Planning your first trip to Vang Vieng? Prepare to be blown away by some of the most magical sunsets, incredible scenery and lush greenery in Asia. From the moment we arrived at our hotel, I fell in love with Vang Vieng. It’s a place with a very cool vibe and a must-visit for anybody travelling through Laos. Heck, I’ll even go so far as to say it was my favourite place I visited in Laos. It was stunning. The little town offers a low-key chilled out vibe, with many places to eat and drink. But, most importantly, it’s just gorgeous. The limestone cliffs here are insane! To help you make the most out of your time, here’s my essential first-timers guide to Vang Vieng. It’ll tell you everything you need to know before you go (I hope. I may have overestimated my abilities and this may suck. We’ll soon find out!)
But first, watch this…
Must-know tips for visiting Laos
If this is your first time visiting Laos, there are a couple of things you need to know before you set off:
- The local currency is Kip, which is accepted everywhere, however, you can also pay in US Dollars as well (I used Kip)
- Be mindful of your money and familiarise yourself with what notes are worth, some crafty vendors may try to confuse you and short-change you
- Tuk Tuk is the best way to get around in Laos, it should only cost a few dollars from place to place, agree on a price before you get in and be prepared to barter
- High-speed internet doesn’t really exist in Laos, so prepare accordingly
- You’ll need a Visa to enter the country, if you plan to do it on arrival, you’ll need at least two passport photos of yourself spare
- Don’t drink the local whisky (especially if it’s free) unless you want a really, truly, horrid hangover (trust me)
How to get to Vang Vieng
There is no airport at or near Vang Vieng, which is kinda what makes it a tad more remote and cool. But, trust me, it’s worth the effort to get there. Here’s the skinny on how to get to Vang Vieng:
Vientiane to Vang Vieng
If you’re coming from Vientiane, you have a few options. Catch a local from Da Laat Sao, a local market in Vientiane. It’ll take you around 4 or 5 hours to get there and cost you 40,000 Kip. Buses depart at 6am, 7am, 9am, 11am, 12:30pm and 2pm daily and will drop you at the Northern Bus Station, you’ll need to catch a Tuk Tuk to get into town, around 10,000 Kip. You can also catch a Thavonsouk Bus Company or Malany Bus Company ride, departing from near the National Cultural Hall and setting you back 60,000 Kip with a 4 hour travel time. It’s pretty easy to book your tickets through local vendors in Vientiane. Your final option is to splash out for a private minibus through a tour operator.
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
You can catch a minibus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng daily at 9am or 2pm or hop aboard the VIP bus which departs at 9:30am. The ride takes around 6 1/2 hours or so and will drop you at the Northern Bus Station. You’ll need to hop a short Tuk Tuk ride to get into town, which should cost you 10,000 Kip or so. You can book your bus tickets easily through local vendors in Luang Prabang and it should cost you between 100,000 and 200,000 Kip.
Pro tip: The ride via bus will take you through extremely windy terrain. If you even get the tiniest bit bus sick, you’re going to need to load yourself up with travel sickness medicine. Take it before you get on, get yourself a seat up the front of the bus and try to sleep. I got super bus-sick and had to vom on the side of the road. So gross. I also recommend having a pillow, music to listen to as well as water and snacks handy.
Best time to visit
When it comes to choosing a time to visit, you’ll find any time between October and April to be your best bet. The weather is warm but there’s less rainfall, making it easier for you to see and do more with your time. Be warned, it does get very, very hot in the middle of the day so make sure you stay hydrated and make the most of the mornings and afternoons. It tends to be cool early in the morning, then hit high temps in the middle of the day. If you’re planning on doing some travel on the Mekong, November to January is your best bet as the water is at a nice high level.
Where to stay in Vang Vieng: Luxe to Less
Whether you’re on a budget or flush with cash, there are plenty of great places to stay in Vang Vieng. Here are my tips on the best spots to stay, from luxe to less.
If ya feelin’ fancy, book yourself a stay at Riverside Boutique Resort. It’s all about being along the river and not missing a single sunset! The place is really nice, offering some really comfortable rooms, great service, fantastic views and a pretty fabulous pool too. Spend an afternoon snacking, sipping cocktails and taking in those million dollar views of the incredible limestone mountains. The on-site restaurant serves up delicious food too, so you don’t have to look too far for a great meal.
I stayed at Thavonsouk Resort and loved it. The hotel is a tad ratchet, but it’s well worth staying here because it’s located right on the Nam Song River and you’ll be treated to insanely gorgeous views every dang day. The Resort is in an awesome location too, making it super easy to walk around town and see everything you want to see. To be honest, though, it’s all about the views. The sunsets from the Resort are absolutely stunning and at around $60AU per night, with a very basic breakfast and average wifi included, you can’t really go wrong. I’d opt for one of their nice rooms if you can. Mind wasn’t bad by any means, just a bit run down and basic.
Best things to see and do in Vang Vieng
While it may be a small town, Vang Vieng packs a real punch when it comes to awesome things to see and do. Now, it’s important to note, Vang Vieng used to be a hot spot on the tourist trail, famed for its wild tubing parties down the river. Following the loss of lives at these notorious parties, the government was forced to crack down on what goes on in Vang Vieng, so you’ll find it a lot more chilled than it used to be (you can read more about it all here). Exploring the city though, you’ll see many artefacts from its wild, debaucherous past. Here are my picks on a few of the best:
- Get yourself set up in a tube and explore the river, a fun, now much more chill, pastime that involves a stop off at a local bar
- Start your day off right with an incredible Hot Air Balloon Ride high above the mountains and lush scenery below
- You’ll find a few places around town offering yoga and meditation in Vang Vieng, another great way to start or end the day
- Another popular spot worth a visit, if only for the gorgeous blue water and rope swing, is Tham Phu Kham Cave and Blue Lagoon
- Catch a Friends marathon at one of the many bars left over from the party era, most of which stream repeats of Friends for homesick tourists in need of some normalcy
- If you love food, catch a cooking class and learn how to make some very tasty Laos delights
- With so many beautiful waterways, you’ll want to make the most of your time and kayaking is a great way to do it!
- Be sure to pop in a visit to amazing Tham Nam (the Water Cave) and Tham Xang (the Elephant Cave) both are touristy, but fun
- All those cliffs will have you gagging to climb em, do that by spending a day rock climbing.
Where to eat and must-try food
I love food. Like, really really love food! Based on that information, here are my picks on where to get some great grub in Vang Vieng:
- If you haven’t tried it before, be sure to try the mango sticky rice at one of the local restaurants, like A.M.D
- Love to party? Get raging drunk at local hotspot, Sakura, an absolutely famous local spot that dishes out free whisky from 8-9pm (AVOID) and balloons filled with nitrous
- For sunset drinks with a less wild flavour, head to Smile Bar
- If you really need some familiar food to quell the cravings, try dining at Amigos Mexican
- Grab sunset beers and pizzas from Pizza Luka
- Be sure to have at least one fruit shake from a roadside vendor, mango is my favourite
- Also, you might want to try a pancake or roti from a street side vendor (perfect after-booze food)
- Another great spot for food your tummy may be craving is Gary’s Irish Bar #WhosYourPaddy?
- Fancy a healthy bite? Head to Earth Recycled.
Pro Tip: Weed is widely and readily available in Vang Vieng #TruthBomb. It’s easy to walk into certain shops and acquire a joint, weed or mushroom shake or have it baked into edibles. Fair warning, if you are seen by the police you will be arrested on the spot and fined around $2,000AU for your indiscretions. Think that through. Let it mellow.
What to pack
Packing can be tough and Vang Vieng is no exception, here are my tips on a few things you definitely need to pack:
- Light, breathable clothing like shirts, singlet tops, shorts and skirts – it gets DAMN hot so make sure you dress in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re going to get heatstroke and die
- One pair of comfortable shoes and one pair of sandals, flats or flip-flops
- You’ll definitely need your swimwear, towel, sunscreen, hat and anything else you need to swim and avoid sunburn
- Take one or two nicer outfits for dinner and/or drinks
- Definitely, pack medicine for an upset tummy and bug spray. I guarantee you will need both
- You should also have hand sanitiser and tissues with you at all times for the bathroom.