minutes!

Having done the trip as a group we stayed at these bars longer than we wanted as we figured we would all get to the tubing part of the day at some point. However, we eventually we split off to do this on our own as we were not sure how long it would take to get to the end and didn’t want to drink more than a beer or two going down a big river.

Stage 2 of the tubing experience – the river:

The scenery was amazing from the river and it was a very relaxing experience most of the time and at times we were joined by children swimming in the river. We ended up going along with a few other people which was nice as it would have felt odd for it to be just the two of us bobbing past tourist boats (the other way to see the river) and fisherman.

A few things you might want to know before making a decision whether to tube:

  • There were a few times that the water levels were too low and we had to push ourselves over rocks when we got stuck. This wasn’t an enjoyable part of the journey but dies not always happen as water levels are higher at other times of the year.
  • In other places there were rocks sticking out of the water that we had to navigate around.
  • The current was fast in some places and non-existent in others so be prepared to paddle with your arms and legs.
  • Leave plenty of time – It took us 3 hours and we still did not make it right back into Vang Vieng town. It was not clear at any point how far there was to go (several bridges had 2 km painted on them though there was 20 minutes of floating between them!) and as it was getting close to sunset having set out later than we had hoped we decided to grab one of the few Tuk-Tuks we saw along the riverside for the 15-minute ride back into town.

Other activities: 

We ran out of time so did not experience these personally, but Travel Fish give a good overview of these:

Getting there… 

It was a simple task of walking in to one of the many agencies in Luang Prabang and booking a minibus for 125,000 kip per person. A Tuk-Tuk drove us to the South Bus Terminal and we hopped on the air-conditioned bus for the 4 hours it took to get to Vang-Vieng.

The drive itself was smooth and we had great views in the mountains, but it was an interesting journey with one passenger high as a kite and offering the driver magic mushrooms (who thankfully refused) and changing clothes on the way!

The bus stopped just outside of town at the station and we jumped on a shared Tuk-Tuk into the town. Rather than get off in the centre of town we headed close to the river with some other travellers to where we knew our friends hostel was based.

Getting around…

It is well worth grabbing a bicycle (20,000 kip) or a moped (60,000 kip) and touring the beautiful countryside or heading to some of the attractions on the outskirts (Kaeng Nyui Waterfall, Phablets Poak). You can rent these from lots of places around town. There a few petrol stations on the edge of town, just make sure the pump is set on zero before they fill up. We found the roads to be in good shape and the traffic manageable.

Where we stayed…

We did not stay at Easy Go Hostel as it only offered dorm rooms (though we spent a lot of time socialising here) so instead we booked in to Riverside Garden Bungalows which was next door and this had a wonderful view which we enjoyed with a cold beer on our porch.

Unable to stay there the next night, we moved on to Domon Guest House which had a room on a higher level and a balcony giving great views of the sunset.

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Sunset in Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is not that big, so all of these places were within easy walking distance of restaurants and bars but gave a quite night’s sleep (there were lots of other hostels and guest houses around them).

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