Vang Vieng town itself can be an eyesore but it only takes 10 minutes on a bicycle to get out and find yourself surrounded by rice paddies, karsts and people planting rice by hand. In Vang Vieng, the line between the have and have nots is clear, with many living a rural way of life in very basic conditions. The town continues to prosper from tourism yet roads remain unpaved.
Bicycle daily rentals start at 10,000 kip for street bikes or from 20,000 kip for mountain bikes. You will definitely want a decent mountain bike with gears if you are hitting a dirt road, which essentially means anywhere outside of town.
Renting a motorbike for a full day starts around 50,000 kip, an automatic for 70,000 kip and up. The gas station closest to town where everyone fills up are ripping tourists off with an old scam: ensure the attendant resets the pump before filling your tank or you end up paying a lot more than you should. A basic motorbike should cost no more than 25,000 kip to fill.
A Hobo Map is a good investment as it shows the entire area in great detail including the scenic byways west and east of town. They are sold in many shops for about 25,000 kip. The Tourism Office no longer gives away tourist maps for free. You can purchase them, and they include some info on each cave, but they are dated and the map is as basic as the free photocopy maps the bike rental shops can give you.
A good trip to do is the loop out to the Blue Lagoon and around the mountains in a counter clockwise direction back to Vang Vieng. The roads are very bumpy, or muddy in rainy season, but the scenery is unequalled.
In rainy season you can challenge yourself with a hilly six-kilometre (one-way) ride to Kaeng Nyui waterfall, northeast of town. You can also make this a big loop, continuing on from the falls counter clockwise until you re-join Route 13 at Km 161.
Finally, the journey 14 kilometres north along Route 13 to the Water Cave is a beautiful motorbike ride on good road that will have you stopping incessantly to take photos.
Travel just a few kilometres further to see Ban Phatang, a small village on the Nam Song. When you see professional images of Vang Vieng, the photos of the karst are often from this vantage and it includes iconic Phatang cliff, which sticks straight up from the rice fields like a jagged upside down fang.
By Cindy Fan.