Vang Vieng became notorious as a backpackers party town with all-night parties, illegal drugs in plentiful supply and rising crime. There were also increasing numbers of fatalities and serious injuries as unregulated tourist orientated adventure sports took hold.
Main picture Vang Vieng, Laos credit Pascal Muller on flickr
Today the town is looking more like the pretty little town that was first dicovered by backpackers.
Many of the adventure sports have been closed down and bars have been controlled.
Now there are less backpackers in town and more Asian tourists.
Vang Vieng is situated north of Vientiane and lies on the Nam Song River. It is surrounded by striking limestone mountains and caves that gives the area its incredible scenary and attraction to tourists.
The area also has a number of caves and lagoons which are well worth visiting.
First settled around 1353 and called Mouang Song, as a staging post between Luang Prabang and Vientiane.The town was renamed during French colonial rule in the 1890’s.
It was used by the US Air Force during the Vietnam War when an airbase was constructed.
It was then discovered by backpackers and grew quickly on the back of increasing numbers of tourists attracted by the cheap prices and the adventure sports that included tubing and kayaking on the Nam Song, rope swings, zip lines and rock climbing.
The Laos government stepped in to help protect the area amid concerns that the hedonism would cause irreparable damage to the area, community and local culture.
Backpacker deaths, generally while fooling around in and near the river, were also a major concern.
Once word had got out that the party town had lost its edge the Laos government gradually allowed tubing to restart, but with more restrictions and rules in place. Many of the other activities though remained banned
In 2012 they banned tubing on the river and succeeded in discouraging that partying backpackers. The number of bars, and their opening times, were also controlled.
The town has seen a different type of traveller heading to the experience its charms. No longer are they relying on hordes of backpackers on small budgets.
Now they are seeing Korean and Chinese tour groups, staying in boutique hotels and demanding high-end restaurants and facilities. They seem to have succeeded in the dream of many tourist areas. Less tourists but higher-value, spending more money and causing less issues.
Things To Do And See
Countryside and Wildlife
Venture even a few minutes outside of Vang Vieng and you will be in the countryside, surrounded by Karst cliffs, tropical forest, local villages and farms and plenty of local wildlife. Take your time, keep your eyes peeled and enjoy!
A short walk from town are a number of ethnic Lao, Kmou, and Hmong villages.
Ban Pha Tang
Just a few minutes drive from Vang Vieng is this stunning small village. Head to the bridge to enjoy the views of the surrounding countryside and karsts.
Nearby is Wat Pho Karm Chai Mong Kol, a small temple in an incredible location.
The Vang Vieng lagoons can get very busy at times so try to head there first thing in the morning and hopefully get there before any of the tour groups arrive.
Blue Lagoon 1 is just 20 minutes from town and is well signposted if you are travelling independently. The lagoon is tunning and a great place to swim and relax.
A trail leads up to Phu Kham Cave which has a reclining Buddha and a shrine. Locals still use the site so remember to be respectful at all times. The cave itself is very dark so wear sturdy shoes and bring a torch.
A little further from town is Blue Lagoon 2. There are a number of different pools for swimming as well as areas to sunbathe. This is probably the sunniest, and therefore hottest, of the lagoons. It also tends to be the quietest of the three lagoons.
Around 30 minutes from Blue Lagoon 1 is Blue Lagoon 3. The drive is rough and ready but very scenic and once you get to the lagoon you will probably be ready for another swim. This lagoon tends to be much quieter due to its distance from town. The water is also the coolest as it is in the shade for much of the day.
All of the lagoons have rope swings, rafts etc to help you enjoy your visit.
Kaeng Nyui Waterfall is another 30 minute drive from Vang Vieng. The scenic route passes traditional Laotian houses and beautiful countryside.
Once you have parked, and paid the small charge, it is a 30 minute hike to the falls along a jungle trail that is worth the walk in itself. The falls have plenty of opportunities for a cooling dip.
Probably not worth the visit in dry season and the falls may be more like a trickle, if that. I rainy season the trail can be very slippy so take care.
There are a number of places where you get magnificent views over the town and surrounding countryside.
Be warned though that they all entail some sort of hike, some harder and more strenuous than others.
Nam Xay Viewpoint is close to Blue Lagoon 1 and is a wonderful place to enjoy a spectacular sunset. Be warned, if you stay too long after the sun has set it will be very dark on the way down.
Pha Hon Kham is a 30 minute or so trek but another wonderful place to enjoy the views and sunrise or sunset.
The hordes of tubers have long gone and now you can take a more relaxing tube or kayak down the river enjoying the local scenery from a different viewpoint
Tham Chang Cave
Just a 20 minute stroll from town, cross the beautiful orange bridge and head up the steep steps to the cave. No need for a torch this time as there are lights inside.
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