Monstrous Limestone Mountains & Rice Fields in Vang ViengVang Vieng is a beautiful rural town sitting on the edge of the Nam Song river. With monstrous limestone mountains guarding the horizon and sheltering the rice fields, the tiny township feels like a safe haven. Whilst dusty and a wee bit derelict, Vang Vieng plays host to multiple backpackers travelling the bumpy road between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Previously a renowned party town, the multiple tourist deaths caused government intervention, and since 2011 drug and alcohol fuelled activities, especially tubing, have reduced significantly. This was perfect for us, the right balance of activities and scenery with a bit of a limit on boisterous tourists.
The ride from Vientiane to Vang Vieng was an adventure in itself. After booking a bus and somehow ending up in a mini-van, we settled in for the 3hour journey. Less than 5km out from the city centre the road quality took a distinct dive. Pot holes so big a small car would get lost in them littered the road for majority of the drive. Incredible considering this is the main route. What was more incredible was how everyone navigated them. All road rules seemed null and void here, it was every driver for themselves trying to avoid the massive craters that kept appearing in the road. As a passenger this was thrilling, moving from the gutter to the opposite side of the road all in one swift movement. Tooting is used as a friendly way to suggest to other motorists to move out of the way, and boy was it used frequently! We arrived safely to the sanctuary that is Vang Vieng and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy our time there.
ACCOMMODATIONWe booked 3 nights at Pan’s Place online, a bit worried we wouldn’t be able to find somewhere on arrival. This should not have been a concern, the streets a literally lined with guesthouses and hostels. In hindsight we may have found somewhere a bit nicer if we had waited until we arrived. Saying that, Pan’s Place suited our needs, we had a bungalow with shared bathrooms. It was clean and tidy but basic. Well below our budget, we managed to save a bit which was great.
FOODWe ate at an array of local restaurants and enjoyed the local twist they all put on our favourites. Sitting on cushioned raised platforms with low tables was a great way to unwind at the end of the day. Surprisingly, one morning I lucked in, having an incredible omelette with fresh, real cheese, a real rarity through Southeast Asia (something we have discovered the hard way). Sometimes the risk pays off. Majority of the restaurants are run by families who live out the back of the restaurant. It was incredible to be served by the girls, as young as ten (I’m guessing) who all spoke beautiful English. Funnily enough, one morning we were having breakfast and a young boy (maybe around three years old) ran out wearing a long t-shirt. When he got to the edge of the restaurant, he lifted his shirt, revealing his bare bottom, and proceeded to wee onto the footpath! No one seemed to think this was out of place and once he was finished he ran off back inside. I have since eyed all footpath puddles with suspicion.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONSWe really enjoyed our time here and spent a wee bit of money on a few key activities. All were well worth what we payed, and consequently we had some amazing experiences in Vang Vieng.
Hot Air BallooningThis is something we have always wanted to do, so we jumped at the opportunity to give it a go. We got up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise while floating over Vang Vieng and it was an incredible way to start the day! We both loved the scenic fly past the incredible limestone mountains before landing next to the Nam Song River.
TubingThe tubing had previously been a major attraction for Vang Vieng. It seems since the government crack down in 2012 the tubing is now a lot safer but also less of an attraction. It was incredible to see the bars still lining the river, many linked by ziplines. It must have been chaos in the heyday! We loved the tranquil drift alongside the mountains, a complete contrast to the ballooning but an incredible way to take in the scenery.
There was one bar open along the river, apparently it depends which day you go and there are sometimes up to 3-5 bars open. We went in as a group of 10 and were all served but quickly hustled out before most people could finish their drinks. You can, however, take whats left of your drink with you and many people grab few beers before they head out to enjoy the ride with.
Cave TourWe opted to tour the caves with Green Discovery, mainly because we decided the roads were a wee bit too treacherous and we didn’t want to hire a scooter. We went to Tham Xang (Elephant cave), Tham Hoi (snail cave), Tham Loup, and Tham Nam (water cave). Our guide, Cup, was incredible giving thorough explanations of the formation of the caves. Tham Loup had some amazing sculpture-like crystal rocks, formed when water drips from the limestone mountains, leaving behind the crystals to make the glistening white rocks. Cup also informed us many people lived in these caves through the war, often only leaving to give food to the soilders. Tham Nam was a bit different, a river has carved its way through the mountain and is now fitted with ropes so you can tow yourself through the river on a tube. I got a wee bit panicked here, the ceiling is quite low and being a cave it’s very dark. Add water (of unknown depth) to the mix and it is a horror story waiting to happen (if you are like me and that kind of thing scares you). Luckily there were plenty of other tourists which made me feel safer!
The infamous bar sceneLegends tell stories of Vang Vieng being full of bars, with extensive menus offering various different ways to help those who are interested enjoy the night. It seems many of these such bars have closed and re-opened as tour agencies, encouraging a different crowd into town. There are three main bars (from what I could tell) all in a relatively central street. Sakura is worth mentioning. All through Thailand we had seen people in Sakura singlets with the phrase “drink triple, see double, act single” on the back. Jimmy found this quite entertaining and decided we needed to get one. The bar runs ‘free drinks’ from 8pm to 9pm and the drinks are lined up on the bar waiting to be taken. To get one of the singlets you simply need to buy two vodka’s, which was of course the first thing we ordered once we got there. The place was packed, playing an array of Top 40 music from around 3 – 4 years ago.. There’s a pretty cool vibe in the place, lots of table dancing, and with most people being backpackers, the dress code is jandles and denim shorts. Perfection!