Ah, Vang Vieng. Considered by many to be the highlight destination in Laos on the famous “Banana Pancake Trail” through Southeast Asia. Vang Vieng is home to adventurous outdoor activities set amongst gorgeous natural scenery.
Yes, it was previously better known for its wild and unregulated river tubing party scene. Now Vang Vieng has cleaned up its act so it’s a far less sketchy, but still incredibly fun destination.
You definitely need to spend a couple of nights here to make the most of your time there, so here are some recommendations for how to maximise your fun and adventure – with just 48 hours in Vang Vieng.
Sometimes It’s The Journey as Much as The Destination
If you’re coming from Luang Prabang in the north, you’re in for one of the most scenic drives in Laos, so try to stay awake. Keep your camera handy to snap some truly stunning shots of the mountainous terrain and vast green valleys out your bus window. The drive from Luang Prabang takes about half a day, so you’ll arrive in Vang Vieng by early afternoon and have plenty of time to start enjoying yourself.
Laos’s Best River Tubing
After the morning’s travel, there is no better way to stretch out and relax than heading directly to the Nam Song River to try the famous river tubing. The river tubing experience is tamer (and much safer) than in days past, but is is still the big bucket list item to tick off here, so don’t hesitate to hit the river. You can rent an inner tube from a few places around town and tube hire usually includes a tuk-tuk ride up river to a spot about 10 minutes out of town.
Once you’re on the water, just kick back and relax as you float downstream, soaking up the breathtaking views of the beautiful karst mountains towering around you. There are still a few riverside bars along the Nam Song, and they will happily throw you a rope and pull you in when you’re ready for some refreshments.
Hit The Town
After tubing, it’s a good idea to head to one of the restaurants in town to refuel before hitting the bar scene. Gary’s Irish Bar or one of the pizzerias offer great hearty tastes of home, so they’re your best bet for starting the evening. Even though all the wilder riverside bars closed years ago, there’s still a strong nightlife in town. After lining your stomach, you can head over to Jaidee’s Bar for a low-key start before moving on to the Full Moon Pub and then the Viva Vang Vieng after the other bars close. If it’s a Friday, there’s also the weekly Jungle Project party – the best house music party in town which is held in the jungle at the base of the mountains.
With a whole free day ahead of you, you can sleep in if you went hard the night before. However, don’t sleep the whole day away because you’ll miss out on the other incredible opportunities Vang Vieng has to offer.
The Blue Lagoon (Vang Vieng’s Other Must Do)
If you only do one other thing in Vang Vieng besides the tubing, you absolutely must go for a swim at the Blue Lagoon, one of Laos’ best natural swimming holes. It is also one of those place that you can tag #nofilter with pride. With its naturally brilliant blue water, this little piece of paradise is the perfect solution to a hot day or a hangover (or both, if that’s the case). Those looking for a physical challenge can mountain bike from town, but be warned that the roads are unsealed and bumpy so a reasonable level of fitness is required. Getting a tuk-tuk is the easier option and worth the extra expense.
While you’re there, don’t miss out on the chance to tap into your inner Indiana Jones and hike up the stairs on the other side of the lagoon to the cave and visit the Buddhist shrines hidden inside.
Choose Your Next Adventure
Aside from the Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng truly has activity options for everyone, so choose wisely if you’re limited to 48 hours or hop off to stay longer so you have time to do it all!
Other Options to Consider:
- Epic rock climbing: Outdoor explorers can scale the heights of those staggering karst mountains with a rock climbing course. There are trips available for everyone from first-timers to seasoned pros, ranging from half-day tours through to four-day adventure courses for the serious rock heads.
- Volunteer: Those who want to do some good in their down time should consider working at the SAELAO Project, a locally operated volunteer program where you can help with various community projects like teaching English or getting your hands dirty with garden work.
- Take tubing to a new level: If you didn’t get your fill of tubing the day before, you can kick your tubing experience up a notch by going cave tubing at the Tham Nam (Water Cave). This tubing trip will take you through a flooded cave system in total darkness, with only a rope and a headlamp to guide you. Not for the faint-hearted!
- Kayaking: If you want to get out on the water again, but not just passively floating, there are some fabulous kayaking options, some that will take you over rapids for a bit of paddling adrenaline, and even an option to paddle nearly all the way south to Vientiane.
Treat Yourself to a Well Deserved Meal
After all the day’s adventures and excitement, tonight is the perfect time to treat yourself to a really tasty meal. Vang Vieng is one of the only places in Laos with several international cuisine options, and you are truly spoiled for choice. Mexican, Italian, Korean, Indian – you name it and you can usually find whatever taste of home you’re craving!
The Green Restaurant offers excellent views of the Nam Song and serves both Western and Asian cuisine, but the Asian food far outshines the Western. This is the place to try the tasty springs rolls and curry. If you’re looking for something more upscale, treat yourself to the riverside Restaurant du Crabe d’Or, which specialises in traditional Lao and French cuisine.
Check Out The Night Market
If you’re still standing after all the fun, you can hit the party scene again. However, we won’t blame you if you take tonight a little easier, especially if you’re moving on tomorrow morning.
A great option is to wander through Vang Vieng’s new night market. While it can’t complete in terms of size with Luang Prabang’s sprawling night market, this is still a good one to check out for the variety of clothes, souvenirs and food stalls on offer.
Can’t wait to visit Vang Vieng for yourself? Check out Stray’s Laos Tours.