After a somewhat surprising encounter with the Laotian capital of Vientiene – both in its almost overly gentrified and certainly sterilized central city – we headed to our next stop on the Northern trail; Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng is a city as much praised for its absolutely stunning karsts (towering peak like mountains) as it is for its partying scene. What hasn’t been noted much is how quickly this city’s tourism sector has boomed and to the extent by which the full spectrum of tourists are now catered to – from early morning guided kayak excursions, sunset motor boat rides up stream and hot air ballooning to inebriated tube rides and pubs pumping ‘Top 40s’ – it’s a small city trying to fulfill every visitor’s desires.
The traveler scene is a bit of a mixed bag there and it can be VERY busy during the peak season with tourists flooding in from Europe and East Asia. We suggest that whatever your interests are, try to make the most of it. If you are looking for peace and quiet, there are plenty of options across the river and on the southern side. If you are looking for a night out after being on the road for a while, well that is an option too. Really, from social outlets to affordable food, the options are aplenty. Just understand that this is not a new destination for many on the South East Asia Circuit and there is a reason why they call it the “Banana Pancake Trail”… Don’t ‘fight the current’… and just enjoy it. 🙂
Some of our favorite spots and special notes:
-Luci Cave: It’s a peaceful walk to the viewpoint next to Lucy cave. The trail takes you through some of the fields lining the outskirts of the riverside developments and takes you up a challenging yet rewarding viewpoint of Vang Vieng and the surrounding karsts. Worth going in sneakers as the climb can get quite sharp. It’s all well marked and easy to find by just following the signs once you cross the bamboo bridge. (10,000 kip entry charged for maintenance of some of the bamboo ladders)
-Riverfront Bamboo Loungers before 4pm: During the day while all others are off exploring some natural wonder, take the time to bring a good book, soak up some sun or even have a beer with some new friends as you listen to the relaxing beats of reggae and lounge music. FYI, almost like clockwork, the music and scene changes to ‘Top 40 ‘ at 4 PM in hopes off ringing in the tubers before they return their rides in town by 6 PM.
-Blue Lagoon Cave: It is some distance out of town and the road is quite bumpy, so make sure you’ve got a good bicycle or maybe even spend the extra on a mountain bike. Try to depart as early as possible to beat the crowds that come in by 11 PM. Entrance is 10,000 kip/person, which includes your entrance into the cave behind the lagoon. You will need a proper flashlight for this one, as it does get quite dark in the deeper caverns (you can rent one for 10,000 kip at the bottom). Do take your time and do try to explore the inner depths before the crowds get in – quite stunning!! Afterwards, cool yourself off in the more commercialized Blue Lagoon as zip-liners have fun above and selfie-sticks come out in full force as people jump off the main tree. Still a refreshing dip after the long bike ride and before your return ride 🙂
-Take your bicycles North of the city: There is plenty to see and lots of side streets to explore (we were lucky enough to find an abandoned resort along the river to relax by). The roads this way are also much more suitable for the flimsier ‘City Bikes’. City Bike Rentals are pretty standard at 15,000 kip/bike and 20,000 kip for mountain bikes. Try to avoid a place that has you deposit your passport for the bike as there have been growing reports of scams, particularly for motor bike rentals.
-‘Rite of Passage’ Tube Ride: An important note on the tube rides, as a result of heavy crackdowns on the many bars after numerous injuries and deaths from partying too much, there are only about 6 bars remaining. They are all located in the first stretch as you get dropped off and the first two or three are really where all the rowdier crowd now hold up. So, if you were coming to Vang Vieng in hopes of partaking in a ore hedonistic river ride, start early and post up at the first bar. For the rest of us, a long lazy ride down the river is quite an enjoyable way to take in the sheer beauty and magnitude of the karsts.