3 Places You Must Visit in Vang Vieng That Aren’t the Blue Lagoon
Before Vang Vieng became a hub in Laos for adventure and outdoor sports, it was famous for hosting drunken tubing excursions down the river. After a government crackdown led to the riverside bars being shut down, the town has worked on rebranding itself (although you will still be able to join bar crawls a few nights a week!); Places like Yoga in Vang Vieng have opened up and the focus has been shifted to promoting the incredible natural caves, waterfalls and lagoons in the area.
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.
It also tends to be extremely crowded (and isn’t even the only blue-coloured lagoon in the area – there are 3 that are all named “The Blue Lagoon”!), which is why you need to know about some of your other options for amazing places to visit in Vang Vieng: I recently spent five weeks living and teaching yoga in Vang Vieng and while I’m surprised that these places aren’t on everyone’s radar, in a way I was glad because it meant we got them all to ourselves!
Things to know before you go:
- 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.
- The currency is the Lao Kip, and the exchange rate varies from approximately 8000-8100 LAK: 1 USD. There are plenty of places to exchange money in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng itself, and there are also ATMs where you can withdraw money.
- Vang Vieng is a fairly small town but has plenty of restaurant options and minimarts where you can find most of what you need.
- Getting to/from Vang Vieng is relatively painless. Buses run from Vientiane (drive takes ~3 hours) and Luang Prabang (drive takes ~4-6 hours) every day (more details here). The buses travel along fairly windy roads and when it rains, the bus journey can take an extra hour longer so pop a Dramamine tablet before you hop on.
Unmissable places to visit in Vang Vieng
1. Kaeng Nyui Waterfall
After being slightly disappointed that I wasn’t able to swim at Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang, I was skeptical about visiting Kaeng Nyui Waterfall just 1 week later – during rainy season. 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.
A leisurely 5 minute walk later, you reach the first of several smaller waterfalls which you can also swim in.
Keep walking for another 10 minutes and you will reach the Kaeng Nyui Waterfall where you can marvel at the water rushing down the 30-meter drop. The crystal clear water collects at the base where you can spend a few hours frolicking. Entry costs 10,000 Kip.
2. Phangern Viewpoint
The entrance for Phangern Mountain can be a little difficult to spot. From Vang Vieng town, cross the wooden bridge (you have to pay a toll, prices vary depending on what type of vehicle you have) and head west. About 3 KMs in, you will see a large blue wooden sign on the right for “Primary School Phone Ngeun Village”. Turn right down this path and keep driving around 200 meters to get to the starting point of the hike. Check out these little piglets we met on the path to the mountain!
The hike up is not well paved so you will need to wear proper shoes. There are signs that say the hike takes approximately 20 minutes, but it took us closer to 35 minutes with plenty of breaks – it was HOT!
There are two viewpoints at Phangern – once you’ve reached the first one, keep walking and follow a set of steps up to the summit where you are greeted with 1) a snack stand with icy cold beverages, and 2) panoramic views across the rice paddies and Avatar-like mountains. Honestly, I wanted to shoot myself half way up the mountain as it is not an easy hike (and I do not enjoy hiking), but the views made the trip worth it! Entry costs 10,000 Kip.
3. Tham Jang/Chang Cave
Vang Vieng is home to dozens of caves – some spectacular, some not so much. If you only visit one cave while you are in Vang Vieng, make it this one! It is well known for its history as a bunker during an invasion in the 19th century, but many people skip it and visit the Tham Phu Kham Cave next to the Blue Lagoon instead.
It’s extremely easy to get to and will take just 10 minutes on a bicycle from Vang Vieng town. To get to Tham Jang Cave, head south from Vang Vieng town until you get to a fork in the road where you will see a sign for Jamee Guesthouse (KA272 on this map). Turn right down the dirt road and keep going until you reach the gate for Vang Vieng Resort. You’ll have to pay a small entry fee here to get in. Keep going until you see an orange bridge and park your bike.
Cross the bridge and turn left, and the entrance to the cave will be about 200 meters ahead. Entry is 15,000 Kip, but also grants access to a small viewpoint here. Granted, the view is not remotely as picturesque as wall-to-wall rice paddies from the top of Phangern Mountain, but it’s still very beautiful (and much easier to get to).
Once you are in the cave, the temperature drops significantly (a welcome change in the summer months) and you can wander around and explore the cave to your heart’s content. Unlike some of the other caves, Tham Jang is actually paved inside and well-lit.
Another bonus: there is also a blue lagoon here that you can swim in! Head there in the morning to beat the crowds during peak season. No entry fee!
Where to eat and drink in Vang Vieng:
Il Tavolo: When my friend told me there was an amazing Italian restaurant in Vang Vieng, I thought to myself, “yeah mm hmm okay sure.” That is until I tried the food at Il Tavolo. It is run by an Italian father-son duo and the food is as authentic as some of the best meals that we’ve had in Italy. Come and try their amazing wood-fired pizza and incredible arrabiata.
Chaleun: A laid-back local restaurant with almost every possible dish on the menu. Try the chicken satay, morning glory and pad thai. Oh and did I mention your meal comes with a free fruit shake?
Cafe eh eh: A small Australian-owned coffee shop next to the Elephant Crossing Hotel. Good coffee at reasonable prices, try the homemade kombucha as well!
Sabaidee Burger: Yummy burgers (albeit with slightly smaller paddies) with delicious hand cut chips.
Gary’s Irish Bar: Decent food (try the fish and chips) and good service with a quiet 2nd floor terrace. They also have a ping pong table if that’s your thing.
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!
Where to stay in Vang Vieng:
Silver Naga Hotel: The Silver Naga 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.
Elephant Crossing 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. They also offer a sunset happy hour on the deck!
Have you visited Vang Vieng? Tell me all about your stay in the comments section below! If you’re planning to visit Luang Prabang before or after your time in Vang Vieng, read this first!
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