Discover the top things to do in Vang Vieng: from exploring stunning landscapes to swimming in the blue lagoons, this guide will help you plan your trip.
Due to a rapid increase in the number of tourists, Vang Vieng went from being a sleepy village around the end of the 90s to be one of the wildest destinations in South East Asia, known for its “happy menus” and tubing on the Nam Song river.
After a series of accidents where several tourists died, the local government was pressured to put some limitations on wild parties, and in the last few years, Vang Vieng has tried to rebrand itself as an adventure destination, where you can spend some time partying but also rock climbing, kayaking and exploring the numerous caves in the area.
Best time to visit Vang Vieng
Laos has two distinct seasons: dry and wet. The dry season spans from October to April and the wet season from May to September. The hottest months are March to July and the rainiest ones are July to September.
Different activities in Vang Vieng suit different seasons. For instance, you can only ride hot air balloons and enjoy the blue lagoons in the dry season. But if you want to see green landscapes and go tubing, you might prefer the early wet season.
Generally, the best time to visit Vang Vieng is from November to March.
How to get to Vang Vieng
Since the opening of the new Boten-Vientiane railway (which is part of the Kunming-Mohan line connecting China to Laos) getting to Vang Vieng is pretty easy. The hard part is actually finding a ticket since they are almost immediately sold out to local agencies. This means that the best way to buy a train ticket in Laos is by paying an agency to buy one for you. Book them in advance because it’s basically guaranteed that you won’t be able to buy a ticket for the same day even with the help of an agency.
You can get to Vang Vieng from Vientiane or from Luang Prabang by train and by minivan. I recommend the minivan/bus option only if all the train tickets all sold out. Traveling by train is by far the best option in Laos (when it’s available).
Getting to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang by train takes about one hour compared to 5/6 hours by a minivan. If you leave from Vientiane it also takes one hour by train and about 4 hours by minivan (if you are heading to Luang Prabang check out my travel guide).
Where to stay in Vang Vieng
Being a backpacker’s paradise, there is no shortage of cheap accommodation in Vang Vieng. Most hostels cost a few dollars and the mid-range options cost about 20$. The town is not really big, so almost all the guesthouses/hotels are located close to the main road.
If you have a slightly higher budget I definitely recommend staying at the Riverside Boutique Resort. It’s a beautiful structure located right in the center of Vang Vieng, close to the main bridge on the river. After a long day riding your motorbike over dusty roads, you’ll really appreciate the peace and quiet of the resort. The view of the swimming pool and the river in the background is also fantastic.
Here are a few more pictures, if you are not convinced yet:
The staff is really friendly and can recommend where you can rent a motorbike, without getting scammed, and can book the train tickets for you.
Top Things to Do in Vang Vieng in 2 days
The main way to visit all the most interesting places in Vang Vieng is by renting a scooter. You can either rent an automatic scooter or a manual motorbike (cheaper option) and you have the option of renting it for 24 hours or for the whole day. The difference, besides the price, is that if you rent it for 24 hours you won’t have to wait until the stores open in the morning to get one: you can instead start driving around very early before everyone else does.
One important thing to keep in mind is that you should NEVER give your passport as a deposit for renting the scooter. The most common scam is from shops renting out scooters and making people pay money to fix imaginary scratches when they return them. If you give your passport as a deposit, then you won’t get it back until you pay. I only had to provide the business card of the resort where I stayed in Vang Vieng.
In Luang Prabang, on the other hand, I had to leave a deposit in cash and was scammed when I returned the scooter, but at least the shop didn’t have my passport so they couldn’t really blackmail me.
I’ve also heard reports about some backpackers that got their scooters stolen so, just to be safe, I brought with me a chain lock. I’m not telling you these things to scare you but just to save you a lot of trouble and avoid any issues.
If for some reason you can’t drive a motorbike you can also hire a tuk tuk but it’s gonna be much more expensive since you definitely want the driver to wait for you in every place you visit.
After clarifying these issues, here are the top things to do and to see in Vang Vieng, Laos:
Explore and relax in one of the Blue Lagoons
Blue lagoons are a series of seminatural pools scattered outside Vang Vieng. Each one is organized with a few facilities. Generally, the lagoons closer to Vang Vieng attract more people. There should be about 6 of them, or maybe more, and I visited Blue Lagoons 1,2,3 and 6
The most popular is Blue Lagoon 1 and the most beautiful is in my opinion Blue Lagoon 3: the water is the cleanest and is also quite far from the town so it’s not really overcrowded.
Blue Lagoon 2 is also very popular since there is a huge area where people can relax in a nice meadow. Blue Lagoon 6 is the most difficult to reach due to a very bad bumpy road and the water is quite murky. But if you really want to avoid people it’s probably the best option. To access the Blue Lagoons you’ll have to pay a small fee.
Visit some of the many caves
There are many caves in Vang Vieng, both near and farther away from the town. Most of them are located close to the Blue Lagoons, like the one that you see above, called Phu Kham cave, right inside the Blue Lagoon 1 area.
These caves are a stark contrast to the disco caves I’m so used to in China: there is no artificial light and some of them are also quite dangerous to visit due to the very steep hiking required to access them and the narrow tunnels.
Watch the sunset from the Nam Xay viewpoint
The most famous viewpoint in Vang Vieng is Nam Xay, located quite close to Blue Lagoon 1. The view from the peak is stunning but hiking to the top is quite challenging. To access the trail you’ll have to pay a small fee and at the end of the 45 minutes hike (sometimes it feels like rock climbing) you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view and a motorbike positioned there to take a few pictures.
This place is very popular but it’s not the only viewpoint in the area. There is another one located close to the town and called Pha Ngern. I didn’t visit it but it’s supposed to be even more challenging than Nam Xay. Let me know if you got there and if it’s worth it.
River Tubing in Vang Vieng
Despite the crackdown, river tubing is still a thing. If you are wondering what on earth is “tubing” here’s a short description: river tubing involves floating down the Nam Song River on a tube, stopping at various bars and attractions along the way.
Today most bars along the river have been closed and tubing is much safer than in the past. Only a few agencies are authorized to run these types of tours and you can find them walking along Vang Vieng’s main road.
Enjoy the view from a hot-air balloon
There are a few companies running this kind of business so don’t expect the sky to be filled with balloons like in Cappadocia. The most famous company (Above Laos) offers tours starting from 130$ which is an honest price. If you want to see the sunset remember to book the ticket well in advance.
Explore Vang Vieng from the river
If tubing is not your thing, you can consider renting a kayak and slowly making your way out of town on the Nam Song River. There are plenty of tour operators in Vang Vieng that offer this service. Just walk around and find one that you like.
Vang Vieng is a very tourist town where you can spend a couple of days doing cool stuff. You can relax in one of the Blue Lagoons or you can spend your days hiking in the countryside. Just take your time to explore the area at your own pace.
Unfortunately, there is the occasional scam, which is a very common thing is Southeast Asia, but in my experience, the situation in Laos is not as bad as in Vietnam.
The most important thing to keep in mind is the time of the year when you visit Vang Vieng. If you pick the wrong time (rainy season) you won’t be able to do most of the things mentioned in this travel guide.
Here you can find some more pictures I took in Laos. Here is my Nong Khiaw travel guide, another interesting place in Northern Laos.