Thankfully, the tubing and party scene in Vang Vieng is absolutely nothing like it used to be a few years ago, when there were literately thousands of drunk backpackers tubing on the river every single day. Those days are well and truly over. The Laos Government closed most of the bars because of all the deaths and injuries happening on the river. As such, most the bars in the town of Vang Vieng itself have gone out of business and more and more close with each passing month.
From Luang Prabang, you can reach Vang Vieng by bus in less than 7 hours. These tickets are sold quite aggressively in guesthouses around Luang Prabang and in the bars and markets of the town, so even if you aren’t particularly looking for a ticket, you will still know where to get one when you eventually decide to head south to Vang Vieng! 150,000 Kip (£12) for a seat on a VIP Bus is around the price you will pay. This is my review of the bus ride on the whole Luang Prabang-Vientiane route.
The good thing with northern Laos is that Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng-Vientiane are all linked by Highway 13, which is arguably the best quality road in the country. You can also witness some amazing lush green scenery on the leg between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng from behind the comfort of your bus window. Further south of Vientiane, Laos becomes more problematic to travel, so you should enjoy your relative calm and comfort in the north for as long as possible!
When you arrive in Vang Vieng (I recommend arriving in the early afternoon rather than the darkness of the evening), a tuktuk ride from the bus station is required to get you to the main area of the town, and this typically could cost you another 10,000 Kip (85 pence) – it is at least 2km distance and not really walkable in the stifling weather of Laos (and certainly not in the dark).
With little or no illegal activities to enjoy nowadays (if that’s your kind of thing), tourists to Vang Vieng are quite rightly looking at what else they can do in this very cheap area of Laos. For one thing, there is incredible karst scenery in the area, very reminiscent of Yunnan Province in China. Secondly, an amazing array of caves – some of which are actually located upwards rather than downwards (requiring a climb to get in) – are scattered around Vang Vieng, and these are a short bike ride away whenever you want to explore them! Bikes can be rented from places in town for around 30,000 Kip for the whole day.
Depending on how much Beer Lao you’ve been drinking(!), one of the major things to do in Vang Vieng is kayaking. This kind of adventure tourism is what the town should be promoting, rather than parties and alcohol. In Laos and the rest of south east Asia, Vang Vieng has almost no equal (apart from maybe a few places in the Philippines, including Bohol) with its stunning scenery and resplendent waterways. If you love water activities, then you will probably also want to check out the famous Blue Lagoon, which is perfect for families as well as backpackers. It is at the Blue Lagoon where a lot of people spend most of their time in Vang Vieng (during the day, at least), as they frolic with friends and family in the fairly warm water, which is actually inhabited by rather large fish – but don’t worry, they are harmless! Tubing and diving are also options at the Blue Lagoon – which is Vang Vieng’s own version of Krabi’s Emerald Pool.
As part of your bus journey from Luang Prabang to the Lao capital Vientiane, a stop in Vang Vieng should always be on the itinerary. Thankfully, it is not as wild as it once was (there’s always Thailand for that kind of thing), but Vang Vieng really does still pack a punch, and it is the perfect antidote to sleepy Luang Prabang from where you just came!