Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng (Lao: ວັງວຽງ) was first settled around 1353 as a staging post between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Originally named Mouang Song after the body of the deceased King Phra Nha Phao of Phai Naam was seen floating down the river, the town was renamed Vang Vieng during French colonial rule in the 1890s.[1]

View from the Thavonsouk Hotel

Built along the Nam Song river, the town boasts cheap accommodation for backpackers, reasonable rates for hotels, and breathtaking views. We stayed at the Thavonsouk Hotel and Resort for three nights. There were five of us altogether so we took two garden rooms (which included a modest breakfast) and spent around US$400 – backpacking is a young man’s game 😉

One of the most striking aspects of Vang Vieng is the hillside landscape that watches over the town from the other side of the Nam Song.

There are also what seems to be endless miles of rice paddies either disappearing off into the distance or ending abruptly at the foot of a mountain.

Vang Vieng is approximately four hours drive from Vientiane and getting there is relatively simple. An air-conditioned bus departs twice daily (usually) from outside the National Stadium in Vientiane and costs around 40,000 kip per person, but you can drive yourself if you choose to brave the pot holes and twisting roadways.

Daytime activities include caving, kayaking, hot air ballooning, biking (push bike and quad bike), hiking, boat riding and tubing. All activities can be done for a reasonable price.

From the 1950’s to the 1970’s Vang Vieng was used by the Americans as a base for alleged cargo and passenger airline Air America. The reality is that Lima Site 6, now an old disused airstrip, was covertly owned by the CIA and used to support sorties into Vietnam during the war. Now Vang Vieng lies directly within the imaginary ‘Banana Pancake Trail‘ that includes some of South East Asia’s amazing culture and party hot spots from Khao San Road in Bangkok and the full moon party at Koh Phangan through to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng in Laos, as well as destinations in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. [2]

Go home tourists
Go home tourists

As a tourist ‘party town’ Vang Vieng developed a nasty reputation for excessive alcohol consumption, illicit drugs and, unfortunately, many deaths. In 2011 Vang Vieng’s hospital recorded 27 tourist deaths due to drowning or diving head first into rocks, although it was suspected that the number was way higher because many fatalities were taken directly to Vientiane. In 2012, after a couple of Australians died within a month, the Laos government cracked down on the activities along the river, shutting many of the ramshackle bars and forcing drugs off the street. [3] Although safety is still not a strong concern, tubing is now relatively well controlled and still a lot of fun.


At night the river quietens down and the pubs, clubs and restaurants open up. Gary’s Irish Bar become one of my boys favourite places to hang out.

All in all, Vang Vieng offers something for all ages. There is a quiet charm that exudes from the morning town when the late night revelers are still asleep. From long lazy breakfasts, to early morning hiking, there is something for everyone who hasn’t been up until 4:00am. And if late night escapades are your thing then you will not be disappointed, just remember – what happens in Vang Vieng, stays in Vang Vieng 😉

Look out for more photos from our trip in the next few days.

[1] Wikipdeia – Vang Vieng – Accessed 22nd Oct 2015

[2] About Travel – The Banana Pancake Trail – Accessed 22nd October 2015

[3] The Guardian -Vang Vieng, Laos: the world’s most unlikely party town – Accessed 22nd October 2015

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