Vang Vieng is one of the best places to visit in Laos, but before Vang Vieng became a hub 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. Believe me when I say that there are a plethora of beautiful places to visit and exciting things to do in Vang Vieng!
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 visit Vang Vieng
- You can get to Vang Vieng easily 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 good for 30 days.
- You can get a local Laos SIM card at the airport for cheap, and internet connectivity is surprisingly strong.
- 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 8000-8600 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.
- 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). The summer months can be miserable with torrential downpour, but it does mean that the rice paddies are lush and beautiful to photograph during this season! If you are hoping to go tubing or kayaying you will want to avoid visiting during the thick of rainy season as the Nam Song River becomes very rough.
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. Click here to book your stay at the Silver Naga Hotel!
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! 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. 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 ~3 hours) and Luang Prabang (drive takes ~4-6 hours) every day. 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.
Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng bus schedule
Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang and Vientiane bus schedule
The VIP bus is not as luxurious as the name might suggest, but it ain’t that bad either. The bus makes one stop midway for a toilet and food break, but you’ll want to make sure that you go to the bathroom before you hop on. I have not taken the minivans in Laos, but from what I hear they are packed like sardines and can be extremely comfortable, especially if you are prone to motion sickness – your best bet is to stick to the VIP buses.
The buses travel along fairly windy roads and the bus journey can take an extra hour longer when it rains, so pop a Dramamine tablet before you hop on. Buy your ticket at the local bus depot or from one of the many tour agencies around town. In my experience, ticket prices tend to be pretty consistent across the board.
Once you arrive in Vang Vieng, you can hop in a shared tuk tuk to get to your hotel for about 20,000 Kip.
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. We rented from this small bicycle shop across the street from Cafe Eh Eh.
Alternatively, there are lots of tuk tuks that are available for hire – just make sure you agree on a price before you hop in.
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 quickly Googled whether there was a waterfall in Vang Vieng I could frolic in. I was still slightly 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 Mountain Viewpoint
Looking for an amazing Vang Vieng viewpoint? Head to Phangern Mountain – hiking to the top is one of the best things to do in Vang Vieng. 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 Vang Vieng 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
There are plenty of restaurants in Vang Vieng to choose from. Here are some of the best places to check out.
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!
There are plenty of accommodation options in Vang Vieng, from hostels to boutique hotels. If you want a perfect view of the Nam Song River and karst mountains then I recommend staying at the Silver Naga Hotel or the Elephant Crossing Hotel. Both hotels are located in the heart of Vang Vieng town.
Told you there were great things to do in Vang Vieng besides the Blue Lagoon! 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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