Vang Vieng: no tubing, no drugs, but beautiful moutains

View from our guesthouse in Vang Vieng
We heard about Vang Vieng long before arriving there. The town has a reputation as wild South East Asian party place. Or better, used to have. In the early 2000s, between 30 and 60 backpackers died there each year. The combination of tubing in a shallow river, cheap booze and drugs, and young, careless backpackers proofed often fatal. The absence of medical facilities worth their name (the closest hospital with Western standards is in Bangkok) doesn't help either.

Luckily for us, the whole tubing and partying is much more low key today. The Lao government issued some regulations and cracked down on the local drug trade. Only three of the previously over 20 bars along the river are still operating. It is still possible to get all kinds of drugs, including mushroom and opium shakes, but nowadays you have to actively seek them. They're not openly on the menu any more.

Cycling in the countryside
Lisa and I went to Vang Vieng mainly because of the beautiful mountains and nature surrounding the town. We found a nice guesthouse called Jamee on the southern edge of town, about ten or twelve minutes walking from the center of Vang Vieng. We were happy to walk there after the bumpy five hour ride on twisty roads from Vientiane. The room we got for 17 USD (14 EUR) a night including a large and delicious breakfast was decent, but the best feature of the guesthouse was undeniably the lounge/breakfast area. Extremely comfortable cushions with a breathtaking view on the neighboring rice fields and the rocky peaks in the background.

Inside the cave
Even though a lot of people recommended us the tubing, we decided to skip this. Instead, we rented two mountain bikes to explore the surrounding area for 35'000 LAK (3.5 EUR) for two days. We heard the blue lagoon was nice, so we cycled there. A quite rocky and rough seven kilometers, but the scenery along the whole way was stunning. Tall limestone mountains covered by lush forests and surrounded by brightly green rice fields.

We left our bikes opposite the blue lagoon - the water is really an intense blue due to some minerals - paid the 10'000 LAK (1 EUR) entrance fee and decided to visit the local cave first (included in the entrance fee). It's possible to rent torches there, but we brought our own. The path to the entrance of the cave is is a steep climb, but it is well maintained, so no problem there. The cave itself was a great experience. While the first big hall gets a lot of daylight, the second, lower part is pitch dark and quite slippery. A torch is essential there and having done it barefoot, I'd recommend proper shoes. The rest of the day we spent swimming in the lagoon, drinking fruit shakes and eating delicious baguette sandwiches (a french colonial legacy).

Swimming in the blue lagoon
The next day, Lisa wanted a day off, meaning a day to relax and read. I wanted to move, so I took advantage of our mountain bikes. I heard about a waterfall some seven or eight kilometers away, that could be included in a bigger loop of about 28 km cycling mostly off tarmac. Perfect!

The whole trip was exhausting, but amazing and extremely rewarding. Except at the waterfall, I only crossed locals in their sleepy Lao villages. And I was even lucky enough to have the waterfall all to myself. Of course I took advantage of that with a refreshing swim in one of the pools.

After three days in Vang Vieng, we took a comfortable shuttle van for six hours to Luang Prabang, definitely more comfortable than the slower and bumpier buses. If you hesitate about going to Vang Vieng: don't! We can recommend it a 100% and there's a lot of things to do other than tubing and taking drugs. Promissed, you'll have a great time there!

More pictures from Vang Vieng


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