Vang Vieng

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Vang Vieng (also Vang Viang) is a riverside town in Central Laos.

18.917500 102.421000
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  • Metropolis over 100 hotels
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  • Village below 5 hotels

Points of Interest

  • Beach Beach
  • Business object Business object
  • Casino Casino
  • Civic property Civic property
  • Education Education
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  • Golf course Golf course
  • Green space Green space
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  • Medical Medical
  • Monument Monument
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  • Skiing Skiing
  • Sports facility Sports facility
  • Theater Theater
  • Winery Winery

Points of Interest in Vang Vieng

  • Padeng Cave and Ring Cave (cross a footbridge over the river, follow the signs and white flags (garbage bags) on sticks through the field). Across the river a 1.5 km path marked by white flags cuts through the fields towards the limestone mountains. The smallest hill has very rickety ladders (read: dangerous) to aid in climbing to the top. Halfway up the mountain is a cave. Another 1 km along the path past the mountain goes through a small forest and arrives at a cave. A few sleepy Laotians guard the cave's entrance and a hand painted sign says that guides are mandatory. It costs extra to go to the lagoon in the cave, and the guides will let you know that "tipping extra is OK". 10,000 kip for the hill, 15,000 kip for the cave, 30,000 kip to go to the cave lagoon.
  • Tham Poukham - Blue Lagoon (7 km west from town, maps provided where you can rent bicycles, accessible by bicycle or motorbike. Be careful along the way, in recent years a number of imposters have shown up, all claiming to be the Blue Lagoon. Keep to the main road and you should be OK). 08:00-18:00. A spring-fed lagoon at the bottom of "Golden Cave". Nice place to relax, swim and play on the rope swing. The waters are inhabited by a few hundred carp that will eat locally sold fish food out of your hand. The cave above requires a modest 100 m hike up a makeshift bamboo ladder. Once inside, there is a short walk to the Sleeping Golden Buddha and glimmering stalactites about 300 m further inside. 10,000 kip entry and 10,000 kip to rent a head-torch, recommended if you go deeper into the cave than the Buddha (travellers warn to check the battery). Guides for the cave advertised at 50,000 kip but, like most things in SE Asia, this is probably negotiable.
  • Xang Cave (on the south end of the main road. Turn right at the sign to Jam Mee Guesthouse). Decent cave but not worth the 15,000 kip entrance fee plus 2,000 kip per person/3,000 kip per motorbike bridge crossing fee. The cave is well lighted and has stairs running throughout that makes it an easy self-guided tour. One part has a really nice view of the farms surrounding the city. If you've been to other caves it's really not worth the money (similar but more expensive).
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About Vang Vieng

Background

Once little more than a bus stop on the long haul between Vientiane at the Thai border and the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng has managed to become a destination in its own right and a popular stop on the unofficial Banana Pancake Trail. Still not much more than three streets and a bus station, the main attractions are the river, laid back countryside, and cave-filled rock formations.

Anyone who has travelled in Southeast Asia will have heard about tubing, an activity that dominates this town and its visitors. Originally opened up by hedonistic backpackers, the atmosphere of the town itself is one of lethargy by day and debauchery by night. Tourists sprawl out in the pillow-filled restaurants, termed "TV Bars", watching re-runs of US sitcoms, Friends and Family Guy episodes, until the sun goes down, and then party heavily until the early hours.

A couple of kilometres upstream, the pulsating music, drinking games and drug-fuelled debauchery of the increasingly lively riverside "tubing" bars starts at lunchtime.

Vang Vieng may have established itself as the exception to the rule that Laos doesn't have nightlife. It does have potential as a base for adventure tourism which attracts a few more sedate foreign sightseers. However, it can be considered a noisy "back-packer hell" and so those wishing to avoid noisy, selfish teenagers away from their parents for the first time and instead seek something Laotian would do as well to either use Vang Vieng only as a base to explore the surrounding countryside or avoid it all together.

Activities

  • High swings. Playing on the very high swings over the river and sliding on a slide. Be careful - perforated eardrums, broken ribs and permanent hearing damage are common injuries resulting from going the wrong way and also foot injuries hitting rocks and consequently also death when going head first or falling off platforms when drunk. The local hospital is not equipped to diagnose or treat these serious injuries. Vientiane has the closest (if spartan) EMT facility but no English speaking specialists, so you may have to travel to Udon Thani for treatment. You might have to rely on other tourist for rescue.
  • Kayaking. This covers the same part of the river as tubing (and a more untouched part further upriver). Kayaking includes lunch and different caves. Some of the caves takes more than an hour to walk through, with bats and other creatures.
  • Organic Farm (3 km north of Vang Vieng, close to where the main tubing run commences). there's an organic farm which offers volunteering opportunities. It is noise free until about 11:00 and again when the last revelers go back to town at about 18:00. The organic farm has dormitory (30,000 kip), budget and more luxurious rooms for rent. They teach the village kids, build mud brick buildings, learn/teach farming, eat organic food and go to sleep at 22:00. The farm has also a kitchen and sells organic food.
  • Tubing (there is an office in downtown Vang Vieng that now organizes all tube rentals. It's pretty easy to find--just ask around. They will rent you the tube and organize transportation up the river a few miles.). 12:00-14:00 is a reasonable time to go because earlier everyone else would be still asleep. Look at the magnificent view of the mountains rising directly beside the river. Many beer and other pit stops along the way. Also, try the diving stop and the swing. Some dry bags may not be of the best quality, cameras can get ruined by faulty rented to tourists, so beware and if in doubt, don't bring your camera. Tubes have to be back by 18:00 to get the deposit back, and in winter it gets a bit cold from 16:00, so start early to make the most of drinking your way down the river. Ride at least one rapid before starting the party to avoid disturbing guests visiting the Organic Farm. Some Westerners have the job of promoting bars. The party scene has taken over and the owners use humongous loudspeakers, effectively blocking out any singing of birds. Beware of tubes getting stolen while stopping at bars, you may lose your deposit and the ride down. Tubes get stacked up at each bar so keep an eye on how many are left, especially at the first few bars where lots of people arrive without their own tube. If you're not used to drinking liquor, stick with beer and for reasons of safety and common sense consider avoiding alcohol completely if entering the water. The amount of alcohol in buckets can be seriously high and can kick in suddenly; you won't be the first one to be too drunk to make your way back on the river. During rainy season there is more water in the river and eye infections are common. 55,000 kip for the tube + 60,000 kip deposit.
  • Volunteering (FruitFriends), Ban Phonpeng, e-mail: info@FruitFriendslaos.org. Offers immersion and volunteer opportunities. FruitFriends is a social enterprise working with only local staff. Profits are used to organize community-based projects. FruitFriends has a small "homestay" and your help is much appreciated. 2 weeks, USD400; 4 weeks, USD600; 12 weeks, USD1,240.

Food

The numerous TV restaurants are interchangeable and all have a similar theme. When it comes to Wi-Fi some offer it free, others sell access. Others offer access only at certain times only. They all have similar menus. A selection of Lao, American, Italian, Chinese and Thai food is normally fresh but often of indifferent quality and poorly executed. Small serves average 20,000-45,000 kip.

For quick eats and late night snacks, numerous pancake and sandwich stalls dot the streets. But be careful, food hygiene may have been compromised by being in the heat all day and your gastrointestinal system may react accordingly. The street running next to the river just to the west of the tube rental office has a few vendors selling large chicken and pork kebab skewers for 5,000 kip a piece.

Be aware that many restaurants offer "happy" shakes and pizzas. While this may be obvious to many, any food or drink with the words "happy", "special" or "ecstatic" will contain an undetermined amount of marijuana or magic mushrooms.

  • B&P Restaurant & Bar (between Babylon Guesthouse and Organic Farm Restaurant). Lao, Thai, and Western cooking. Home baked apple pie with vanilla ice cream accompanied with an espresso, cappuccino, or a big pot of mulberry tea. Very cosy, clean and nice looking restaurant. Free Wi-Fi. Friendly staff with a Lao/Dutch management.
  • Jungle Bar (Turn left at the fork by the tubing centre, beside TCK Tours). Great quality food, relaxed environment with cheap meals. Awesome owner named Jackie, killer fruit shakes, and fresh pizza and pad Thai.
  • Mister Potato (in the small street alongside the hospital). A food cart with tables and chairs. They serve fresh homemade beef sandwiches with potato twists and drinks. The set menu is good for the money and it's clean.
  • Nisha Indian Food. 14:00-?. Serves great Indian food.
  • Organic Farm Cafe. Original and interesting menu. Deep-fried mulberry leaves in honey for 15,000 kip. Goat cheese sandwich for 30,000 kip. Service is sometimes a little organic as well. Head out to the Organic Farm for the best food and service.
  • Pan's Place Guesthouse, (Pan's Place Restaurant), (on the main street) (300 m south of the centre),  023 511484. 07:00-23:00. Western-style menu. All day English breakfast, spaghetti bolognese, beef goulash, cottage pie, fresh fruit shakes, snacks and drinks. Helpful, friendly staff with Kiwi/Lao management.
  • Peeping Som's Bar and Restaurant, Main Rd (just past Wat Kang, next to Chilllao Guesthouse). A small menu offering a change from most other restaurants in town. The English chef focuses on the quality of dishes, preferring to offer a few very well-executed meals. Lao drinks such as Lao Hai, and flavoured Lao Lao also on offer.
  • Q Bar and Restaurant. Food and drinks from as little as USD1.65. Steak + drink for 30,000 kip, curry + drink, 15,000 kip.

Drinks

Beerlao is available everywhere in Vang Vieng, but the drink of choice is a cheap plastic bucket filled with liquor and soft drinks. A bottle of Tiger Whisky costs the bar 10,000 kip, so around a third of a bottle goes into your bucket, normally with a choice of 7-Up or Pepsi, lime, and Red Bull.

Tubing area

The ramshackle wooden bars in the first stretch of the tubing area are too numerous to single out any individual ones and heave with people in the early afternoon even though many of them haven't rented tubes and some of them have no intention of even going in the water. There are plenty of pathways and bridges to get around. Lie on plastic mats by the river and drink Beerlao, or dance the day away on an outdoor dance floor.

Westerners employed by the bars for food and accommodation hand out free shots and organise drinking games to encourage you to stick around; many will also offer promotions to encourage you to their visit twin bars in town later in the evening. The competition among the night bars is so fierce that the deals are often genuinely pretty amazing, and if you time it right you can go from bar to bar for free buckets and cheap deals.

Too much alcohol or "special" or "happy" shakes which can contain cannabis, magic mushrooms or any manner of substance are not a good idea if you plan on going back in the river.

  • Fluid Bar and Restaurant, Tam lom (4 km north of town), e-mail: fluid.partnership@gmail.com. Is filled with abstract art, strange sculptures and an eclectic mix of music. If you want a break from the norm this is the place to be.

These places are currently all closed (Jan 2013). Tubing still happens and there are some locals who still try to sell to tourists, but this is illegal, so they only do it when they think no one else is watching.

In town

Beer and buckets are available all around Vang Vieng in bars covered with Christmas lights (including all the "TV restaurants") and the buckets are usually very strong because Lao whisky is cheaper than soft drinks. There's no shortage of choice but a distinct lack of diversity, especially if you're looking for live music.

  • The Kangaroo Sunset Bar (Next to New Bridge, River Rd),  +856 20 7714291. Australian-owned and claims to offer the coldest beer in town. Now run by an English guy and Lao woman. Has some things you cannot get anywhere else such as Marmite, Vegemite, Yorkshire tea, Branston pickle, and chili con carne. Beautiful view.
  • Kiwi Sports Bar (between the hospital and Pan's Place Guesthouse),  +856 2028779796. The cheapest beer in town. Play your own music. Free pool, dartboard, Internet, whiskey shots, and sports on a 60" LCD. Excellent variety of Italian and Lao food. Also has mountain bikes for rent.
  • Q-Bar (on the main street). A "club" environment. Depending on the revolving staff of Westerners they play Dnb, dubstep, and pop. Open for food all day, and closes between 24:00-01:00, depending on the numbers.
  • The Rising Sun (The Irish Bar),  +856 20 7928266, e-mail: info@risingsunvv.com. The only Irish pub in Vang Vieng. Regular live music, 2 free pool tables upstairs and downstairs and 3 TVs showing live sport. Cold beers and homemade pies.
  • Sakura (In the village centre),  +856 20 6506993, e-mail: sakurabar@gmail.com. Is a step above the standard Friends and Family guy bars. They have a projector, with a fairly solid library of both Hollywood and art house films, although you have to be lucky or go in with a sizeable group to get your first choice. They also offer dice roll bucket deals, if you're lucky you win a free bucket. Free Wi-Fi, but only available from 09:00-20:00.

The Island

For serious drinking, the bars referred to collectively as The Island, reached via some ramshackle bamboo and wood bridges, are where most of the tubers end up after a day on the river, particularly after the bars in town start to close. The Sandwich Pancake pushers hover in a long line as people stumble over the bridge, waiting to prey on drunken Western tourists. But be aware of trying to buy eye drops for sudden onset conjunctivitis around this area. Stories abound of people being drunkenly extorted as much as 5x the normal price for treatment for their conjunctivitis

  • The Bamboo Bar, stands out a bit from the rest and offers mojitos (also alcohol-free) served in bamboo with bamboo straws whilst watching the late tubers come in and watching the sometimes spectacular sunsets and thunderstorms over the mountains. Located on the island in the river at the end of the tubing surrounded by bamboo. A sauna is being built for the high season and vegetarian buffet is ready after one hour on demand by a larger group. Cheaper bars close by also offer drinks and food.
  • Limbo bar, so named for fire limbo stays open very late.
  • Rock bar, offers a change in music.
  • Joker Bar and Sunset Bar, stay open the latest.

Shopping

The small shops scattered throughout Vang Vieng sell the standard assortment of snacks, trinkets, sunglasses, and bathing suits. The majority of tourists seem to leave with at least one T-shirt, vest, or dress with "In the Tubing - Vang Vieng" emblazoned on it.

Prices for tourist packages are quoted in both kip and US dollars. Restaurants, hotels, and pretty much everything else is priced in kip. Most places will accept kip, US dollars and Thai baht for larger purchases.

There are several ATMs that now take all major credit cards, but are known for running out of cash. Some tourists have reported only being able to use cards on the Maestro (Mastercard) network.

The Lao Development Bank changes money at good rates and processes cash advances. BCEL will also do cash advances on credit cards.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Vang Vieng on Wikivoyage.

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