Vang Vieng, once known as “The Backpacker Capital”, quoted from wikitravel as below,
“Once little more than a bus stop on the long journey between Vientiane at the Thai border and the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, it has managed to become a destination in its own right. Still not much more than three streets and a bus station, the main attractions are the river, laid back countryside and cave-filled rock formations.”
We booked the transportation via our guesthouse, Moonlight Champa to Vang Vieng. There’s few option to choose from if you would like to travel to Vang Vieng. You can go to the Northern Bus Station to buy a ticket by yourself for the local bus and VIP bus OR you can purchase from guesthouse which normally provide the option of VIP bus or mini van. We opt for the safest one – mini van that cost 60,000 kip per person (around RM25). Journey took roughly about 4 hours with the sealed two lane flat road (some part can be bumpy). Overall ride was smooth except the driver will honk every few minutes to overtake the front vehicles or to alert the opposite vehicles. Do note that transporter will try to maximize every space in the mini van and the journey can be really uncomfortable if you are assigned to sit at one of the “extended temporary” seat.
We arrived Vang Vieng around noon time. The mini van transporter will drop you at one of the tour agency office located at the “main road” of Vang Vieng (I’m not so sure where the buses stop). For instance you will feel like you are at no where like what you have seen from the guidebook that look like Vang Vieng. You will find Tuk Tuk waiting eagerly for your arrival and wait to rip you off as Vang Vieng is just so small that everything is reachable by foot. You will be able to reach your guesthouse by walking (unless you really carrying many stuffs that required a tuk tuk).
We stayed at Vieng Tara Villa – a scenic small hotel just after a bridge, nearly 600-800 meters away from the town. The view where the hotel situated is just postcard like – luscious green paddy field and the Nam Song River with the backdrop of mountain. Picturing it now while I am writing this entry already make me feel so light. One downfall, in order for you to reach this hotel, you will need to cross a bridge that charge a passing fee for two way. Passing fee is vary by the mode of transportation, either by foot, bicycle, bike or vehicle. This is both applicable for the locals as well as the foreigners and it is not cheap! 4,000 kip for two way by foot, equivalent to around RM 1.50 (more pricey than the federal highway tol)! So you need to really plan your trip so that you don’t pay it unnecessarily. This factor may also explain why the hotel with such amazing view and standard, is only charging less than RM100 (around USD 30) a night for the garden view room (bought the deal from Agoda) with one of the best continental breakfast I had at Laos.
Shortly after our check in, we went to (guess what!) the infamous TUBING! Well that is actually the main thing we want to check out in this town beside the hot air balloon that don’t function during wet season. This is the activity that once dominated the town and its visitors until it was banned and reopen back recently. Why?? because there were too many fatal accidents happened from this activity. Imagine the alcohol (occasionally with drugs) and the fast flowing river. The idea of it already dangerous. The re-introduce of the tubing activity is much more mild down now (comparing to the photos you saw online). There is an office (I’m not sure whether is the only one) in downtown that organize the tube rentals and send you to the upstream of the river – 55,000 kip (around RM 21) for the rental and another 55,000 kip for deposit if you return it by 6 pm. Only 4-5 bars are open for tubing along the river (all on the left side of the river). The tubing route is around 5 km long from the start to the end. You can stop anywhere you want but transportation is required to get back to the town which often rip tourist off. At times you will feel lost as you not sure whether you already reach the end of tubing. Don’t worry as the end of it is marked at a sign of “End of Tubing”. For the first km of the route, you will find the bars. You can waive at them to signal for stopping. They will then throw a rope towards you and you need to slowly get to the ground by yourself. Keep to the left if you intend to stop as I was swept away totally to the right side of the river and there’s no way that I can swim back to the left side to enter the bar. To be honest, this activity is really dangerous as no designated personnel is assigned to oversee the whole tubing route. Which mean if really something happen, no one would be able to save you. Life jacket is not compulsory and is given upon request at the tube rental office. Do take one as the river really flown very very fast (I’m not sure whether it is because of wet season)! Actually I really like the experience of tubing as it is a very different way to enjoy the scenic landscape of Vang Vieng. If you do happen to visit there, do give a try on this activity but limit your intake of alcohol for a safe and happy journey.
The next day, we went to Tham Poukham (the Blue Lagoon), which is at the side of our hotel (after the paid bridge) and roughly 7km from the bridge. You can rent a bike or bicycle to there but do note that the road there is quite terrible, especially during Wet Season. We saw bike and bicycle stuck in the muddy road. Luckily we decided to take the tuk tuk, that cost us quite a lot – 120,000 kip (around RM50) to send you there, wait, and send you back to hotel. But if given a chance for good weather, I will choose to cycle to there as the scenery along the way is spectacular! The blue lagoon itself is free but there’s a cave on the top which cost 10,000 kip (~RM4) for entry. You can swim at the blue lagoon which is equipped with swings and rope and fishes (free fish spa). To explore the cave, it is recommended to take a guide as inside the cave is really really dark. Guide is advertised at 50,000 kip (~RM20) but wikitravel mentioned is negotiable. We didn’t negotiate and took the guide as per advertised. As the cave is very dark, you need a head-torch to explore it. That will be 10,000 kip (~RM4) for rental. Personally I don’t think the cave is worth to explore as the guide will barely explain anything to you except showing you the path (and I’m not a big fans of caving).
There’s other caves on the way to Blue Lagoon which you can explore but again due to the wet season, it was closed during our visit. We rented bicycle (15,000 kip – around RM5 for a full day) to continue our exploration at Vang Vieng. Next, we went to Xang Cave, which located inside some resort. The cave is well lit and 10,has stairs running throughout that makes it an easy self guided tour. You can have a good view surrounding the city. Entrance Fee is 15,000 kip (around RM6) and it is collected at the entrance of the resort.
In conclusion, there’s nothing much to do at Vang Vieng during the wet season and one full day would be more than enough to explore the town attraction. As we spend 2 nights here, we get to really wind down and enjoy the scenery. Vang Vieng also more “tourist commercialize” in that sense to cater the general appetite of the western tourists, especially the party seeker. People here also seem to be less friendly and less genuine than those from Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Probably that is the effect of the disastrous tubing activity in the past that had disturb this little town. Throughout our trip, I rarely see Laotian girls wearing clothing that may expose many of the body parts. Most of them wear very decently (no pants and skirt above the knee and no short sleeve) as Laotian is well known for keeping their tradition and culture until now. But at Vang Vieng, you will find local girls with sexy outfit that work for the massage parlour and hanging out outside waiting for customers -> a tourist scene which is very rare to see in Laos but fairly common around Thailand. Quite a sad scene to see as one of the pride that shown as part of their tourism effort is to maintain its current culture from the various invasion of modernization. Vang Vieng, not so much of a well kept secret of Laos anymore but still with so much potential as a tourism spot -> The Magnificent View – one of the most scenic place I had ever visit around South East Asia.