Vang Vieng had always been at the top of my travel wish list, but for the longest time ever, for some reason, I just didn’t have the opportunity to visit it.
It wasn’t until the end of 2017 during my much-needed semester break (I was a lecturer at a Malaysian international college then) that I told my then fiancée we were going to Vang Vieng. Yes, this is how long it has taken me to write and finally publish this entry – much like my long-delayed first trip to Laos.
After the visit, this little mountainous town in the landlocked Buddhist country of Laos, to me, is nothing more than just another commercial tourist spot with exceptionally good scenery.
As my other half was based on Thailand, we chose to travel into Laos via the northeastern province of Nong Khai on the banks of the Mekong River.
We spent two days in Vientiane, the capital and largest city of Laos bordering Thailand’s Nong Khai, before transferring to Vang Vieng by bus on Day 2. As this post is going to be about our adventures and misadventure in Vang Vieng, I will probably write in another entry about travelling from Nong Khai to Vientiane and our Vientiane experience.
The distance between Vientiane and Vang Vieng is about 150km, yet the bus journey took us over four hours mainly due to the rough condition of the road. This reminded me of my long bus journey from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap about ten years back, also due to the same situation.
Departing from Vientiane in the afternoon, we reached Vang Vieng on sunset, just before it was about to get dark.
After checking in to our hotel and taking a shower, we took a stroll down the main, touristy street in the city center and found ourselves winding up at Phubarn Cafe, a beautifully-decorated chilling spot that sits along the Nam Song River.
Next to the cafe was an old bamboo bridge in a rather run-down condition, connecting both sides of the Nam Song River.
With cafés and eateries along both sides of the river being beautifully lit up in neon and yellow lights against the night sky, and the water in the river reflecting the lights in shimmering patterns, the bamboo bridge would have been a romantic spot for couples going on a date.
However, the constant crossing of motorcycles along the already narrow bridge from both sides unfortunately made it rather dangerous for pedestrians, who had to keep looking out for oncoming bikes as they walked.
Once crossed over to the other side, we were greeted by a row of riverside restaurants where guests could unwind and enjoy their food by the bank.
We were not able to see them at night, but on this side of the river lies the very signature of Vang Vieng – a cluster of the the karst mountains, which were nothing but majestic when we got to see them the next morning. These were the scenes from the rooftop of our hotel:
The pictures below depict the iconic Nam Song River, along which adventurous activities like tubing can be found. It is important to note that there may be little to no safety measures in place, so one must exercise extra caution when tubing. Many fatalities and accidents as a result of tubing have been recorded.
To me, Vang Vieng is all about places of nature and outdoor activities like tubing and rock climbing. In terms of food, I think it wasn’t that great compared to some of the places I have been to. The influx of tourists to this small town of 25,000 in the recent years has, in my opinion, done much harm to its charm.
The city center, when we visited, were full of Chinese and Korean restaurants, a well as expensive and very commercial street food. To look for authentic Laotian food took us much effort and tourist pricing was evident.
Anyway, to get around Vang Vieng, one has to either book a tour or rent a bike as the places of interest are scattered and can be quite remote. Below was the bike we rented, which I eventually damaged in an accident:
It was surprisingly quite easy for us to cruise around on our bike using a map, even in the outskirt areas. There was hardly any cellular network available in most remote places and hence, no GPS service.
Below were some pictures we took of the scenery as we rode casually into the more outskirt areas of Vang Vieng:
One of the so-called “Blue Lagoons” of Vang Vieng, which I found enjoyable and would be really fun if visited in a group:
One thing to take note is that the water in the lagoons can be quite deep, so those without swimming skills MUST rent a life vest in order to avoid any untoward incident.
There are a number of caves in Vang Vieng, some of which allow visitors to hike and explore before they are led to the the tops of the hills.
We explored one of the less popular caves which we could not remember its name. Within its vicinity was a resort-like retreat with little huts and man-made lakes that was still under construction.
The weather was generally great with little rain when we visited Laos right before the new year. However, it was quite unpredictable on the day we explored major places in Vang Vieng.
When we arrived at the cave, it was still dry and sunny. But when we came out of it and were about to leave, it began to drizzle before a heavy rain set in.
Ignoring the rainpour, we decided to continue with our journey by riding in the rain. A big mistake it was, because little did we know that a mishap was about to befall us.
I am used to riding on roads in normal but not off-road or muddy conditions. When raining, some of the roads in rural Vang Vieng could be a muddy mess with no stones or gravel to stabalise rides.
So when riding through one of a muddy stretches, for the first time in my life I failed to control my bike as it lost its balance. Our bike skidded and slid to one side as my better half and I fell off it. I could feel the left side of my lip and chin literally sliding through the mud like a bowling ball, and that was how I got my “filler lip” in the aftermath.
Thankfully, the other half was not wounded as much as I was despite wearing just a skirt.
The damaged bike cost us a thousand plus baht (yes, Thai baht was accepted widely in Laos) but I just had to be thankful we were both fine with just minor scrapes here and there.
Before I end this post, I would like to recommend this place with an amazing view – a hotel known as Vieng Tara Villa.
Situated not on the main side of the city center but on the other side of the Nam Song River, this hotel is known to offer superb scenery that overlooks the lush rice paddy fields and karst mountains.
As we didn’t get to stay there, we pretty much just went there and asked for permission to snap a few pictures and enjoy the view.
After visiting Vang Vieng, my personal verdict is that while this serene town offers stunning scenery and loads of adventurous fun, it isn’t a place I would want to go back again. I would, however, love to visit other parts of Laos.