Where is Vang Vieng?
Apart from its location, I literally knew nothing about Laos before going there. After deciding it was on our itinerary while in South East Asia, I started reading up on the country. A place which soon appeared on my radar was Vang Vieng. Located near the capital of Vientiane, over the years, Vang Vieng has earnt a reputation for being an alcohol-drinking, drug-taking, Friends-watching, river-tubing town for foreign tourists.
The whole situation got out of hand a few years ago as numerous tourists drowned due to excessive drinking while tubing. Many locals feel like the original culture of the town has diminished and the river is cursed by the deaths.
Since 2012, Vang Vieng has tried to shift its reputation from crazy-backpacker party-town to outdoor-activity-filled location. It’s doing an alright job. Many travellers have reported a significant change in Vang Vieng. Tubing regulations are in place, bars have been shut down, and it’s generally not so party-orientated.
What to do in Vang Vieng?
We were unsure whether to visit Vang Vieng but we literally would pass through it on the way to Vientiane from Luang Prabang, so we thought we would stop off and see what happens in this town.
We stayed in Pan’s Place, a fairly chilled out hostel in a good location. The activities to do in Vang Vieng were listed on the wall, tubing was, of course, mentioned, noting that if you want to miss the bars and drinking that traditionally goes with it, go in the morning – I was put off going tubing but the thought of going in the morning, before all the bars open, did somewhat appeal to me. Other activities were visiting caves, lagoons, doing a balloon ride, mountain climbing, and other such outdoor activities.
Despite it raining for the majority of our time there, (that’s what you get for travelling in rainy season), we rented bicycles and cycled to the Blue Lagoon. Photos and people assure me that the lagoon really is very blue. However, due to the mass amount of rainfall, it was very brown when we went (although it was still fresh water). We arrived with lots of South Koreans having a great time, despite the rain, so we decided to join in. Parts of the lagoon were closed due to flooding, but jumping from the tree was still possible, so we did this a few times.
This is how blue it should look. It was brown when we visited.
We also used the bikes to just cycle around and get off the beaten track, taking unpaved (and often very muddy!) side roads, leading us to villages of people greeting us and pointing us in different directions to tourist destinations, as they assumed we were lost. Thing is, we weren’t lost. We wanted to get away from the excessive tourism which dominates the city. It’s in these parts that the area is very natural and beautiful.
I won’t lie that we did get sucked into the drinking and still-evident party culture. The famous Sakura Bar still offers free drinks and, despite a midnight curfew, we managed to stay drinking until 2 am at another location a little out of town. In terms of partying, yes, there is still lots of this in Vang Vieng.
Should You Visit Vang Vieng?
The tourism market has shifted a lot from Western tourism to Asian tourism as we encountered many South Koreans who told us that Vang Vieng is marketed to them as an exciting place to blow off steam and do some outdoor activities.
While you may not be able to have an authentic Laos experience while visiting Vang Vieng, I think it’s important to visit. The town has been built a lot around tourism and the locals still need this income. Grab a bike and explore some of the stunning outdoor scenery that the city has to offer.