Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, once Southeast Asia's party town, now a laid-back eco-tourism and adventure travel destination

vang vieng laos travel guide

Once, not so long ago, the tiny little riverfront town of Vang Vieng in Laos was Southeast Asia's most wild party destination, where virtually free booze and cheap drugs flowed like water. After several tourists deaths and a series of government crackdowns shut down many of the clubs in the city, Vang Vieng has been working hard over the past decade to rebuild its image. While the booze is still cheap, now, Vang Vieng is a much more relaxed and sleepier town than it used to be. While some tourists complain about how the little town has lost its party atmosphere, others are more appreciative of Vang Vieng's newfound emphasis on budget adventure travel and eco-tourism.

along the banks of the nam song river in vang vieng, laos
along the river in Vang Vieng, Laos
  • When you are in Vang Vieng, there's little to do but relax. Grab an inner-tube and a dirt-cheep bucket of beer and float down the river in style.
  • A can of beer will set you back about $0.25, and a bottle of whisky will cost about $2. Comfortable guesthouses and hotels can be found for as little as $5 a night, making Vang Vieng one of Asia's - if not the world's - cheapest vacation destinations.
  • When you are tired of the daily grind, a trip to Vang Vieng will restore not only your body, but also your soul. Visit one of the town's small Buddhist temples, or just sit and meditate by yourself along the lazy banks of the Nam Song River.
  • While there are still some parties (buy two vodka drinks at the famous Sakura Bar and get a free shirt!), Vang Vieng isn't nearly as wild and crazy as it used to be. Now, the town is less about partying and more about relaxing.

Vang Vieng

With a population of just 25,000, Vang Vieng has an economy almost entirely built around tourism. The Lao PRD, one of the world's five remaining Communist countries, with its conservative Buddhist culture and laid-back lifestyle, doesn't seem as if it should be one of the world's biggest party destinations, but for a very long time, Vang Vieng was.

the main road in vang vieng, laos
the main road in Vang Vieng, Laos
If you are going to Vang Vieng nowadays looking for a party, however, be aware that things are a little different nowadays. While there are certainly enough bars, clubs, and cheap (sometimes literally free) alcohol to keep you entertained, Vang Vieng is no longer the drug-fueled hotspot it once was. Now, the city is much quieter, more cultural, and trying to re-brand itself into an eco-tourism destination. Please be a responsible tourist and help encourage this development. Remember, drugs are very much illegal in Laos!

Vang Vieng is famous for its adventure tourism and eco activities. Visitors love tubing down the lazy muddy waters of the Nam Song River (beer in hand, of course) and ballooning high above the surrounding mountains.

a double rainbow over the jungle in Vang Vieng, Laos
a double rainbow in Vang Vieng

How to get to Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng is a tiny town, and unfortunately it doesn't have an airport. The nearest airport is in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, several hours away by car or bus. There is no rail line in Laos, and the roads are in poor condition. Travel, despite the relatively short distances, is slow. However, if you leave Bangkok early in the morning, you can be in Vang Vieng in time to enjoy the sunset with a bottle of beer in hand. Due to its remote location, Vang Vieng isn't great for a weekend trip unless you happen to be living in Vientiane.
  1. Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, Laos, is small, but serves a number of international airlines. You can fly in to Vientiane from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, and several other nearby cities.
  2. From Wattay Airport, you can catch a bus into town. From there, ask around for the next bus to Vang Vieng. Buses depart fairly frequently, and the trip takes around 5 hours.
  3. Once in Vang Vieng, there's no need for a car or even a taxi. Everything is reachable on foot.

Do you need a visa for Laos?

Almost certainly! Luckily, most nationalities can get a visa-on-arrival at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane. US, UK, Australian, Canadian, and EU citizens are all eligible to apply for a visa at the airport. The rules vary by nationality. Make sure that you can receive a visa-on-arrival, otherwise be sure to apply for a visa in advance. A visa-on-arrival requires a passport photo and between $35 and $42 depending on your nationality.

I do know for a fact that Turkish citizens cannot receive a visa-on-arrival. When I last visited Laos, a Turkish guy on my flight was sent back to Bangkok to apply for a visa at the Lao embassy.

a local fisherman catching fish with a net as the sun sets over the river with the mountains in the background, vang vieng, laos
a fisherman in Laos

What to do in Vang Vieng?

Relax (and drink)

There's not a lot to do in Vang Vieng, but perhaps that's why travelers from all around the world love it so much. It's the perfect place to lean back and relax.

nam song river vang vieng laos
the Nam Song River runs through Vang Vieng
While there are plenty of places to hang out along the Nam Song River, sooner or later you'll likely end up at the iconic Smile Beach Bar, a Vang Vieng institution. Here, you can spend all day in a hammock at a bamboo bungalow so long as you buy one drink every hour. If you buy three drinks, the bungalow is yours for the day.

smile beach bar bungalow in vang vieng, laos
relax along the river in Vang Vieng
Smile Beach Bar is famous for their cheap alcohol. Beer Lao (the best beer in Asia!) is reasonably priced, but if you order a $5 "bucket" during happy hour at 5pm, it's buy-1-get-1. Each bucket is a potent blend of booze and mixers, and just one is enough for the whole evening.

smile beach bar vang vieng laos
Smile Beach Bar in Vang Vieng, Laos
Even if you don't drink, don't worry. Smile Beach Bar isn't a wild club. It's a very laid-back place to chill and relax. You can always order a delicious and refreshing mango smoothie (highly recommended). There's a volleyball court, and plenty of space for everyone to lounge around and hang out.

the best place in Vang Vieng to chill out and relax on the river

Go Tubing on the Nam Song River

The most popular activity in Vang Vieng is tubing down the river. A tubing trip involves taking a ride up the river where you'll rent a big inner tube. Then, you'll float all the way back to Vang Vieng, ending up at Smile Beach Bar.

tubing vang vieng laos
finish your day of tubing at the Smile Beach Bar, where you can enjoy cheap beer and a nightly bonfire
A tubing trip, including transportation and tube rental, costs between $7-10. Beer, of course, is extra, but you wouldn't want to be caught on the river in Vang Vieng without a Beer Lao in hand.

Party! (But not so much lately)

Vang Vieng used to be a party destination, but that's changed somewhat. That being said, if you are in the mood to party, check out the famous Sakura Bar. If you buy two vodka drinks in one night, you'll get a free shirt. These (in)famous vests are the "backpacker's uniform", and you'll see them on tourists all over Asia. Visiting Sakura Bar for a night is something of a rite of passage for travelers through Vang Vieng.

a bridge in Vang Vieng
a bridge in Vang Vieng

Visit a Buddhist Temple

Laos is a predominantly Buddhist country, and the religion plays a huge role in daily life. Visit one of Vang Vieng's Buddhist temples to get in touch with the spiritual side of the town. If you really want to experience Lao spirituality, however, head north to the ancient capital of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage city and holy city of Lao Buddhism.

a Buddhist temple in Vang Vieng, Laos
a Buddhist temple in Vang Vieng, Laos
There are two Buddhist temples in Vang Vieng along the main road; Vat Kang and Vat That. Both temples are small, but beautiful. They are an authentic look into the spiritual life of Vang Vieng.

Vat That, Vang Vieng, Laos
Vat That, Vang Vieng, Laos
Often overlooked by tourists, I really recommend paying a visit to both temples. There is no entry fee to visit, just be sure that you are dressed appropriately and behave respectfully while visiting.

a reclining Buddha statue at a Buddhist temple in Vang Vieng, Laos
a reclining Buddha statue at a Buddhist temple in Vang Vieng, Laos

Hang out at the nightly bonfire

Every night, after the sun goes down, there's a bonfire at Smile Beach Bar (I really like this place, can you tell?). They light the fire at 18:00 as the sun is setting.

bonfire at Smile Beach Bar, Vang Vieng, Laos
bonfire at Smile Beach Bar, Vang Vieng, Laos
If you're not so much into partying, but want to relax and enjoy the evening, I can't recommend the nightly bonfire enough. It's a laid-back and restful time. There's no pressure to drink or be wild. Instead, visitors enjoy relaxing around the flickering fire as the sun sets over the river. It's peaceful and beautiful.

the nightly bonfire is lit at 6 pm

Go on a hot air balloon ride over the mountains

If you're up for adventure, why not hire a hot air balloon? I've never tried this, but ballooning is one of the most popular activities in Vang Vieng. A balloon ride will cost between $75 and $90, but from what I hear, it's completely worth it. Vang Vieng is situated in the middle of the jungle, with gorgeous mountains and rivers all around. The view from the air is said to be spectacular. If any of my readers have taken a balloon trip in Vang Vieng, I would love to hear about it. Please leave a comment below!

ballooning in Vang Vieng, Laos
ballooning in Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng Night Market

If you're into shopping, head to the nightly Vang Vieng Night Market. When the sung goes down, the night market comes to life with souvenir stalls and restaurants.

Vang Vieng Night Market
Vang Vieng Night Market

Eating and Drinking in Vang Vieng

When you are in Vang Vieng, don't miss the chance to try some traditional Lao dishes.
  • Papaya salad - be careful, it can be spicy!
  • Laab (spicy minced meat)
  • Sticky rice
sticky rice and papaya salad lao food
papaya salad and sticky rice

Where to stay in Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, despite its small size, has an abundant number of hotels and lodgings. You can find everything from dirt cheap hostels to luxury resorts along the banks of the Nam Song River. Hotels in Laos tend to be pretty cheap, so you should be able to find a nice private room for around $10-15 per night.

Have a look at Booking.com to see what amazing deals you can find on a hotel in Vang Vieng. I almost exclusively use Booking.com because of their great loyalty program.


Booking.com


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Budget travel in Laos and Vang Vieng


  • Traveling to Laos isn't always as cheap as you might expect. Hotels can be a bit more expensive than in neighboring Vietnam or Thailand.
  • Alcohol in Laos is incredibly cheap! If you are on a tight budget, try a bottle of the local Tiger Whisky. It's not very good, but it only costs $1.
  • Eat like a local to save money.
  • Shop at the K Mart, a tiny local supermarket located along the main road, and save on costs of food, toiletries, and supplies. You can buy snacks there as well as basic food items.
If you are planning to visit Laos, I've got you covered! I've curated some travel guides that you might enjoy! Click on a book below to view it on Amazon.com. These are affiliate links, which mean that if you do buy one of these guides from Amazon, it will help support this site at no extra cost to you.


          

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