The 4 Best Things to do in Vang Vieng Laos

Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng

Continuing the journey exploring Laos, my next destination is Vang Vieng Laos. Vang Vieng is known for its karst mountain ranges, limestone cliffs, scenic paddy fields, and the blue lagoon. If you are traveling or backpacking through Laos, you have to make Vang Vieng one of your stops. Here is what you need to know to enjoy the best things to do in Vang Vieng.

Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng
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Vang Vieng Laos

Street in Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng was established around 1353 as a staging post between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Originally, the town was called Mouang Song; however, it was renamed Vang Vieng during French colonial rule in the 1890s. In the late 1990s, the town grew substantially due to the flood of backpackers traveling through southeast Asia due to the opportunities for adventure tourism along the Nam Song River (tubing, kayaking, mountain biking) and the spectacular limestone karst landscape surrounding the town.

Nam Song River

Fisherman in the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

Many years ago, Vang Vieng was known for being party central, where backpackers came to drink, take drugs, float down the Nam Song river on inflatable tubes, and swing from rope swings at the river bars into the shallow rocky water. Yep, a recipe for disaster. In 2011, there were 27 recorded tourist deaths. Each year averaged around 20 deaths until the government decided to step in and ban the drugs, drinking, and dangerous tubing activities in 2012. Today, you can still tube, but it is a much more relaxing adventure where you can enjoy the beautiful Vang Vieng scenery at a leisurely pace.

Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

How to Get to Vang Vieng

Minivan shuttle from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is halfway between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We rented a spot on a shared minivan that shuttles people to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang. The ride takes about 5-6 hours and lets you off on the main street. From there, hopefully, you have your guesthouse all sorted out and can head directly there. I had booked a night at the Kong Resort, which happened to be across the Nam Song river. Since it was late, we started over there but didn’t realize we had to pay the toll (4,000 kip) to walk across. It wasn’t until the next day that we found out we could have walked over the walking bridge for free.

Road Bridge crossing the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng
Walking Bridge over the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

Where to Stay in Vang Vieng

There are a lot of cheap places to stay in Vang Vieng if you are backpacking through southeast Asia. However, since I had been in Asia for a few months, I wanted something special, and the minute I saw a hot tub, I was sold. There is nothing like enjoying a bit of luxury in one of the poorest countries in Asia. If you are looking for someplace to pamper yourself or simply a place to lay your head at night in Vang Vieng, all your options can be found on the Agoda app.

Kong Resort

Room at the Kong Resort in Vang Vieng

Staying at the Kong Resort was a wonderful experience. The Kong Resort is also a Mercedes Benz company retreat, so you’ll see lots of Mercedes logo gear around this riverbank resort. We showed up late, but they still had someone working reception to give us our room key. All the rooms are set up in shipping containers. And even though we showed up late, we spent so much time exploring the two floors of our guesthouse with its large rooms and spacious bathrooms. The minute I was done exploring, I made a beeline to the hot tub attached to the guesthouse. Sitting in that hot tub relaxing and being able to look up at the stars overhead made it a lovely night.

The next morning, I looked out the window and was rewarded with bright blue skies with the karst mountains in the distance before heading to munch down a wonderful breakfast in the dining hall.

Jasmine Hotel

Room at the Jasmine Hotel in Vang Vieng

We knew we wanted to stay another day to explore Vang Vieng within one night. So, we booked a second night at the Jasmine Hotel. This was a lesser expensive option than the night before, but just as comfortable. And the good thing was that there were no mishaps or bugs at either place we stayed in Vang Vieng, Laos.

Pool at Jasmine Hotel in Vang Vieng

Where to Eat in Vang Vieng

There are plenty of food options for the traveler visiting Vang Vieng. You can sit by the Nam Song riverbanks and admire the reflections in the water, stroll through Walking Street, partake in some street food, or stop in one of the many restaurants that cater to the tourists visiting. Whatever you choose, you will walk away full and satisfied for sure.

River Restaurant in Vang Vieng

Thai Deutsches Restaurant

Thai Deutsches Restaurant

This authentic German restaurant was a hidden gem in Vang Vieng. And hidden it was, the entrance is behind tons of greenery, almost like a mini jungle in front. You can enjoy Schnitzel along with Bratwurst and fried potatoes at this award-winning restaurant. I enjoyed eating here, and we were lucky to chat with the friendly owner as well.

Food Vendors on Walking Street

Food stall at the Night Market in Vang Vieng

I’ve mentioned it before in previous blog posts, but I love eating street food. And at Vang Vieng’s Walking Street, there are some great choices. For less than $2, I had a delicious pad Thai dinner with a fruit smoothie. Asian noodle dishes are tasty!

Pad Thai Noodle Dish at the Night Market in Vieng Vieng

Luang Prabang Bakery

Luang Prabang Bakery in Vang Vieng

If you are looking for something sweet to start your day, stop at the Luang Prabang Bakery in Vang Vieng. We stopped here to grab a quick croissant before our adventurous ride to Vientiane. And what the heck, I was on a mini-vacation, so I added a strawberry daiquiri to it. They had so many pastries and sweets to choose from, I loved it.

Pastries at Luang Prabang Bakery in Vang Vieng
Breakfast Croissant with a Strawberry Daquiri at Luang Prabang Bakery in Vang Vieng

What to do in Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng is a travel adventurer’s playground. You can find almost anything to do outdoors, such as kayaking, tubing, hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining, rock climbing, even going on a hot air balloon ride. Not to mention the epic landscapes to see, like crossing the free bamboo bridge to see the lush green rice paddies or the towering karst mountains. You might even see lanterns floating up to the sky along the Nam Song river at night. Here are my favorite things to do in Vang Vieng, Laos.

Lanterns lit in the Sky in Vang Vieng

Blue Lagoons

Jumping into the Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng

Blue Lagoons are abundant in Vang Vieng; currently, there are 5 Blue Lagoons. How do you know which one to choose? Each of the Blue Lagoons in Vang Vieng has pros and cons. But, they all are their prettiest color during the dry season (October-April) when taking a dip in the azure water is an amazing experience. You will need to take a tuk-tuk or rent a scooter to get the blue lagoons. Renting a scooter for 70,000 kip ($6) for the day; Sitting on the back of the scooter with sunshine on my shoulders; flying by the lush green rice paddies, and seeing the karst limestone mountains in the distance get closer – priceless!

Blue Lagoon 1

Swimming in the blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng
  • Info – a little more than 6 miles out of the center of Vang Vieng, entrance fee is 10,000 kip (less than $1), lagoon is narrow, but very deep
  • Pros – travelers and locals hang out to cool off from the hot Vang Vieng temperatures, zipline, Phu Kham Cave exploration, picnic area, water slide, swimming area
  • Cons – the most popular lagoon, can be crowded during the afternoon, chilly water

Visiting my first Blue Lagoon was amazing. I was so excited to go swimming in the blue-green water, although I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold. A wading area past the large jumping-off tree helped me get acclimated to the cold water temperature. Although the bravest would jump right in, I was more hesitant and dipped my toes in, then legs, etc., until I could submerge myself under the water without having goosebumps. The biggest highlight at this blue lagoon is the giant tree where you can either jump from either a 2-meter or 5-meter branch into the water. And yes, I did buck-up the courage to jump from the 5-meter branch. It is quite deep at that spot, so the only thing you have to worry about is the other swimmers getting out of your way. If you want a calmer place to enjoy the water, further down from the giant tree, a rope divides the jumpers from the waders. Even as one of the more popular lagoons, I felt that it wasn’t too crowded for me to have a great swimming day at the blue lagoon.

Cafe Parisien

Pepperoni Pizza at the Blue Lagoon Restaurant in Vang Vieng

After hiking through the Phu Kham Cave while visiting the Blue Lagoon, I was starving and couldn’t figure out what to eat for lunch. Until we noticed that right outside the Blue Lagoon entrance was a restaurant that served American fare. The individual pepperoni pizza was exactly what I needed to give me energy for swimming the rest of the day.

Blue Lagoon 2

  • Info – a little over 4 miles southwest from Blue Lagoon 1, entrance fee is 10,000 kip
  • Pros – plenty of sunshine, numerous pools to swim in, ziplines, swings, platforms, deck chairs for sunbathing, not crowded, quiet, Tham Chang Cave
  • Cons – most people visit the cave (walk by the lagoon), might not be relaxing with the cave traffic

Blue Lagoon 3

  • Info – approximate 10.5 miles away from Vang Vieng city center, a.k.a. Nature Park Patong Cave & Bubbling Springs
  • Pros – rope swing that flies you across the lagoon before looping you higher letting you flip into the deep water, zipline crossing the lagoon where you can drop in the middle, balancing beams, bamboo raft in center of lagoon, jungle scenry around the lagoon, huts to rest in, restaurant
  • Cons – bumpy, broken roads to reach blue lagoon, shaded by large karst mountain, chilly water

Blue Lagoon 4

Blue Lagoon 5

  • Pros – have bungalows that you can rent and stay the night, quiet, away from crowds
  • Cons – located quite a distance our of the Vang Vieng city center

Phu Kham Cave

Scale of the Phu Kham Cave at the Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng

Exploring the Phu Kham Cave was the first thing we did when we got to Blue Lagoon 1. This is one of the country’s largest and most sacred caves. There is a straightforward trail leading to the cave; however, it is very steep, with only bamboo poles sporadically positioned for you to hold onto to help pull you up between boulders. I was glad that I was in good shape from playing soccer and walking everywhere in Thailand. But, the short hike up to the cave was intense, very sweaty, and, to be honest, a little winded when I reached the small, dark entrance to the cave.

Carefully stepping on flat rocks, you enter the cave and follow the path down to the main cavern. Your eyes get accustomed to the limited light coming in from the entrance as you walk into the cave and see the small reclining Buddha shrine at the center of the main cavern. I was fascinated with how the light from a large hole in the limestone mountain shined down on the Buddha statue perfectly.

My travel partner was ambitious and had already hiked past the shrine, even though I asked him to wait for me as I had on the least optimal shoes for hiking in caves, flip flops. Phu Kham Cave is ginormous with what seemed like an endless amount of connecting caverns and tunnels. This is a real cave, not artificial, so dangerous areas are marked with large red x’s. These help you stay clear of the giant holes of an abyss. Using my phone’s flashlight, I was able to find my travel partner toward the back of the cave, where people left their handprints and marked that they had been there.

Now, this is where the cave exploration turned from excitement to scary, at least for me. My wonderful travel partner (sense some sarcasm here) decided to be funny and turn off his light. Complete and udder darkness descended. Then to be even funnier, he came up behind me and scared the crap out of me. And to top matters off, he took off and left me there alone to find my way back out of the cave. I was not happy. I was completely freaking out as I got turned around and had difficulty finding my way back out of the cave. There aren’t any arrows to help point you in any direction. With no one’s help but myself having faith that I would find my way out, I did. Hopefully, when you visit here, you will be accompanied by someone that likes to explore together.

Hiking into the Phu Kham Cave at the Blue Lagoon in Vang Vieng

Walking Street

Walking Street in Vang Vieng

Every night, on the street across from the Silver Naga Hotel, Vang Vieng’s main tourist market, Walking Street, has souvenirs, food, and drink for sale. This is the place to go in the evening after your adventure-filled day. I spent some time wandering the stalls looking for souvenirs. Then I started shopping in earnest. This is a great place to purchase lighter clothes that do well in the hot, humid climate of Asia and, of course, take up hardly any space in your luggage. I bought two light-weight dresses at the Walking Street that has traveled everywhere with me, even to Italy.

Wat That

Wat That in Vang Vieng

While waiting for our shuttle to take us to Vientiane, we had some time to get in one more exploration of Vang Vieng. Right down the street was Wat That, one of the more beautifully maintained and the largest temple in Vang Vieng. Wat That is a functional Buddhist temple with monks in residence. While I was walking the grounds, several monks and people were praying in the main prayer hall, which is open to the public. Make sure to check out the chedi, the oldest part of Wat That, and the seated Buddha statue in the green pavilion. Buddha is represented in this statue with a broad smile, which is unusual and unique that you will only see in this temple in Vang Vieng Laos.

People praying at Wat That

Summary

Heather at Blue Lagoon 1 in Vang Vieng Laos

Stopping in Vang Vieng for a couple of nights was a great idea to break up our exploration of Laos. Plus, how can you not visit the Blue Lagoon! The cold, blue water was refreshing under the hot Laos sunshine. Have you traveled through Laos? Did you stop in Vang Vieng? Well, the next time you are backpacking or traveling through Asia, I hope you make a detour and check this adventurous town out. You won’t regret it!

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Further Reading

If you are exploring the National Parks in the Southwest, check out these posts for extra travel inspiration:

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