Two years ago, I hopped on a 6-hour bus ride from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng to teach Yoga for a month. I didn’t expect to be back in Vang Vieng so soon, but apparently its grip on me was stronger than I had realized. This small town mid-way between Luang Prabang and Vientiane was once an alcohol-fueled backpackers’ haven, but has quickly outgrown its reputation and turned its focus toward promoting the natural beauty and incredible caves, waterfalls and lagoons in the area.
It is also a haven in Laos for adventure lovers and offers tons of exciting activities and excursions. Read on for some of the most important things to know before you visit, what to do in Vang Vieng, where to stay in Vang Vieng and the best places to visit!
Heading to Vang Vieng for the first time? Make sure you also read this article: 5 must-visit places in Vang Vieng (that aren’t the Blue Lagoon!)
Things to know before you visit Vang Vieng
- You can get to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang or Vientiane. It is possible to apply for a visa on arrival in Laos at both airports for most nationalities – bring 1 passport photo and US dollars for the application fee, though they might also accept Thai Baht. The Laos visa-on-arrival fee varies between about 30 USD to 40 USD depending on your nationality (+1 USD for the visa service fee), and in general the Laos tourist visa is valid for 30 days.
- You can get a local Laos SIM card at the airport, and internet connectivity is surprisingly strong throughout the country.
- Before you travel to Vang Vieng, make sure you download these maps to your phone from Hobo Maps: Vang Vieng town map, Vang Vieng area map & Vang Vieng north map. Most places in town will sell hard copies of the map but you can access them for free online. You should also download the Vang Vieng map via Google Maps for offline use.
- The currency is the Lao Kip, and the exchange rate varies from approximately 8000-8600 LAK: 1 USD. Cash is king in Laos – there are plenty of places to exchange money in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, and there are also ATMs where you can withdraw money.
- Vang Vieng is a fairly small town but has plenty of restaurants and convenience stores where you can find most of what you need.
The best time of year to visit Vang Vieng
The best time to visit Vang Vieng is from around October to March (you can even go hot air ballooning over Vang Vieng during this season) when there is less rain but the weather is still warm; during this time, the blue lagoons are nice and actually blue (rather than brown and murky). The summer months can be miserable with torrential downpour, but the rain means that the rice paddies are lush and the waterfall is stunning from June to August!
If you are hoping to go tubing or kayaking you will want to avoid visiting during the thick of rainy season as the Nam Song River becomes very rough and unsafe. I have been to Vang Vieng in both the peak season and the off-peak season, and while the off-peak season was nice and quiet, Laos is still relatively uncrowded compared to places in Thailand or Cambodia, and it is easy to get off-the-beaten-track so don’t let the fear of crowds stop you from visiting Vang Vieng in the peak season from October to March.
Where to stay in Vang Vieng
Inthira Vang Vieng is a new boutique hotel in town that offers beautiful rooms with a view oerlooking the Nam Song. But that’s not all – the rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, the bathrooms are fantastic with wonderful water pressure and the staff always go out of their way to help and make your stay more enjoyable. They can book everything for you, from a tuk tuk to transportation to Vientiane or Luang Prabang and even your day trips or hot air balloon ride.
Make sure you budget some time to lay by the pool and enjoy a delicious cocktail or two while you watch the sun go down! If you are looking for a more upscale and modern hotel in Vang Vieng, click here to see current rates at Inthira Vang Vieng. The attention to detail and level of hospitality was outstanding, and I highly recommend staying at Inthira Vang Vieng; Inthira also has a hotel in Thakhek, south of Vientiane, if you are headed that way.
The Silver Naga Hotel also sits right on the Nam Song River and has a variety of room options, an infinity pool and is home to Yoga in Vang Vang. I would recommend the pool view rooms with a balcony so you can watch the sun go down behind the mountains. Click here to book your stay at the Silver Naga Hotel!
If you’re on a budget but still want the great view, check out the Silver Naga’s sister hotel just down the road, the Elephant Crossing Hotel. They also offer a sunset happy hour on the deck! Click here to book your stay at the Elephant Crossing Hotel!
How to get to Vang Vieng
Getting to/from Vang Vieng is relatively painless if everything goes to plan. You can take a large bus (AKA “VIP bus”) or minivan from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng, or you can take a bus or minivan from Vientiane to Vang Vieng. Buses run from Vientiane (drive takes ~4 hours) and Luang Prabang (drive takes ~5-7 hours) every day.
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng bus schedule and Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang and Vientiane bus schedule (times and prices may vary slightly, make sure you double check once you are in town)
You can ask your hotel to book your bus ticket, or head to one of the many travel agencies in town to purchase your ticket yourself. The prices are fairly comparable across the board – approximately 120,000 Kip. You can also hire a private van for approximately 120 USD each way if you prefer a more comfortable journey.
I have not taken the minivans in Laos, but from what I hear they are packed like sardines and can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if you are prone to motion sickness – your best bet is to stick to the VIP buses and pop a Dramamine tablet.
However, the upside of taking a minivan is that it can travel along the “new road” between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang and the journey time is slightly shorter. Once you arrive in Vang Vieng, you can hop in a shared tuk tuk to get to your hotel for about 20,000 Kip per person.
Visiting Luang Prabang before or after Vang Vieng? Head on over here for 9 of the best things to do in Luang Prabang (and what you might want to skip!)
How to get around Vang Vieng
You can easily get around Vang Vieng town on foot, but if you’re hoping to get over to the rice paddies, blue lagoons and waterfall then you’ll want to rent a bicycle or scooter. Alternatively, you can also rent a UTV, which looks like a desert buggy.
We have rented from this small bicycle shop in the past (across the street from Cafe eheh), and once you pick up your scooter you’ll need to drive across town to fill up the tank.
You can expect to pay approximately 80-100,000 Kip to rent the scooter for the day, or 25-35,000 Kip to rent a bicycle for the day. There are lots of tuk tuks that are available for hire – just make sure you agree on a price before you hop in. We paid approximately 250,000 Kip (30 USD) to rent a tuk tuk for 6 hours.
Things to do in Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng may be tiny, but it packs a real punch when it comes to the variety of activities it has to offer. Wondering how many days to stay in Vang Vieng? I would recommend no less than 3 to 4 days if you want to make the most of your time in this little town. I have previously written about 5 of the must-visit places in Vang Vieng, but have decided to expand on the best things to do in Vang Vieng and what you might want to reconsider during your time there – read on!
1. Climb a mountain
If you love hiking, then you’re going to love Vang Vieng. Heck, even if you don’t enjoy hiking (like me), you’re still going to love Vang Vieng. Two of the best mountains to climb in Vang Vieng are 1) Phangern and 2) Nam Xay – both viewpoints in Vang Vieng offer spectacular panoramic views and are relatively beginner-friendly hikes. You can read more about how to get to these mountains and what to expect on the hikes here.
The best time to go hiking in Vang Vieng is during the dry season as the trails can get extremely muddy and slippery, but I hiked Phangern in the wet season (on a non-rainy day) and still managed; in fact, this photo is so popular that I discovered on my most recent trip to Vang Vieng that 3 different tour companies had stolen it and used it on their billboards – ack!
2. Chase a waterfall
Kaeng Nyui is a super scenic 20-25 minute drive away from the center of town on the east side of Vang Vieng. While Kuang Si was roaring during rainy season, Kaeng Nyui was at its best (it tends to be a trickle during the dry season) with the heavy rain flow that we experienced the days leading up to the visit. The best time to visit Kaeng Nyui waterfall in Vang Vieng is from June to August/September.
3. Go spelunking
There are so many caves in Vang Vieng, it would take weeks to see them all. If you only have time to visit one, check out the Tham Jang/Chang cave as it is more accessible from town and well maintained. More on how to get to Tham Jang here. Tour companies around town also offer half-day or full-day caving tours if you are a hardcore spelunker.
4. Do some kayaking
The best time of year to go kayaking is during the peak season, as the river can get too rough from June to September. However, when the river is rough you can actually shift gears and try white water rafting instead!
Kayaking is a great way to see Vang Vieng from another perspective, make sure you bring a wet bag for your phone and camera!
5. Try your hand at zip-lining
Vang Vieng has many zip-lining courses you can go on, most of them are across the river. Many of them traverse through jungles and offer an exhilarating experience. While you can absolutely try zip-lining without joining a group tour, here is a tour that you can book that combines kayaking, zip-lining and a visit to the waterfall in Vang Vieng.
6. Get tubular
Vang Vieng is famous (infamous?) for tubing – you get given a big tire-like pool float, and make your way down the river stopping at riverside bar after riverside bar, progressively getting more and more intoxicated. If this is something you’d like to try, then Vang Vieng is the place to do it. The best time to go tubing in Vang Vieng is from November to March.
7. Soar the skies paramotoring
I wasn’t even aware that paraglides could be motorized, but Vang Vieng offers the opportunity to take to the skies and see Vang Vieng from above. As far as I’m aware, paramotoring is available year-round.
8. Go on a hot air balloon
Vang Vieng is known for being one of the cheapest places in the world to go on a hot air balloon. It costs only 90 USD per person for a 30-minute to hour-long ride, and hot air balloons only operate during the dry season from November to March.
While I would love to recommend this experience, we booked (and paid) to go on a hot air balloon in November 2018 and waited in our hotel lobby to be picked up at the time specified. After 15 minutes passed, we asked the hotel to call the hot air balloon company (there is only 1 in town) and they told us that it had been cancelled as minimum numbers hadn’t been met. Livid! We did get a refund, but the fact that they didn’t even bother letting us know that the trip had been cancelled left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.
Regardless, you can read reviews and make up your own mind here – the majority of people who go on a hot air balloon in Vang Vieng have had neutral to positive experiences.
9. Swim in lagoons
The most well known hot spot in Vang Vieng is the Blue Lagoon, a swimming spot famous for its aquamarine water…except much like the Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang, it is not so blue during rainy season from June to August. Just look at the difference!
It also tends to be extremely crowded and is frequented by large tour groups. But guess what? It isn’t even the only blue-coloured lagoon in the area – there are 3 that are all named “The Blue Lagoon”! There’s even a “Blue Lagoon 5” somewhere outside of Vang Vieng. Instead of visiting Blue Lagoon 1, head to Blue Lagoon 2 or my favorite – the Blue Lagoon 3. Tuk tuk drivers know the directions to the different lagoons.
The entrance fee for all 3 lagoons is 10,000 Kip per person, and the best time to visit the blue lagoons in Vang Vieng is from September/October to March.
10. Practice Yoga
Get your fill of Yoga at Yoga in Vang Vieng, a small studio located within the Silver Naga Hotel offering twice-daily classes throughout the year. The class schedule is posted in advance on their website, and your class pass also includes access to the hotel’s infinity pool!
Even more Yoga guides and tips over here
11. Drink sunset cocktails
This is one of my favorite things to do in Vang Vieng. The view of towering karst mountains and the flowing river are unparalleled, and the cocktails in Vang Vieng are delicious. More of a beer person? Beerlao is the drink of choice in Laos.
12. Visit the temples
There are a handful of small Buddhist temples around Vang Vieng, including Wat That which is one of the bigger temple complexes in town.
Remember to dress appropriately at Buddhist temple complexes – your shoulders and knees should be covered, and you may need to take your shoes off if you’re entering the temples.
13. Get a massage
Get one every day because massages in Vang Vieng are dirt cheap! Expect to pay approximately 70,00 Kip (or 8 USD) for a 1 hour massage, but more often than not you will not get a private room. Your masseuse will also appreciate a small tip, even if it’s 1 or 2 USD.
14. Wander around the night market
The night market is a relatively new addition to Vang Vieng, it definitely wasn’t around a few years ago when I visited! The night market runs through town and you can start at either end – one entrance is located across the street from the Silver Naga Hotel.
The shops sell much of what you’d expect at a night market in Southeast Asia including elephant print pants, casual summer dresses, snacks, key chains, pouches and bags and more. There are also small hawker stands if you feel like grabbing a bite to eat or a Beerlao.
Parting thoughts on the “Elephant Sanctuary” in Vang Vieng
Visiting the Vang Vieng Elephant Sanctuary is one of the newest things to do in town – I’ve left this last/off the list as I have some ~thoughts~ about the legitimacy of this attraction and whether it can be called a true elephant sanctuary. This elephant park has only been open for about 8 months, and did not exist when I visited Vang Vieng a few years ago. In fact, it is currently the only elephant interaction attraction in Vang Vieng (unlike places in Chiang Mai that have dozens).
After the privilege of interacting with and observing elephants at a few elephant sanctuaries and orphanages around the world, the elephant sanctuary in Vang Vieng left me feeling skeptical. A few basics first:
- It is located about an hour and a half away from Vang Vieng by car
- It opened in March 2018 and is locally-run by Go and his family
- It claims to have approximately 12 elephants that have been rented from their owners so they can live at the Vang Vieng Elephant Sanctuary (approximately 400 elephants of the 800 remaining elephants in Laos are owned by private owners). We saw 3 elephants during our time there
- The park offers half day or full day experiences – it will cost you approximately 55 USD per person for a half-day tour
- The park states that it does not use bull hooks to train their elephants, and the tours do not offer elephant riding
When we arrived at the park, we were introduced to Go, a Lao gentleman who started the park out of his love for elephants. He gave us an overview of the park and what to expect, before we were led to meet the elephants in the jungle. 3 elephants emerged from the dense jungle and we fed them bananas, up extremely close and personal. A few times we had to walk around the elephants to get out of their way – that gives you a sense of exactly how comfortable they are with humans, which is not necessarily a good thing.
One of the key things that concerned me about this attraction is that there was a lack of safety briefing – the elephants will get close to you, and while many other elephant interaction places will tell you to avoid standing behind the elephants or touch their ears and bellies, there was no such warnings given here.
Next, we were taken to a small river area to slap mud on the elephants – something that elephants can happily do themselves, and is designed to cater to the tourist more than the elephants. Though we were given life jackets for the next part, swimming in the lake with the elephants, not much more direction was given beyond telling us to say “boon” so that the elephants squirt water before we feed them bananas in the river.
To top it all off, the visitors could sit with bananas in their laps between the elephants and let the elephants eat out of their laps.
Some food for thought: according to the World Animal Protection organization, “a true elephant-friendly venue is purely observational for visitors, where the safety of visitors and wellbeing of elephants is not affected by the need to constantly control the animals. The elephants would be managed in humane ways through the mahout who allows a maximum of freedom or through advanced ‘protected contact’ techniques.”
I would love to give Vang Vieng Elephant Sanctuary the benefit of the doubt – the intentions may be pure, but make no doubt about it, this is a tourist attraction and the elephants are trained to respond to verbal commands (beyond forward, stop, back, go etc.) and pose for photo opps. Because it is privately run and has no affiliation with any reputable animal welfare groups, there is limited oversight into how the park is actually run when the visitors are gone, and my gut feeling is that it feels more like a petting zoo rather than a true sanctuary, at least for the time-being.
While it is true that there is no riding offered here and the elephants appear well-fed, I would love to see the park transition away from making the elephants perform “tricks” for tourist photo opps, provide more safety information and encourage less intimate physical interaction with the elephants, just to name a few. I encourage you to make up your own mind and do your own due diligence when you are deciding whether or not to visit the Vang Vieng Elephant Sanctuary. If you want to visit an elephant sanctuary in Laos, I would recommend Mandalao Elephant Conservation in Luang Prabang, a wonderful sanctuary that is run by an experienced and professional organization.
Interested in reading more about ethical elephant experiences around the world? Click here for more sanctuaries, orphanages and parks that you can visit!
Is Vang Vieng safe to visit?
In my opinion, yes – Vang Vieng is safe to visit for solo female travelers, couples or even families with young children. Vang Vieng is fairly laid back and people are friendly, though English comprehension is slightly lower than in bigger cities like Luang Prabang or Vientiane.
There are no major scams in Vang Vieng, but you should always count your money after you get it exchanged (the large denominations can be confusing), and ensure that you agree on a price with tuk tuk drivers before you get in. One commonly reported scam in Vang Vieng is that gas stations may not always reset the counter before filling your tank, and you end up paying more. Make sure you watch the attendant hit the reset button.
As more visitors travel to Vang Vieng and the town is heavily reliant on tourism, it is not surprising that prices have gone up over the years – but honestly, not by much, and you have to wonder if it’s worth your time (and theirs) to haggle with a shopkeeper or tuk tuk driver over a few bucks.
Where to eat and drink in Vang Vieng
There are plenty of restaurants in Vang Vieng to choose from. Here are some of the best places to check out.
Il Tavolo: Il Tavolo is run by an Italian father-son duo and the food is delicious – try their amazing wood-fired pizza!
Cafe eh eh: A small Australian-owned coffee shop next to the Elephant Crossing Hotel. Good coffee at reasonable prices, try the pastries and cake as well.
Sababa Organic Restaurant: A lovely little family-run restaurant next to Cafe eh eh. Try their pad thai!
And don’t forget about the dozens of sandwich and fruit shake roadside stalls! My favorite sandwich lady is right next to the Elephant Crossing Hotel/Cafe eh eh. $3 for a loaded bacon, egg and cheese sandwich in a baguette bun? Yes please!
There are plenty of accommodation options in Vang Vieng to suit every budget, from hostels to boutique hotels. If you want a perfect view of the Nam Song River and karst mountains then I recommend staying at Inthira Vang Vieng, the Silver Naga Hotel or the Elephant Crossing Hotel. All three hotels are located in the heart of Vang Vieng town.
Have you visited Vang Vieng? Tell me all about your stay in the comments section below!
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My stay at Inthira Vang Vieng was hosted; however, no compensation was received for the review, and as always, the opinions on Yogawinetravel.com are (and always will be) my own! I only recommend products, services and hotels that I have had positive personal experiences with. This article contains affiliate links. If you choose to book using these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my website by using these links!