Mountains, Caves & Alternative Highs in Vang Vieng

Mountains, caves-and-alternative-highs-in-vang-vieng

Vang Vieng was once described to me as ‘the Benidorm of Laos and Las Vegas of South East Asia’…. Well I smell, bulls**t!

Vang Vieng hasn’t had the best write up in the past. Its been heavily tourist orientated and it’s a bit of a party destination for backpackers but the best of Vang Vieng is beyond all that. It may be well hidden but I can guarantee it’s all there.

Tubing – You May Have Heard Of It

Vang Vieng is a small town around an hours drive from Laos ‘ capital, Vientiane. The town is surrounded by rolling lush hills and lofty limestone mountains. The Nam Song river is the heart of the town and is the home of Vang Vieng’s main attraction.

If you’ve heard of tubing, you’ve most likely heard of Vang Vieng.

Tubing in Vang Vieng(Source)

For those who don’t know about tubing, you basically rent an inner tube and push off down the river. Local bars will throw you a line and pull you in to buy drinks of the alcoholic variety. Along the way there are platforms to dive off and zip-wires to speed down before coming to an abrupt halt and hurtling off into the river. There’s spray paints to decorate yourself (why wouldn’t you), copious amounts of alcohol and a nightclub soundtrack which all add up to one hell of a party experience.

With the thrills however, comes great risks. Not only due to the river becoming rapids in the rainy season but there has been countless accounts of tourists jumping off platforms into water they soon realised wasn’t as deep as they first thought. Oh yes, there are some gruesome videos on YouTube for anyone who has a stomach for all things blood and gore.

Zip Wire Tubing Vang Vieng(Source)

In 2012 the government cracked down on tubing. A lot of the river side bars were pulled down and although tubing is still going on, it’s a little less hardcore these days.

24 Hours in Vang Vieng

When I visited Vang Vieng we had just 24 hours in the town – there was a lot to pack in.

We stayed in a great hotel in the calmer part of town. Vilayvong Guesthouse backs on to the River Nam Song and by god did it come with a great view.

view from the hotel vang vienghotel view from vang vieng

The view wasn’t the only treat. The rooms were stunning, complete with king sized beds, ensuites and air con. Backpacking luxury.

After walking down the road for just 5 minutes I could tell Vang Vieng’s nightlife reputation was pretty accurate. It was 9:30am now and it looked like a zombie apocalypse with hungover backpackers everywhere.

Luckily for them Vang Vieng caters for hungover backpacker’s every need. There are 24/7 breakfast bars all over town, offering day bed style sofas and better yet, back to back Friends or Family Guy. It’s literally playing all day, night, week, month and year long.

Oh yes, this was the home of the hangover cure. We sat amongst the zombies for a spot of breaky before setting off for the day.

A Bruised Ass & A Blue Lagoon

Tubing was the obvious choice for the day and the option my two mates chose – but I wasn’t convinced. Knowing that the evening ahead may be a messy one and I’d most likely be feeling like the living dead tomorrow morning, I decided to explore this little town and the surrounding landscape during the day.

vang vieng Laos

A friendly local bloke recommended that best way to do this was by mountain bike.

Joined by a couple of other backpackers, we rented a mountain bike (about $5 US) and took off, across the river and out through the valley, leading into the mountains.

It’s safe to say I’m not a keen cycler. I’m normally the one driving past f’ing and blinding at every kamikaze cycler who pulls out in front of me when not wearing a helmet… imbeciles!

I’m okay at bike riding – definitely passed the stabiliser stage – but I wasn’t too prepared for the bumpy ride ahead. Correction…. make that 7 kilometers of bumpiness leading to a very bruised ass and swollen man berries. Unfortunately I hadn’t the foggiest what gear my bike should’ve been in at any given moment so it was probably a lot tougher than it needed to be.

Top Tip for the fellas: In order to protect ‘the kids’, rent a motorbike.

30 minutes later we arrived at our destination, Tham Phu Kham Cave and Blue Lagoon. It was baking hot now in the midday sun so the lagoon was like a mirage in the desert.

Vang Vieng Blue Lagoon

I thought it was probably best to climb to the cave first before cooling off in the lagoon. We clambered 200m up the mountain and through the scrub forrest, grasping onto the makeshift rope rail and in through the caves entrance. It’s a steep old climb but well worth the effort.

As you enter the cave, you’ll be instantly drawn to the huge bronze Thai reclining Buddha.

The further you push on into the cave, the more you’ll become dwarfed by the sheer size of it. To think that people lived in these caves during the Vietnam War is quite something. When you’re standing in the dark, looking up at the sun shining through the caves entrance, casting its light over the bronze Buddha you can understand why the cave is considered sacred. This was one of those special moments you remember forever.

Tham Phu Kham cave Vang Vieng

Interesting Fact: I found after my visit that the forest life I clambered through on route to the cave has a sneaky history…..  There is a plant similar to a Venus Fly Trap here. If you get close to it, it pretends to die and shrivels up for a a few minute before reviving itself. In the Vietnam War soldiers could tell if the enemy had recently been near by checking it. If it looked dead, the enemy was probably close by. 

After scrambling back down the mountain side I made a bee-line for the lagoon. I stripped off (not everything…there were ladies around) jumped for a rope hanging from a tree and swung into the lagoon. That sounded very masculine but I can almost guarantee I looked more Jane than Tarzan.

It costs less than $2 US to visit the cave and lagoon so no excuses. This place is a must see.

Night Life, Vang Vieng Style

On arriving back at the hotel, I crashed out on my bed….I was shattered. However I was in better shape than my mates who burst through the door shortly after me.

They had been tubing all day, consuming everything alcoholic in sight. My mate Scott came in first, tripping over his own feet, wondering whose they were. He had a blue hand print on his chest and a blue penis painted on his back …. normal?

Scott was soon followed by Michael who was hanging onto everything in sight just to keep himself upright. He had a blue hand… Suddenly Scott’s blue body art made complete sense. What role models.

As night fell, it was on to dinner and then drinks, Vang Vieng style. Sandcastle bucket cocktails (4 parts rum to one part coca cola) followed by shots of rice wine (or Sato) and then yard glasses or fish bowls of anything and everything.

Alternative highs in Vang Vieng(Source)

We ended our night (don’t ask me how or where) in some bar, sat by a log burning pit, eating pizza. This was no ordinary pizza. Oh no, heaven forbid. It was Vang Vieng after all and this was happy pizza. You can use your imaginations here but the sprinkling of green on top was definitely not sage or basil.

night out in vang vieng

Finishing Back At The Beginning

Just 24 hours after arriving in Laos, I was back where we started. At the breakfast cafe, lying in heaps on the day beds with a bowl full of breakfast (my mates bowl was full of the night before). Back to back Friends was on the tele and a vast collection of empty coffee mugs were piling up in front of us.

Unfortunately a fishbowl of coffee wasn’t going to pump enough life into this vagabond.

My recollection of how we made it back to the hotel is, to this day, very hazy. What I do recall however is turning to my mate and saying something that has never before, in the history of mankind, been uttered to anyone….

“Mate, what happened to the barman with half a blue beard and the flaming alcohol shots stuck to his nipples?”

I may not have succumbed to Vang Vieng’s infamous tubing experience but I did indulge in the classic Vang Vieng nightlife. I’d recommend it but be wary of it, promote it but not enforce it.


You’ll have a great time in Vang Vieng. Relax, go stark raving bonkers or explore a little. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll either create amazing and wacky memories or end up getting so s**tfaced you forget who you are, set fire to your nipples and wonder why you have ‘I Love Larry’ written across your ass in blue paint.


  • Maaike –

    Added to my list! Just the look of those beautiful mountains (and I’ve to admit, the tubing as well) had me!

    • TheGlobeWanderers

      Hi Maaike.
      It really is stunning. One of those times where you get frustrated with taking photos and trying to do it justice.
      If you do, make sure to let us know what the tubing is like these days.
      Thanks for reading 🙂


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