Once a simple bus stop town en route from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng has exploded in popularity since being ‘discovered’ by backpackers in the early 2000s, and it's easy to see why. The town’s breathtaking backdrop is a photographer’s paradise – envision jutting, forest-clad limestone karsts that soar out of the banks of the peaceful Nam Song river below and lush rice paddies abound – heaven!
After a decade of building up a rather notorious reputation as the party hub of Laos and becoming the epicentre of a diplomatic storm following a string of tourists losing their lives in alcohol-influenced tubing accidents on the river, the town has worked hard to clean up its act. The government has closed most riverside pubs, limited hazardous rope-swing and tubing activities dramatically, and instead sought to refocus local tourism on what Vang Vieng was initially made famous for: it’s awe-inspiring landscapes and varied eco-adventure offerings.
The town’s image and tourism demographics have shifted in line with this, in recent years attracting an increasingly relaxed and sophisticated clientele more in keeping with Laos’ laid-back and quietly charming character. Although backpackers are still a mainstay, they arrive in far fewer numbers than a decade ago and are easily avoided for those so inclined. Fortunately, this has triggered an increase in boutique hotels opening up, and accommodation – although still relatively basic – has taken huge strides to please the luxury traveller.
For a serene and romantic retreat, we recommend staying on the banks of the river in either The Elephant Crossing Hotel or Villa Nam Song and securing a room with views overlooking the karsts. In our view, there's nothing better than embracing your surroundings by watching the sun set over the mesmerising river below, whilst listening to the sound of traditional Laotian music as the day draws to a close - bliss.
Although Vang Vieng has its own charm, we believe the real treasures of this area lie beyond the town’s borders. Home to a diverse array of ethnic communities, it is the perfect place to visit a local village and gain a deeper understanding of what daily life is like in rural Laos. The region is also truly an adventure lover’s idyll, boasting hidden cave networks, stunning aquamarine lagoons and enough hiking trails to satisfy even the most experienced of trekkers. For an especially memorable stay we also recommend rock climbing amongst the karsts and taking a hot air balloon ride at sunrise to witness the pink hues of dawn light up the wonderfully dramatic topography from above.
Features in the following itineraries
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
- Susan Ford, India
- Mr David Wallace, North India
- Leslie Siben, India
- Jaime Benitez, South India
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka