Top Things to do in Vang Vieng, Laos
If you look up online, you will find that Vang Vieng is termed more as a party place. It was a backpacker’s paradise where young foreigners come to spend days frolicking in the river and nights on a hammock watching ‘Friends’ or ‘Sienfield’ in a loop in the common rooms.
It could have been true, but I did not see any of it. I visited Vang Vieng in 2022, and it was just a small little beautiful town in the Lao countryside. There were some remnants of its wild past, but it looked like a slightly devastated person waiting for its lover to return.
But the beauty of Vang Vieng is incomparable. The most iconic feature is this range of sharp tropical mountains that fade away in layers with the distance. Maybe something like Guilin (But I don’t know yet). Add a lazy river and miles of paddy fields filled with water. It was stunning.
If you are planning to visit Vang Vieng in Laos, you need a lot more information.
Travelling to Laos? Check out our Laos travel itinerary from 5 days to 4 weeks
Why is Vang Vieng Popular
As I mentioned above, Vang Vieng slowly became popular with young backpackers after Laos opened up for tourism in 1991. With time, tourists kept flooding in, and the locals participated with facilities and the town expanded.
To summarize, Vang Vieng became a party paradise where backpackers came for all-night parties, drink, danced, shared drugs openly and mostly chilled during the night. During the day, they flocked to the river for activities like tubing, diving and kayaking.
Things became grim when a number of deaths were reported due to unsafe and unassisted adventure activities like diving and tubing. Nevertheless, during the last decade, the number of backpackers decreased as the town along with southeast Asia looked for more upscale tourism.
After the pandemic, only a shadow of the old town is left. I think it is way more beautiful with a quieter town, empty valley and clear paddy field for miles. You must visit this place when in Laos.
How to reach Vang Vieng
There is no operational airport at Vang Vieng. So you cannot take a flight. Here is what you can do to reach Vang Vieng.
I will be honest, it was hard to get the bus schedule from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng.
If you are in Luang Prabang, head to Naluang International Bus Station, southwest of the city. The scheduled times of departure for the daily bus are 9.00 am, 10.00 am and 2.00 pm. But it’s best to check out yourself since a lot more could be available in a day. Also, it changes a lot depending upon the demand.
If you are travelling from Vientiane, head over to the Central Bus Station to check for the buses to Vang Vieng. In fact, all buses heading to Luang Prabang will cross Vang Vieng, so you can take the same one (do check at the counter).
Try and head out to the bus station at least a day before to know the schedule. Get a ticket asap. Weekends are usually very busy and tickets get sold out soon. You can also check at your hotel reception if they can help with the booking. Don’t expect too much for service. Buses are really basic. Carry some food and a water bottle for the journey.
Minivan is a very common mode of transportation inside Laos. Other than being more frequent, they are also way faster than buses and they pick you up from your hotel. Although I have to say, the driver tries to squeeze people in the last inch available inside the minivan. So it gets super cramped. If you want more leg space, buses are a better option.
If you are travelling from Luang Prabang, head over to Naluang International Bus Station. You can get a ticket at a counter opposite the bus station. Minivans are more frequent, but they also get filled fast on a weekend. It took us around 6 hours for the journey from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. The good thing is that they picked us up at our hotel. You can also ask your hotel to book a minivan for you.
If you are travelling from Vientiane, head over to the Northern Bus Terminal in Vientiane for a minivan. I am not sure if they pick up tourists from the hotel. But you can get minivans to several destinations in northern Laos from here. It takes around 2 hours via the new expressway from Vientiane to Vang Vieng.
The brand new high-speed railway has been a relief to tourists in this region. The railway service is financed by China and is a state-of-the-art facility. You can cover the distance from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng in 2.5 hours (that takes around 6 hours by road). Similarly, it takes about 2 hours from Vientiane by train.
The downside is, that you still cannot book a ticket online (it’s 2022, and things may change in future). You will either have to visit the railway station within 3 days of your travel to get a ticket or get it via an agent. Since the railway stations are located way outside the city, it’s easier to get it via an agent.
The railway station in Luang Prabang is around 12km outside the city. The distance is 13 km in Vientiane. In Vang Vieng, it is just 5km outside the town. You should be able to get a tuk-tuk from the station to the city centre and vice versa.
I am not entirely sure about the ticket prices either. But it’s not extremely different from the minivan prices. A premium berth from Vientiane to Vang Vieng was 250,000Kip (as I remember). But there are several types of coaches and prices vary for each. Check at least with a couple of agents to get a good deal.
How to go around in Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng town is small enough to cover on foot if you are staying in the centre of the town. In fact, if you are going out partying or drinking at night, it’s best to do it on foot. All the bars and restaurants are within a walking distance. Even a few temples inside the town can also be covered on foot.
But there is another stretch of Vang Vieng on the other side of the Nam Xong River that will need wheels. This is where you can really enjoy the beautiful views of paddy fields with mountain ranges in the background. As you travel further, there are a few more places like lagoons and viewpoints that you can enjoy.
For that, you can either rent a bike/bicycle in the town. A motorbike costs 150,000kip per day as rent. Or you can hire a tuk-tuk for half a day to take you around. There are also many tour operators that offer tour packages that would include some of these points.
Where to stay in Vang Vieng
The best place to stay in Vang Vieng is at the centre of the town. You can access restaurants, bars, shops, tour operators, bike rental places etc from there even on foot. It is also close to the minivan/bus station.
We stayed at Vansana Hotel which is right next to the river overlooking it and the view from our balcony was beautiful. I will definitely recommend it.
Here are a few other hotels inside the town that you may like:
However, if you are looking for something quiet and natural, you can also explore a place on the other side. You can witness lovely morning views and more relaxed life. It would be easier if you have a vehicle to travel around. Check out these hotels in the countryside:
Best things to do in Vang Vieng
Enjoy a Blue Lagoon
Vang Vieng has several small lagoons or water bodies that have been converted into thriving tourist areas. You can grab a life jacket and jump into the turquoise blue water using a rope (like Tarzan). The water does get muddy during the rainy season. The bigger ones also have rafts and kayaks available along with ATVs. This is a great place to stop on a hot day.
There are around 6 lagoons in the area. All of these are located on the west side of the river. Some of the lagoons even have a zipline. The entrance fee is 10,000Kip. You can also buy food and drinks in the area. Blue Lagoon 1 also has a cave next to it that you can explore and blue Lagoon 3 has a small beautiful waterfall nearby.
Find great views at Viewpoints
There are some fantastic viewpoints to the west of the river. You will definitely need a vehicle to reach all these places. Then park it at the base. From there, there is a much more difficult hike to the top. There is definitely some infrastructure but you will still have to make your way through fallen rocks and crevices. The climb is definitely worth it.
Here are three popular viewpoints:
Pha Ngern Cliff Viewpoint
There are two different levels of viewpoints. The hike to the first stop is around 30 minutes and then 40 minutes to the second one. The hike to the second one is extremely steep. So if you have any health conditions, take precautions.
Carry plenty of water with you. If you start your hike after 2 pm, also carry a flashlight/torch since it will get dark by the time you return. But honestly try and avoid the dark. You need to pay 10,000kip per person to enter the base.
Nam Xay Viewpoint
This is the viewpoint with a motorbike on top that you can take fantastic photos with. It is a much easier hike than the one before but still quite steep. Takes about 30 minutes to the top. It can also get slippery during the wet season. But the views from the top are equally beautiful. You need to pay 10,000kip per person at the base.
Phapoungkham Cave and Viewpoint
This is the last viewpoint on this trail. It has two caves to start with. You climb through cave 1 to go to cave 2. The climb through cave 2 is more difficult than cave 1. You can complimentary flashlights at the entrance when you pay 10,000kip to enter. If there is a tour guide, they accompany you as well.
Check out local temples
If you are in southeast Asia, you cannot skip town without stopping at some of the local temples. You don’t need to go out of your way to visit these temples since there isn’t any special significance. But you can always stop during your evening stroll. I was really attracted to this statue in lovely bright colours. Seems like one of the characters from Ramayana.
Love Heritage Sites? Checkout our travel blog to Luang Prabang, Laos
Wat Si Sou Mang
Explore Tham Chang Caves
While there are quite a few caves in the area, Tham Chang Caves are the biggest and the most popular. They are also developed with colourful lights and a bit of infrastructure around it. Tham Chang caves are just a little south of the town. You will need to cross the river to reach the caves.
Earlier, there used to be an orange bridge connecting the caves to the town. The Namsong bridge was also a tourist attraction. But when we were there, the bridge collapsed and you couldn’t use it anymore. There was a free ferry ride that you can take that was fun. You need to pay 15,000kip per person to enter as a foreign tourist.
The walk to the caves is about 10 minutes and there is another 10 minutes of climb. The caves are really nice and spacious. They are lit up in nice colourful lights. Since it was raining that day, we could feel the dampness all over. I have seen bigger caves in Thailand (see Tham Lod Caves), but this one was good too.
Kaeng Nyui Waterfalls
Kaeng Nyui is probably the only waterfall in the area worth visiting. But during the dry season, even this may turn out to be a disappointment. However, it is full and thriving during the wet season. There is only the issue of reaching it.
The waterfall is not very far from the town on the east side. But after a while, the roads vanish and what is left is a muddy trail, so could get hard to navigate during the rainy season.
The water is really cool and refreshing at the end. You can take up your swimsuit for a bath. There aren’t many tourists here, so you will probably find it all to yourself. The entrance is 10,000kip.
Vang Vieng Inter Park
If you wish to take up another adventure, you can also head west of the river towards this unknown place called Inter park. Similar to a blue lagoon, it also has a lot of space, greenery and water for people and kids to relax.
But the road to the place is not developed and it can get very slippery after the rains. The park itself is a good place to enjoy.
It has a lot of animal sculptures of elephants and different types of dinosaurs meant to attract kids. There are a few shops selling food and drink. The entry for adults is 10,000kip and it’s free for kids.
Activities in Vang Vieng
If you have heard something of tubing in Vang Vieng, chances are, it’s all in the past now. Vang Vieng thrived on the tubing. Backpackers from western countries flocked to Vang Vieng to do this along with other stuff like swinging on the river, death slides etc. With little supervision, this resulted in around 2 dozen deaths every year. So after 2012, the local authorities decided to take action.
Today, you can still do tubing, but it is more supervised and safer. You can just get a tube or buy a package tour from one of the tour operators in the town and they will take care of everything. You go upto a point in the river, throw yourself over the tubes and enjoy the lazy river. On some tours, you can also pass through the water caves on tubes.
If you are tubing by yourself, the cost of the tube for the day is 80,000kip. This includes a 20,000kip refundable amount but you need to return your tube before 8 pm. The operator will also give you a free shared songthaew ride to the start point. The whole experience will take you between 3-5 hours. To read more check out Tasha’s blog on tubing in Vang Vieng.
Kayaking covers around the same part of the river as tubing. You can book a kayaking activity with a tour operator. Or you can head over to the local shops and ask the price for only kayaking as an activity. You also get life jackets. Can say it’s well covered.
The tour starts in the morning travelling upto 30km north of Vang Vieng. There you check out a Lao village along with elephants and the water cave. You do the water caves on tubes. Sometimes the tour includes a local lunch as well. And after that, you hop onto your kayak and travel down the river to Vang Vieng. It is a guided tour and you get a bit of culture squeezed into it.
Check out these tours that you can book online beforehand as well:
With great structural mountains in Vang Vieng, rock climbing is also a very unique activity, although it is still not extremely popular for regular tourists. You will need some help to look around and find the best spots in town for rock climbing even if you have a lot of experience.
On the other hand, you will need a lot of guidance if you are a beginner. Adam’s Climbing School in Vang Vieng is very popular with rock climbing enthusiasts and has great reviews. Adam also has a rich experience rock climbing in Asia and getting certified. You can explore from half day to 3 days courses with them. Equipment is included.
You can also book this activity online:
Hot Air Ballooning
It is easy to spot a hot air balloon during the early morning or the evening hours around Vang Vieng. I thought it was beautiful. So we decided to take a ride. And as I was sharing this with other people, they said that hot air ballooning is probably the cheapest in the world at Vang Vieng.
There are two places in Vang Vieng where you can experience it. One is on the east side of the town by Balloon over Vang Vieng which costs USD80 per person. The other one is on the west side towards the countryside Above Laos that costs USD 100 per person. We took the second one.
Our experience was fantastic. They picked us up from our hotel, severed tea and then we started our ride for around 1.5 hours in the sky. The aerial view of Vang Vieng is to die for. After then we came back to a really nice and simple breakfast along with some champagne. I will definitely recommend it!
Zip Lining, ATV
Ziplining and ATV are usually addon activities that you can find as a package along with other activities. Ziplining is also available at lagoons, parks and Tham Nam caves. I wouldn’t say there is any extensive series of Zip lining around, but short rides are available at a lot of places.
Similarly, you can get ATVs for rent at many places that offer adventure activities. It is especially great during the wet season to explore the nearby areas when the pathways are muddly and it’s hard to drive. You can either book this with a tour operator as part of a package or do it directly at the venue.
Here is an experience that offers ziplining and optional cave exploration option:
Best time to visit Vang Vieng
Best time - Winter (November to February)
The winter months are the best time to visit Vang Vieng and surrounding areas. The days are usually cool but the nights can get even colder. The temperature in November, January and February hover between 20-25°C. Vang Vieng is full and brimming with tourists during the winter months.
It drops further in December ranging from 14-20°C that are comfortable and the wind is really pleasant. The skies are clear and the chances of rain are low. I would say October isn’t really bad as well since the temperature is still not too high and rainfall is usually low.
Great time - Monsoon (June to September)
I think the monsoon is a fantastic time to visit most of the places in southeast Asia. The good thing is that it usually never rains the whole day so you can still go out and explore. But you should have enough time on your hands to change your plans. The town is really quite empty during this time.
I loved Laos in general during the monsoon season. But I think it will fairly difficult to experience the outdoor activities during this time. The flow of the water is slightly stronger but since the river is not too deep or fast, this should also be okay.
Roads to many places are muddy and get inaccessible, so you need to make do with them. But the view in Vang Vieng with full paddy fields is absolutely beautiful.
Bad time - Summer (March to May)
Summers are quite hot in Laos. When the dry spell is long, forest fires also become a threat. The temperature starts rising in late February and is there till the monsoon arrives. The temperature hovers between 20-35°C. Travelling outdoors will be difficult and tiring unless you love the sun.
If you do decide to be here in summer, make sure you are well hydrated. Keep indoors during the afternoon and take advantage of early morning and cooler evening hours to enjoy the outdoors.