Tubing down the river in Vang Vieng is what the little town in Northern Laos is famous for – and not for the right reasons. However, things have changed since the stories of drunken tubing and multiple drownings in the strong river currents. While tubing in Vang Vieng is still a ‘thing to do’, many of the riverside bars have been closed down, leaving just four where tubing tourists can stop of for vodka buckets and a party vibe!
Nowadays, Vang Vieng has reinvented itself as the eco-tourism and adventure capital of Laos. From rock climbing to kayaking, hiking and mountain biking trips, as well as the awesome blue lagoons, this town has a lot to offer the adventure-seeking traveller. What’s more, plenty of the activities in Vang Vieng can be done on a backpacker budget and there are some great value for money hostels where you can get a good nights’ rest and meet fellow travellers to go on excursions with. Read on for our ultimate guide on where to stay, things to do and where to eat in this backpacking haven…
Where to stay in Vang Vieng?
There are many places to stay in Vang Vieng, Laos for travellers on a budget. Here are some of our top picks!
Faraway Suites Guesthouse
Faraway Suites Guesthouse has both dorm beds with shared bathroom and private rooms. It’s a little more pricey than surrounding hostels but it’s brand new, very clean and nicely decorated with stunning views of the mountains across the river. The staff are friendly and they can organise adventure tours, laundry and motorbike rental from the main desk. There are a lot of stairs up to the rooms but other than that it’s perfect with just a short walk to the main street and many restaurants.
Nana Backpackers Hostel
Nana Backpackers Hostel is well known as the party hostel of Vang Vieng, Nana’s is one of the most popular backpacker hostels in this area. Every night is a party at Nana’s, with free vodka and Lao whiskey from 7pm-9pm as well as a swimming pool! There’s a wide variety of rooms available: Mixed dorms are around £4.50/$5.75/50,000 kip a night (with A/C and a balcony), and privates are plentiful. Different sized rooms can accommodate individuals and groups, with doubles at £14/$18/156,000 kip up to 5 bed family rooms for £35.50/$45/400,000 kip. Despite the party vibe, for those of you who want to get some sleep, don’t worry – music is played until 10.30pm at night and then the music goes off and it’s nice and quiet!
Magic Monkey Garden
Magic Monkey Garden is situated around 15 minutes walk from the centre of town (or a 10,000 kip tuk tuk), making it a quiet place to chill, away from the party vibes Vang Vieng is well known for, and take in the beautiful mountain surroundings.
Saying that, there are free social events every week at Magic Monkey – on Tuesdays they throw a LAO Party with free food/ whiskey and on Fridays it’s a free BBQ party – from reviews it seems that even though these are “parties” they are the chilled kind.
There are a few room types available: Bungalows with a fan (£13/$17/148,000 kip) or A/C (£20/$25/217,000 kip) as well as Dormitory Beds (£7/$9/78,000 kip), which all come with free D.I.Y breakfast, balcony, Wi-Fi, garden or mountain views and access to a swimming pool (for when the Laotian heat demands a cool down!).
Vang Vieng Rock Backpackers Hostel
Vang Vieng Rock Backpackers Hostel, located in the centre of town is a lively traveller hub within walking distance to the many bars and restaurants of Vang Vieng. As well as 24 hour reception and tour bookings, the hostel also has a pool table and is a great place to socialise and meet new people. Dorm beds are basic and super cheap at around £3-£4/$4-$5/34,000-43,000 kip a night, with the price including free breakfast, a power socket, personal locker and reading light. Female only dorms are also available at around £4/$5/43,000 kip a night. The hostel also offers small doubler or twin private rooms at just under £9.50/$12/105,000 kip.
Things to Do in Vang Vieng, Laos
Visit the Blue Lagoons of Vang Vieng
One of the best (and cheapest) things to do when in Vang Vieng is to visit the Blue Lagoons. Blue Lagoons 1, 2 and 3 are the most well known, whilst Blue Lagoon 4’s location is a mystery and Blue Lagoon 5 exists but is very far from town and still under construction.
Blue Lagoon 1, which has a large tree for jumping off, is the closest to town, making it the most frequently visited. Blue Lagoon 2 is slightly further away meaning there will be less crowds, and Blue Lagoon 3 is even further still and therefore attracts those wanting to escape the organised tour crowds. All three lagoons have beautifully cool blue waters, jumping spots and are super cheap to enter – costing only 10,000 kip each!
Rock Climbing with Adam’s Climbing School
Due to the abundance of stunning limestone karst cliffs surrounding Vang Vieng, rock climbing is one of the most popular things to do during a visit to the town. Book a rock climbing trip and scale the rocks for amazing views over the Laotian countryside. From climbing courses to half and full day climbs, Adam’s Rock Climbing School is the place to go for a fun and safe adventure that’s excellent value for money.
Ride the Vang Vieng Loop!
Rent a motorbike and drive the short loop on the other side of the river…
This loop will rake you passed blue lagoon 1, 2 and 3, through local villages, passed rice fields and stunning scenery, as well as many viewpoints.
The road is tarmac until a point where it then becomes a dirt track so experience riding a bike is useful, or alternatively it’s super easy to rent an ATV and zoom around the little roads. If you are planning on driving this little loop, make sure you leave relatively early in the morning to avoid the blazing heat of the day!
There are many other great motorbike and cycling routes around the town that can be tackled in a day from Vang Vieng. Pick up a local map from any travel agent that rent bikes in the town and can plan a great day out amidst the gorgeous karst landscape. (Motorbike rental in the area is around 80,000-100,000 for 8 hours – 24 hours.)
Once away from the tourist enclave, you can get into the real countryside of Laos, as you cycle over rickety bamboo bridges spanning flowing rivers, watch local farmers at work in the fields and be constantly impressed by the beautiful countryside that surrounds you on all sides.
Nam Xay Viewpoint
Just after the popular Blue Lagoon 1 is the entrance to Nam Xay Viewpoint – a short but steep climb up to stunning 360 degree views over the surrounding karsts, farmland and rice fields. This viewpoint is unique in the fact that at the top there is a motorbike perched on the edge – we have no clue how it got there but it makes for an interesting photo!
Nam Xay is definitely worth a visit, but it is essential that the journey is made early in the morning as even by 10am it was almost undoable due to the heat! Take a lot of water a prepare to get sweaty, and plan to make a stop at one of the lagoons after for a cool down! (We were there in April-May, which is the hottest time of year!)
Take Part in an Adventurous Tour
Kayaking, caving, zip lining, climbing, trekking and even sunrise hot air balloon rides – Vang Vieng is the adventure tour capital of Laos! There are a huge number of tour companies to choose from and many offer the same things. To book, either speak to the staff at your hostel (they normally have a tour partner), or wander around town and pop into the various tour company offices. Here are some companies that were recommended by travellers in the South East Asia Backpacker Facebook Community.
Green Discovery – An eco-tour company with an office in the main town of Vang Vieng that can organise rafting, kayaking, trekking, mountain biking, climbing, caving and even hot air ballooning! At their office in town you will encounter English speaking guides with great local knowledge of the area. Check out their trip: The Vang Vieng Challenge – which is a popular all-day adventure for backpackers.
VLT Tours – Another company that offers full-day adventure packages in Vang Vieng. They have a package which includes cave tubing, kayaking and swimming in one of the blue lagoons in Vang Vieng. The package includes lunch too. It’s a great way to make the most out of a day in Vang Vieng if you’re short on time.
Whilst the hedonistic days of tubing is a thing of the past, this is still an activity to do in Vang Vieng on the Nam Song River. Tubes are easy to rent in town: you can either purchase a tubing ‘tour package’ or hire them directly from the Tubing Office in town, opposite Hally’s Coffee. To rent a tube it’s 60,000 kip, plus a refundable deposit of another 60,000 kip which is claimed upon return of the tube before 8pm. You’ll be required to sign a waiver (you’ll need your passport number for this). Outside the office there are usually tuk tuk’s waiting to take you to the starting point, and then it’s down the river you go!
Caves around Vang Vieng
Go deeper underground and visit the many wondrous caves in the area around Vang Vieng, where you can navigate secret corridors and gaze in wonder at the unusual rock formations of stalagmites and stalactites formed over thousands of years in the deep realms.
From the main cycle trails, you’ll spot intriguing signs pointing down bumpy tracks, indicating caves in the area. If such a sign is followed, like magic, you will encounter a young guide who knows routes through the caves like the back of his hand and will guide you through the darkness with a flashlight to appear at the other side, occasionally pointing out huge spiders lurking in the darkness!
A few of the caves have underground lakes and some open up into impressive lagoons where you can swim. Obtain a map in town to find out the spots.
The party still lives on (in some places)! There are jungle parties every Friday, at an indoor club with funky sounds; nu disco and experimental, while an outdoor stage plays deep house tech house and techno. For more nightlife check out DK3, Gary’s Irish Bar, Fat Monkeys and Fluid Bar where you can spend the day playing table-tennis, darts, foosball, or just relaxing in a hammock.
Places to Eat in Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng Walking Street
Every evening Vang Vieng Walking Street comes alive with street vendors selling elephant print dresses and local handicrafts, as well as cheap noodle dishes and fruit shakes. Visit here to grab some souvenirs or sit on the pavement tables for dinner – a noodle dish will cost around 20,000 kip and fruit shakes around 10,000 kip.
Luang Prabang Bakery
Taking centre stage in the little town of Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang bakery boasts a wide array of delicious looking cakes, pastries and cookies out on display to entice backpacker and holidaymaker alike in to satisfy their sweet cravings. Not only does it offer baked goods, but it also has a restaurant with a big menu full of breakfast and lunchtime meals. It’s a little pricey, but the portions are ginormous which makes it totally worth it! The Banana and Chocolate Pancake is the size of a dinner plate, whilst the sandwiches are at least a foot long!
Eat Me Vang Vieng
Opposite Luang Prabang Bakery, this little cafe stands out in the street with its bold sign, colourful hanging umbrellas and astro turf flooring.
Ice cream, fruit shakes, coffee and mango sticky rice can all be bought here, but a must try is the Eat Me Sandwich – ham, egg and cheese with a yummy sauce in wonderful bread, it’ll fill you up ready for a day of adventures!
For something a bit more local, try Chantheo’s. As well as rice, noodle and soup dishes, this restaurant serves some absolutely delicious grilled food! Choose from pork (belly as well as the more adventurous organs), duck or chicken, add some sticky rice (5000 kip) all for cheap (price), it even comes with a platter of greens. It might not be the most tourist targeting restaurant (plastic table tops etc), but it’s always busy with locals and that’s good enough for us!
With multiple locations, Parisien is one of the only cafes in town that has some very welcome air con! Fresh cakes, bread, snacks as well as western meals can all be found here. As with most western restaurants in Asia, the prices are a little more than local food would be, but the food is good, quick and it’s a nice place to eat.
In Vang Vieng, if not basically everywhere in Laos, you can’t walk more than 5 minutes without coming across a sandwich stall. The country’s history of French colonisation has resulted in some very good bread (!), which is a rare, and normally more expensive, find in many Asian countries – but not in Laos! Stop at one of these for delicious and fresh sandwiches, costing as little as £1/under $2/10,000 kip and made with just about any filling you could want! A must try in Laos.
Some Vang Vieng History: What was Tubing?
Tubing was a backpacking phenomenon that made the sleepy little riverside town of Vang Vieng infamous all over Southeast Asia. For those of you who haven’t heard about it… in short, it was floating down a river in a rubber tyre getting slowly hammered out of your face as you stopped at little bars along the way.
There were mud baths, volleyball, happy shakes, potent buckets, soaring zip wires and downright dangerous water slides. However, with many accidents and even deaths reported deaths due to backpackers being out of control, the Laotian Government clamped down and put a stop to the chaos in 2012. Read more about the end of tubing in Vang Vieng here.
How to get to Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is situated on the main road between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. From Luang Prabang it’s an 5-6 hour bus ride south, passing through windy roads of beautiful countryside. From Vientiane, it’s a 4-5 hour bus trip north.
Minibus from Luang Prabang – Air conditioned minibuses cost 100,000 Laos KIP (including pick up from your hostel) and take around 5.5 hours. There are many buses leaving throughout the day as this is a popular route. The roads are relatively bumpy and don’t forget snacks because there aren’t any stops for food, although there is a stop about halfway through for a toilet break and to swap onto a second minibus so the drivers don’t have to make the entire journey!
Minibus from Vientiane – Air conditioned minibuses also run frequently between Vientiane and Vang Vieng and cost around 80,000 – 100,000 kip. The journey is bumpy and takes around 4-5 hours.
TIP: If you’re heading to Vientiane from Vang Vieng and fancy an alternative way of getting there, check out the option of kayaking. There’s an adventure company in Vang Vieng that offers trips down to the capital along the beautiful Nam Song River taking around half a day; a novel way to continue your onward journey.
Where to go next?
- Vientiane: If you’ve taken the two-day slow boat to Luang Prabang and are heading south, your next stop is Vientiane, a three-hour bus journey towards the Thai border.
- Luang Prabang: The beautiful UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang is around an eight-hour bus journey north.
- Luang Nam Tha: Jungle treks and dramatic landscapes await in this adventurer’s paradise in Northern Laos.