Traveling to Laos means immersing yourself in wonderful mountain landscapes, getting to know different ethnic communities, and savoring its delicious cuisine, which is part of Southeast Asian cuisine.
In recent years, tourism in Laos has been steadily growing, and significant growth is expected in the coming years. Some places have chosen to approach this development from a sustainable perspective, committed to the cultural traditions of the Laotian people that have been preserved for decades.
This is the case in the village of Vang Vieng. Although it became famous for its uncontrolled and wild parties, it now hosts a completely different kind of tourism. Nowadays, it welcomes travelers of all kinds with a wide range of adventure activities in nature, all within a unique setting. If you are thinking of traveling to Laos, we invite you to read this article where we share our experience and offer some useful tips.
How to get to Vang Vieng on your own?
If you're traveling by public transport from Vientiane or Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, you have the option to do it by minivan or by train. We traveled from Vientiane by minivan and from Luang Prabang by train. Keep in mind that to get to the train station, you have to take a tuk-tuk and buy the tickets in advance (although we bought them on the same day, they are usually sold out).
Here, we provide you with all the options so you can plan your trip:
- From Vientiane to Vang Vieng:
- By shared minivan. The journey takes about 2.5 hours on a toll highway in a well-maintained 16-passenger minivan with air conditioning. The price ranges from 150,000 to 200,000 kip if booked through a tour operator or your hotel, and 120,000 kip if you go to the minivan stop (here is the location on Google Maps). They depart from 8 am every half an hour. The minivan departs when it's full, so you might have to wait.
- By train. The cheapest seats cost 90,000 kip, and second class costs 125,000 kip. You'll also need to add the tuk-tuk fare to get to both stations, which is about 35,000-50,000 kip per trip. For updated information, you can visit the official LCR Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LaosChinaRailway).
- From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng:
- By shared minivan: The journey takes between 1 and 1.5 hours, with a price ranging from 100,000 to 150,000 kip, depending on the same factors as above. You can find minivans from 8 am, but you might have to wait until they're full.
- By train: The journey takes about 1.5 hours, and you can buy the tickets at the station. The train is new and comfortable with air conditioning. The price varies depending on the class and schedule. We traveled at 3:30 pm in second class for 135,000 kip/person; first class was 235,000 kip, but they were sold out. The office hours are 7:30-11:00/12:00-13:00/14:30-17:00/18:00-20:00.
Vang Vieng's train station is a 10-minute drive away (the tuk-tuk costs about 25,000 to 35,000 kip per person), and Luang Prabang's train station is 25 minutes away (the tuk-tuk or taxi costs 35,000 kip per person).
Where to stay in Vang Vieng?
The town of Vang Vieng sits at the foot of the Nam Song River, surrounded by stunning karst mountains and lush vegetation. Ideally, you should stay in one of its hotels along the river with views of the mountains to enjoy the spectacular sunsets.
We stayed at the Riverside Boutique Hotel because of its commitment to local development and its focus on sustainable tourism. All the tourist activities they carry out in rural areas and protected areas are designed with the goal of avoiding any negative impact. Furthermore, all these activities aim to conserve culture and nature, promote socio-economic development in rural areas, and help travelers learn about local culture and the environment.
What to do in Vang Vieng?
Based in Vang Vieng, the range of activities is very broad, depending on the time and money you have. Prices are quite affordable compared to the much more famous UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang.
If you love adventure activities and enjoy sports in a natural environment, this is the place for you. You can go kayaking on the Nam Song River, visit numerous caves, swim in turquoise lagoons, climb spectacular mountains, or take a balloon or paraglider ride at sunset.
Some of the caves can be explored independently. Tham Nam is one of the most popular ones due to its easy access. Tham Loup is less touristy. If you want to explore other interesting caves, there's Tham Sang, where you'll find the "Buddha's footprint" and several representations of Buddha, and finally, Tham Jang cave, which served as a Laotian resistance bunker against the Chinese invasion in the 19th century.
If you're looking for something more relaxed, you can explore the surroundings of Vang Vieng on foot, by bike, or on a motorbike. It's ideal for enjoying the wonderful scenery and getting to know the inhabitants of the small villages along the way. The most popular trekking routes lead to the summits of the nearby mountains. Pha Ngeun is the highest peak and a treat for climbers. Nam Xay is one of the most visited mountains for its incredible panoramic views from the viewpoint.
But if you're interested in culture, we recommend visiting ethnic villages such as the Khmu. They currently make up 11% of Laos' population and, although they mainly live in the north, they have also settled in this region. Learning about their way of life and the cultural differences with the Laotian people can be quite interesting.
What did we do in Vang Vieng in one day?
We rented a motorbike in the morning to explore the town and its surroundings (price: 120,000 kip from 8 am to 7 pm and 150,000 kip for 24 hours). We took a short loop passing through some of the most emblematic places in the area:
We went to Nam Xay Viewpoint (price: 20,000 kip) in the morning to avoid the intense heat. The mountain is about 25 minutes away by motorbike. To reach the viewpoint, you'll have to walk uphill for 30 minutes, and the ascent is quite steep. The path is shaded, but the heat can be stifling. Don't expect a paved or perfect trail; there are quite a few rocks, and you'll need to be careful not to bump into branches. The worst part is a small stretch right at the end, but it's nothing an adventurous traveler like you can't handle. The views from the viewpoint are spectacular; you'll have a 360-degree panorama of the entire area, the cultivated fields, and the vastness of the mountains. At the top, take some time to rest and wait until you have the place to yourself to fully enjoy it.
After the hike, we went to Blue Lagoon 3. There are up to six Blue Lagoons, and it's very popular to visit several of them. We went to the first one, but it was too crowded, so we continued to the third one. The entrance fee for Blue Lagoon 3 is 10,000 kip, and it offers a restaurant, bathrooms, and a zipline to jump into the water. Additionally, about 200 meters away, there's a water cave where you can swim.
On our way back, we stopped at some villages along the road, where we encountered cheerful children riding bikes. Once outside the more touristy areas, you can experience the real Laos. During the ride, we enjoyed a breathtaking landscape and learned more about the local inhabitants.
To end the day and fully immerse ourselves in the traditions of this amazing country, we treated ourselves to a traditional Laotian massage at the Riverside Boutique. It's just as good as the famous Thai massage. With views of the river and the mountains, they relieved all the tension from head to toe. We highly recommend trying the Laotian massage experience.
As it was sunset time, we didn't go too far and watched it from the Du Crabe d'or restaurant with a refreshing beer (1.5$ for a 0.66-liter bottle). This is one of the best spots to see the sun setting behind the mountain.
Undoubtedly, if you're traveling to Laos, Vang Vieng is a must-visit destination. Dedicate a few days to explore this town and take advantage of all it has to offer. If you need more information, feel free to contact us on Instagram at @salyroca or @laviajerasalyroca.