Vang Vieng

The peace and quiet that one often associates with Laos is not immediately apparent in the city of Vang Vieng. On the road between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, it has become a backpacker mecca known for its crazy parties and easy availability of drugs. 

A few years ago, however, the Laotian government cracked down hard on the antics going on in Vang Vieng. Tubing, a popular activity where you sit on a tube and float down the river stopping at bars, is now nearly impossible with only 4 bars left along the riverside. Apparently, there used to be over a hundred of these bars, offering liquor, beer, and even “happy” pizzas. 

Once popular for tubing, now the river is filled with local kids playing instead of tourists. 

Vang Vieng seems like a sad shadow of its former self. Backpackers still flock here looking for those party days of old. Many businesses have been forced to close down, and locals are bitter about it. 

If you can overlook the sad present state of Vang Vieng, you will be rewarded with some beautiful Laotian nature. Steep rolling hills, bright blue lagoons, interesting caves to explore… these are only some of the things Vang Vieng has to offer. 

Instead of lounging in a restaurant and watching TV shows you can just as easily watch at home, rent a bike and head out to the Blue Lagoon. Many tourists opt out of biking and take a tuk-tuk to the lagoon instead, avoiding the incredibly bumpy 7 km road, but missing out on the nature first hand. It was incredibly nice being able to stop on the road at any point to take pictures, purchase goods from the roadside stalls, or pop by a restaurant (all three of which we did!).

TIP: If you do decide to bike, make sure you make it to real Blue Lagoon. There are many “fake” signs along the way that try and lead you to the wrong place. Just keep biking along the path for around an hour (we used the GPS on our phones to make sure we were in the right spot!)

The scenery was beautiful — a mix of rolling forested hills and jagged limestone cliffs. The vegetation around us was a vibrant green, giving no hint to the daily scorching sun and heat. We reached the lagoon after an hour, and took a little break before starting the hike up to Poukham Cave. 

The cave was unimpressive in my eyes, especially after the arduous and almost impossible climb to get to it. At some points, you are crawling on your hands and knees up a ladder-like structure. It’s slippery, too, so you have to be careful!

The lagoon where all the locals and tourists swim is so, so, SO cold. It was lucky that we were sweaty and hot from trekking to the cave — it was easier to jump in! The atmosphere of the place is energetic and happy, with locals swimming in the river, jumping off trees into the water, and swinging on ropes. 

After the Blue Lagoon, the three of us went to a restaurant that is actually part of a volunteer organization called Sae Lao. Most of the food on their menu is from their very own garden, and the rest is purchased from farmers close by. The organization strives to help the residents of Vang Vieng by educating them about sustainability and striving to make Laos a more sustainable country. I definitely recommend stopping by here for some food, or if you have more time, even volunteering for a few weeks.

Highs: The beautiful nature, Blue Lagoon, Sae Lao Project’s restaurant 

Lows: Hordes of tourists (not the nice kind), the bumpy road to Blue Lagoon, the almost-impossible hike up to Poukham Cave which turned out to be unimpressive