Situated halfway down the long Vientiane to Luang Prabang highway, Vang Vieng has become the pit stop of Laos. Surrounded by splendid karst scenery and overflowing with activities such as caving and tubing down the river, many weary travellers extend their stay here far longer than originally planned.
Until recently, Vang Vieng was the highlight of many people's trip to Laos. Scoffing happy pizza and quaffing buckets of lao-lao and coke to a background of infinite Friends episodes was the thing to do when in town, but now things are different. A government crackdown on illegal bars lining the river has severely curbed the party such that fewer backpackers of that ilk are visiting town, leaving the area to those more interested in enjoying the area's immense natural beauty.
For the party people, this was a multi-night and even multi-week stop on their itinerary through Laos while for everyone else it was more like a one-night stop. The opposite is now true, with people seeking a party staying for a couple of nights before deciding that the atmosphere is not as it once was. For everyone else, the true beauty of the area is being well and truly explored and a more laidback and peaceful vibe is in the offing.
Vang Vieng is riddled with such an array of guesthouses (some of which can be booked online), restaurants and shops that it's hard to know what to do on arrival. Just about every shopfront on the main streets of this small but rapidly developing town caters to the tourist dollar. If you're looking for some genuine Lao culture, Vang Vieng is the wrong place.
The reason this tourist mecca has sprung up is the gorgeous Nam Song river and the magnificent karst mountains lining it. The imposing limestone structures rise up out of the land and run for kilometres, framing the rice fields and lazy river. Though stunning at any hour, the mountains are particularly beautiful with the golden pink glow of sunset behind them, the perfect time to sit and have a drink at one of the plethora of riverside restaurants.
For action and adventure, there are caves to explore, trekking, kayaking and rafting trips and, for the ultra-adventurous, rock climbing. To chill out and enjoy Vang Vieng's scenery, rent an inner tube and float down the Nam Song basking in the beauty of the countryside – an activity for everyone these days.
This place is not Laos untouched, but just outside of the town you will find a peaceful version of Laos that has been overlooked for far too long.
Vang Vieng has BCEL ATMs scattered throughout town. The fee for international withdrawals is 20,000 kip and you can withdraw a maximum of 1,000,000 kip each time. A better option is the Joint Development Bank ATM down near the tubing shops as it has no such withdrawal fee. Guesthouses and tour agencies throughout town will do money exchange at fair rates but it certainly pays to compare rates.
The Vang Vieng Municipal Hospital is opposite Ban Sabai bungalows on the road running along the river. They can patch up minor ailments, but for anything serious you'll want to get to Thailand or at least Vientiane ASAP.
Internet cafes throughout town are less popular than they once were as almost every single hotel offers free WiFi with many offering free use of their computers. Even the cheapest hostels and guesthouses offer free, reliable WiFi internet.
Hobo Maps distribute an excellent map of Vang Vieng.
Hospital: (023) 511 604
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Text and/or map last updated on 19th February, 2014.
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