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Vang Vieng, Laos is a perfect stopover point if you’re travelling by land between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. It would be easy to stay a week and still not see and do everything Vang Vieng has to offer. If, like many travellers, you’re only in town for a few days, follow this guide to make the most of your time.
If you take a morning minivan from Vientiane, the three-hour journey will put you in Vang Vieng around lunch time. One of the top activities in Vang Vieng is river tubing and it’s good to start in the early afternoon. Rent your tubes early but delay getting into the water until you’ve eaten at the Organic Farm, which is conveniently located at the beginning of the tubing route.
Depending on how many riverside bars you hit up and how much dancing you did and volleyball and drinking games you played, it’ll be close to dinner time when you carry your tube through town to return it. Take in some delicious greasy local street food. Try a fried egg or meat sandwich, a fruit shake, and a sweet pancake for dessert.
When you get your second wind, make your way to Gary’s Irish Bar for a low-key evening listening to live music and hanging out. Try your hand at pool, watch whatever soccer match is on the TV, and sip a pint or order some bar food.
Grab an iced coffee and some fruit off the street and head to Adam’s Climbing School for a half-day rock climbing excursion across the river. There’s no better way to appreciate the limestone karst mountains than by getting up close and personal. You can rent equipment and get on the wall whether you’re a total novice or a seasoned veteran.
Stay on the other side of the river and eat lunch at Sae Lao Project. The restaurant is out of town on a lake and has beautiful views and delicious food. Try the papaya salad and spring rolls. All of the proceeds from the restaurant go to support free English classes for children and adults in the village.
Continue on after lunch to check out the Blue Lagoon one. If you haven’t had your fill of swimming, sliding, and jumping off ropes and trees, there are three other Blue Lagoons you can visit. Spend the afternoon swimming and visiting caves. Tham Nam has a river running through it and visitors can sit in an inner tube and navigate by headlamp.
When you head back into town, catch the sunset from the patio bar at one of the big hotels on the river like the Silver Naga Hotel or Elephant Crossing. Happy hour drink specials and and the red and pink setting sun go hand in hand. Watch the boats float down the Nam Song and relax.
If you’re with a group or are looking for a fun and memorable dinner, head to Peeping Som on the main road for Korean barbecue, where you can cook your choice of meats right at your table. On the other side of the air strip night market, you’ll find Italian gem Il Tavalo. If you’re hankering for some authentic pizza and pasta, this is your place. Run by an Italian father-and-son duo, the food is great and the atmosphere is low-key.
Head to the party after dinner at Sakura – for happy hour and dancing to pop music until you’re tired and sweaty. If you aren’t into the mosh pit, check out the patio in the back with an outdoor bar. When Sakura closes at midnight, the party moves to Viva Pub, where DJs spin until closing time then secret club Room 101 plays house and techno until 3 a.m.
The next morning grab a smoothie and breakfast to go from Cafe EhEh and head back over the bridge to hike up a mountain for unforgettable views of the river and town below. Try hiking Phangern Mountain, about 3km outside of town. The hike takes about a half hour and the views from the top are stunning.
After working up an appetite from hiking, check out Viman’s for German and Thai food. If you can’t decide between schnitzel and curry, why not order both? If you’d rather eat local fare, both Chaleun and Bamboo Tree have great local dishes like laap, noodles, Lao soups, and fried vegetables. After lunch it’s time to catch a mini van either three hours down to Vientiane or six hours up to Luang Prabang to continue exploring Laos.