Vang Vieng is essentially the ultimate tourist trap in Laos. Expats and backpackers are lured by the infamous idea of floating down a river in a tube, bringing only a bottle of whiskey as their companion to accompany them until they reach the first bar along the Mekong River. It is for this reason that many people go, and it is for this same reason that many backpackers stay far, far away from Vang Vieng, Laos. While drunk tubing does sound tempting to some and slightly horrific to others, Vang Vieng has so much more to offer those who are traveling in Laos.
Scratch tubing off your itinerary and reach for a paddle instead. While it may seem like a more exhausting endeavor to make your way down the Mekong River by kayak, it is actually a much more efficient and pleasant way to see the high rising, emerald green cliffs that surround kayakers and tubers on both sides of the river’s banks. While those beside you on the Mekong River cook in the sun in a tube, sipping on warm liquor and struggling to move in the sometimes stagnant water, you’ll be gliding along with ease, an additional person to keep you company and help you move your journey along as you take in the river’s beauty from all angles. If you are sitting in a tube, you’ll be straining to see either side of the bank as you succumb to the direction in which the floating device wants you to go. Added bonus: you can still drink as you kayak! There are a handful of bars open as you make your way down the Mekong River, selling everything from whiskey and vodka buckets to Beer Laos for about $1.25.
After having visited the must-see cities in Laos, my favorite place to gorge myself was in Vang Vieng. The city offers a wide variety of cuisine, and those visiting can chow down on some spicy Indian dishes, pick from an array of vegetarian options or opt for some dirt cheap street vendor dishes. The vendors are big on their sandwiches, smoothies and pancakes, and you’ll definitely have trouble deciding on which toppings or fruit will be the most delicious. If you search hard enough, you can find smoothies for .62 and sandwiches for $1.25.
Now I know I said this city is a tourist trap for the tubing alone, but you don’t need to succumb to the pressures of sitting in a rubber hole all day to experience a good party in Vang Vieng. Good times, cheap drinks and free t-shirts appeal to all who visit Vang Vieng. There won’t be a day spent here where you won’t see some tourist wandering about the city sporting a neon pink tank top with the Sakura Bar logo on the front. That being said, this is the bar to be at in the evenings during your stay. Luckily, Vang Vieng is a small city, so getting from your hostel to any bar is easy and can be done so without having to pay for a tuk tuk.
Experience some of the most beautiful cliffs from some relatively frightening heights as you zip line through Vang Vieng. Tour packages are offered along the street at almost every hostel, so you’ll have no trouble finding a zip line package that tailors best to what it is you want to do. The packages are much cheaper than almost anywhere I have seen in Southeast Asia. Our tour guides were encouraging (as it was my first time), hilariously daring and extremely accommodating to all those who were participating. Take advantage of Laos’s beauty and prices and zip line during your stay in Vang Vieng.
The Blue Lagoon
I was told by many who had been before that the Blue Lagoon was overrated, and it can be, if you don’t explore it properly. There is a 10,000 kip entrance fee to get into the lagoon, which is about $1.25. Locals gather together to eat and enjoy the sun on the banks of the bluest water I have ever seen. You can jump from the banks into the lagoon via rope swing, or, if you’re brave enough, plunge into the crystal water from the top of a makeshift treehouse as onlookers cheer you on.
If you grow tired of lounging and swimming in the water, you can make your way Phu Kham Cave, which offers tourists both some exercise (as it is quite a trek if you explore it in its entirety) and a look at the golden reclining buddha once inside. You can go further, however, into the cave after having seen the buddha. Follow the discouraging graffiti that points you in every which way, and you’ll get the chance to really explore the inside of the cave. Don’t forget a flashlight, however, as you will find yourself climbing in areas that are pitch black. The cave essentially goes in a circle, but I’m sure there are many more nooks and crannies to explore if you truly search hard enough. We were not charged to enter the cave, but you can rent a headlight for 10,000 kip if you do not have a phone or flashlight.
After exerting yourself exploring the cave, make your way to one of the many restaurants that surround the lagoon. I would suggest crossing the bridge and eating at the restaurant nearest to the parking lot: the food is cheaper, the service is better and you still have a great view of the water and surrounding scenery.