Published on October 4th, 2017 | by Ben Leach
Your guide to Vang Vieng: Eat, Drink, Do
Read time: a bit over 3 minutes
Perched on the Nam Song River between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, pocket-size Vang Vieng had its moment in the limelight not so long ago as Laos‘ biggest party town, thanks to its infamous tubing; a sort of crazy bar crawl down the river on – yup – a floating rubber tube. But after much song and dance, the government cracked down, closing most of the bars and subduing the crazed party scene.
While it is still possible to tube down the river, today this little town attracts a different kind of traveller – one that comes to soak up the rural beauty and enjoy a far safer range of activities. Vang Vieng is now home to a handful of boutique hotels and guesthouses as it continues to reinvent itself as an adventure hub of activity.
Driving south from Luang Prabang, you’re looking at a journey of around 6-7 hours along a twisty, winding road. Roads in Laos are notoriously bad and travellers are more often than not in for a bumpy ride. My advice? Lay off the beers the night before.
Hike, kayak and explore
Surrounded by green mottled mountains, rugged cliffs and sweeping paddy fields, the vivid landscape around Vang Vieng is worth exploring. A heap of natural wonders are only a short bike ride away (just watch out for the potholes); you can hire a bike in town for about two bucks. Most head straight for the mesmerising Blue Lagoon, where you can cool off from the midday sun; get there early to beat the crowds.
There are a few caves around town too. The most famous is Tham Jang, which was used as a bunker during an invasion in the 19th century. The cave is well lit and easy to navigate, and there’s another little blue lagoon you can swim in.
For the more adventurous, aside from the hugely popular kayaking and rock climbing, hike up Phangern Mountain. It’s not an easy hike – particularly when temperatures exceed 30 degrees – with the sweaty route taking around 30 minutes. But, when you get to the top, the views across the rice fields are incredible; and the icy Beerlao when you get back to town will be all the more deserved (and delicious).
Eat (especially the sandwiches)
Vang Vieng isn’t really known for its renowned restaurants serving tasty Laotian food. It’s pretty easy to end up eating somewhere that won’t satisfy your taste buds – that is, unless you know where to go.
Restaurant du Crabe d’Or, at the Riverside Boutique Resort, has an awesome outdoor terrace that looks out onto the river, palm trees and stunning limestone cliffs (and the food is pretty good too). You can also nosh on amazing Italian fare at IL Tavolo, top-notch Mexican at Amigo’s Vang Vieng and burgers and pies at Gary’s Irish Bar (don’t miss their breakfast fry-up).
An absolute must is grabbing a sandwich at a street stall (yes, really). Laos has become known for its sandwich stands that pack baguettes with a variety of fresh fillings for around three bucks, and they can be found in just about every major town including Vang Vieng. Unsurprisingly they are particularly popular with backpackers who return after a day of tubing.
Party (with your sensible shoes on)
The nightlife and daytime party scene here isn’t what it used to be, but a lively crowd still descends on Vang Vieng to partake in river revelry at the few bars that are still open along the Nam Song. But given the fatalities in the past, take caution and be responsible; booze and strong currents don’t exactly go hand-in-hand.
When the tubing crowd returns to the centre of town, they usually head for either Gary’s Irish Bar to play pool, watch live sports and enjoy the entertainment, or Sakura, a late-night bar with the motto: ‘Drink triple. See double. Act single.’ No need for us to explain the antics that go on there.
For something a little different and more relaxed, head to Earth, a cool hillside bar with a candlelit garden, epic views and a chilled vibe.
And when you’ve done it all – move on!
Many have fallen head over heels for Vang Vieng and ended up staying far longer than expected. It’s one of those places that draws you in, and those who are attracted to the social side of this tiny town are the biggest victims. So yes, experience the infamous tubing, hike the craggy mountains and stuff your face with sandwiches, but then… move on! Vang Vieng, for all its beauty and drunken revelry, is only one small town of many in a beautiful country that’s waiting to be explored.
Ready to cruise around Vang Vieng? Check it out on a Geckos small group adventure.