After surviving a 5h minivan ride from Vientiane to Vang Vieng on bumpy mountain road with a beautiful scenery we arrived at the bus station. Luckily traveling with 6 people we were able to have a 12-seat-minivan all to ourselves (at the same price as a seat in a touristy minivan). The road was really bad and I was glad not to suffer from road sickness. Keep in mind to take some pills with you if you don’t resist to a roller coaster style ride for 5h (and make sure to eat enough for breakfast!). The road was way worse than I had imagined since the driver kept speeding up and down narrow mountain roads next to cows and bikes. I think the best and most fun way would be to travel by scooter/ motorcycle. There are also bigger busses at the same price, I guess they would be less bumpy.
Accommodation: cheap but not so chic
We didn’t book any hostel in Vang Vieng either, so we ended up walking though town and looking for a nice hostel. The tut tuc took us to a place called Vangvieng Villay Backpacker. We walked around for a while but couldn’t find anything better than that (many things didn’t have enough free beds for all of us 6). The „hostel“ looked more like a hotel which had been built quite a while ago and had past it’s golden years since quite a while. I opted for one of the most „expensive“ rooms (45’000 LAK for a double room with private bathroom, ventilator and balcony with a beautiful view of the mountains!). The interesting part was that the room seemed very nice at first glance, but there were some particular things which struck me at second glance: to enter the washroom you had almost to climb up a high step & the bed didn’t have any blankets (as already mentioned – my life-saver blanket came into very good use!).
Tubing: a must in Vang Vieng!
Vang Vieng used to be a hotspot for the wild tubing. Many tourists died while tubing (mainly because they had been drinking too much or where on drugs), therefore the government decided to shut down the tubing. Most of the bars had to shut down and the slides and jumping ropes were removed from the river bank. Today you’ll find some remaining of the wild tubing from the old days: there are four bars left. It’s still a lot of fun to go tubing, but from what I’ve heard it’s nothing compared to what it used to be. Vang Vieng has suffered a lot from the whole story since first it was overflown by crazy backpacker kids who came to binge drink and party the whole time (and didn’t care that this destroyed the beautiful scenery of Vang Vieng). When the government shut down the whole thing, the locals suffered from a loss of many tourists. There have been attempts to attracting more adults; Vang Vieng is such a nice place which offers way more than a place where young hipsters can party but it has been difficult to detach from the image of a crazy-backpacking scene. Today you can still see the footprints the whole story has left on the little town. The facilities look old (some even abandoned) and most bars as well as shops are still oriented towards young backpackers. It made me kind of sad to realize how tourists ruined such a nice place on one hand (but also gave the local economy a huge upwards shift on the other hand!).
Tubing itself is still very fun if you do it in a responsible way (don’t get excessively drunk and please don’t even think of taking drugs – too many people have died by doing so!). Downtown you can rent tubes (right next to the hotel I was staying) by paying in advance and leaving a deposit. They write a number on your hand and load your tube on a tuc tuc which takes you to the first bar („bar zero“). There is a lot to do: chill by the bars, have some Beerlao (don’t forget to get bracelets for every drink you have!), enjoy the sun while playing beach volley (bar 1), beerpong & beer frisbee (bar zero/ bar 1 & mr. lao lao), dance around the fire (bar mr. lao lao and last bar) & have some delicious chicken sandwiches (bar mr. lao lao). Don’t forget to drink enough water, take a tshirt with you (it gets pretty cold in the evening) and eat enough before starting (we discovered too late that the only food available was at the second stop at the bar mr. lao lao). I would recommend you to go barefoot since it’s easier to get on and off the tubes, and take a dry bag with all your belongings with you (you won’t need much besides some cash, sunglasses, a GoPro and a camera). You’ll get very quickly from bar zero to bar 1 and from there to bar mr. lao lao. To get to the last bar it takes quite a while (about 20 min) and from there to the last station even longer (we took a tuc tuc back since it was already dark when we got there). Many people walk from one bar to the other and don’t tube down the river.
Food, drinks & nightlife: your worst nightmare or backpackers paradise?
The main streets of Vang Vieng look all the same. You can’t really see any difference from one bar to the next: they all have lounges with pillows to sit on and low tables (there are normal tables in the back), serve deep-fried western style food from a menu with over 30 pages (from pizza to burgers, all you wouldn’t wish to find in Asia!) and have Friends playing from a couple of modern flat-screen TVs (some few exceptions have How I Met Your Mother or American Dad playing). Of course the „I’ve-been-tubing-the-whole-day-and-am-hammered-backpackers“ don’t mind such bars with their smell of deep fried chicken, the disgustingly fatty food and the filthy cushions to sit on to. For those travelers it might seem like a paradise: you get to binge watch series, have free Lao Lao-Coke buckets (never know, you might even get a spiked one if you’re „lucky“) or a flat rate on drinking – all while lying on greasy cushions in your own lounge like the ancient romans used to do. The streets are packed with little stands selling sandwiches, hamburgers and pancakes (all deep fried of course). I personally couldn’t stand it any longer and the food was the main reason I decided to leave Vang Vieng after two nights. I wished that there would be more local food as in Luang Prabang.
- Food from 10’000 LAK (fried pancakes/ sandwiches/ hamburgers from street stands) to 40’000 LAK (fast food at a bar)
- Hotel: 11US$ for 2 nights (private double room with bathroom & balcony)
- Tubing: 85’000 LAK (rent + late arrival fee), Beerlao costed 10’000 LAK and a sandwich 20’000 LAK; dry bags 35’000 LAK (small)
- Bus to Vientiane 50’000 LAK (2h): there are many busses from Vang Vieng to SE Asia. I actually wanted to go to Cambodia, but the 30h bus ride discouraged me from doing so and I opted for Vientiane