Vang Vieng – Is it really still worth visiting?
Once upon a time, Vang Vieng was known for being a crazy party town, which was mostly down to the river tubing which took place on the Nam Song River, with party goers stopping at each illegal bars lining the river. However, following huge international media attention and the pressure caused by the deaths of young backpackers, the Lao government finally decided to crack down and close the illegal bars. Although the tubing clampdown was definitely for the best, you might be asking yourself, as we did, is it really worth going to Vang Vieng anymore?!
To tube or not to tube?
Although the tubing might not be anywhere near what it was in the past, there is still the chance to tube along the Nam Song. In the past backpackers who came to Vang Vieng to tube would have found themselves floating down the river, getting pulled into plenty of bars along the way, with some even advertising happy shakes and Opium (probably not best to combine floating down a river with a bit of Opium). At its peak more than 400 people would tube down the river getting involved in the excessive drinking and sometimes drug taking.
As I mentioned earlier, those days of the past are long gone now and around 3-4 bars line the Nam Song. Head to the main office and rent a tractor inner tube for 55,000 Kip ($6.75), plus a 60,000 Kip ($7.40) deposit. There were still a few people who took part in the tubing, as you float down the river, you can see remains of the illegal bars which once lined the river.
In my opinion, the tubing isn’t all that great these days. It seems that the bars along the river are relying on tubing’s past reputation to keep the flow of backpackers floating down the river in the battered inner tubes. Don’t expect to come to Vang Vieng with the tubing being anything like it was said to be in the past, but it’s probably worth giving it a go if you find yourself in Vang Vieng. Although, the sight of ‘reps’ who ushered people into the bars was a bit pathetic, 20 something year olds who have come all the way from their country to come and rep for a bar where the party has all but left.
What else is there to do in Vang Vieng?
Although the tubing scene isn’t what it used to be, there still a lot more to this small town situated smack bang in the middle of Laos. The first thing that you will likely notice upon arrival, is the striking and compelling landscape which surrounds the town. This landscape doesn’t only make for an excellent view, it also means there’s plenty of outdoor activities which can be done around the town.
Blue Lagoon is far from being a hidden gem, but there’s a reason it’s one of the most popular things to do in Vang Vieng. Blue Lagoon is easily accessible by tuk tuk (although it’s a long a very bumpy road) or bike if you’re ready for the exercise. Just a heads up, if you go by tuk tuk they will more than likely go across the ‘toll’ bridge, refuse to pay this. The driver will be adamant you must pay the toll at first, but they will more than likely back down if you refuse.
Blue Lagoon is a beautiful bright blue body of water. Although, the beauty has been slightly ruined by the tourist effect. There is an entry fee of 10,000 Kip ($1.25). Many people just chill out by the lagoon with a few beer Lao’s, topping up their tan. However, there’s always the option to go for a swim in the lagoon or to jump off the tree which hangs over the water.
Along with entry to the lagoon, the 10,000 Kip entry fee will also grant you access to a close by cave, which is excellent for novice cavers (like myself) to navigate around.
Due to the rocky karst landscape around Vang Vieng, which is made up of Limestone mountains, there’s plenty of places where you can go caving. Including the cave which we explored, just by Blue Lagoon. As I mentioned this cave is perfect for novice cavers. You see local kids jumping from rock to rock in the cave in bare feet, which made me feel even more of a novice, as I was there taking it slow!
If you can, take your own head torch with you. Alternatively if you haven’t got one, a head torch can be rented before you make the climb to the mouth of the cave. There’s a bit of a climb to the entrance, which can be tough in the heat, but stick at it, as it’s well worth it. Although I mentioned the fearless local kids run about the cave in bare feet, proper footwear is recommended. Inside the cave is extremely hot and sweaty, so a dive into the chilly turquoise water of the nearby lagoon after will be absolute heaven!
The Nam Song River isn’t only occupied by drunk tubers, there’s some great, but intense rapids along the river. I’ve got to admit, we were quite naive when it came to the kayaking. The rapids really are intense to an absolute novice such as myself and without over exaggerating, I felt like I was going to drown one of many times we came out of the kayak. I wouldn’t really recommend kayaking along the rapids if you’v never kayaked in the past, however, there is more relaxed parts of the river which would still make for a great day out.
We booked the kayaking through our guesthouse (Phongsavanh Resort) for 200,000 Kip ($24.50) each. Everything was sorted out for us. We were picked up from the guesthouse at 9am and arrived back at 4pm. Lunch was also included in the price as was cave tubing.
In no way related to the tubing which is infamous in Vang Vieng. Cave tubing basically involved slowly drifting through Tham Nam (roughly translates to water cave). The flooded cave systems has a rope which has been attached to the wall in order for everyone to guide themselves through the cave, ensuring you don’t make a wrong turn and up drifting away from your group. Not surprisingly inside the caves tunnels is pitch black. Head torches are given to everyone they’re not just drifting through a cave where they can see absolutely nothing, because lets face it, that would be a bit pointless wouldn’t it?
Is it really worth the journey to Vang Vieng?
Being truthful, I didn’t expect much when I turned up to Vang Vieng. I knew that the tubing had died down since the Lao government, put a stop to the dangerous activities in 2012. I still expected it to be an fairly decent night out and I wasn’t wrong, there’s a main strip in the town which has a few bars lining the street. A little tip, the bars host an hour of free drinks – Sakura 7-8pm and Kangaroo Sunset Bar 8-9pm. The only problem is they are really slow at serving people during these hours, apart from that though there’s no catch.
The night out and the tubing alone wouldn’t leave me finishing this blog post with a recommendation to make the journey to Vang Vieng. However, the combination of the sheer beauty of the natural surroundings of the town and the intrepid outdoor activities leads me to answer my original question of whether Vang Vieng is still worth visiting, with a yes. There is definitely more to the small Lao town whose reputation as a party town precedes itself!
Have you recently visited Vang Vieng? If so, how was it in your experience? Do you agree with me or would you still recommend it?