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Vang Vieng is located in Vientiane Province, 95 miles (150 kilometres) north of Vientiane. This small town is set in the midst of towering limestone karst and rice fields. With so much natural beauty, tons of bars and restaurants and accommodations to fit every budget, Vang Vieng is a town well worth a few days of outdoor fun on any itinerary of Laos.
Hire a guide and rent equipment from one of several rock-climbing schools such as Adam’s Climbing School and drive the short distance to one of two locations where routes from novice to expert have been anchored to the limestone karst by European and Lao climbers. Half-day, full-day and multi-day options are available. Some routes are open all year, others close in the rainy season.
Rent an inflatable inner tube and take a tuk tuk to Mulberry Farm (or even farther upstream if you don’t want to stop at the bars.) Float down the Nam Song and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Take a pit stop by grabbing onto a rope thrown out from the banks by tavern proprietors and grab a cold one or play volleyball on dry land. Don’t forget the sunscreen. A dry bag purchased at any souvenir shop in town is a necessity to keep your clothes and phone from getting wet.
The hiking in Vang Vieng ranges from rather flat treks around the river to challenging uphill treks involving scrambling up rocks or wading across streams. Some hikes lead to caves, others to the tops of hills looking out over the town. Try hiking to the top of Phangern Mountain, you’ll see the white flag flying at the top. From the base of the mountain it’s a solid 30-minute hike up wooden ladders and boulders, but the view is well worth it.
Lao lao, the locally distilled rice spirit, makes cocktails plentiful and inexpensive in Laos. Relax on on of the many hotel terraces overlooking the Nam Song and partake in happy hour. Sip a delicious concoction while watching the motor boats cruise down the river during sunset.
Just over the toll bridge, at one end of town, the bustle of the bar scene gives way to rice fields, cow pastures and bamboo huts. Walking through the flooded rice fields is a meditative experience. Be on the lookout for giant snails, dragonflies, frogs and fish that call the rice paddies home. With the blue sky and mountainous backdrop, you’d be hard pressed to find a place more representative of Laos.
Rent a single or double kayak and choose your pace. Paddling is hardly necessary as you float with the current down the Nam Song. You can also pick up the pace on the rapids of the nearby Nam Ngum, and take in the rice paddies and mountains on the west bank, and wave at the tourists in town on the east bank. Kayak rentals are available through any of the dozens of tour operators around town or can be booked through your guest house.
Waking up before dawn is worth the spectacular views of the mist over the mountains and river from the basket of a hot air balloon. This silent and majestic form of transportation offers breathtaking views. Vang Vieng Tours offers several flights per day, but the tours fill up quickly so booking in advance is recommended.
Rent a bicycle and head up Route 13 to take in the beautiful farms, bamboo houses and jungle mountains from the paved road. If you’re experienced and looking for more adventure, opt for mountain biking and take to the trails on the west side of the Nam Song. Looking for something slower paced? Opt for a guided tour on the packed dirt roads.
Tham Sang Triangle — four caves in walking distance of one another 8 miles (13 kilometres) north of Vang Vieng — is easily accessible by bicycle or tuk tuk and can be part of a half- or full-day tourist package. Tham Sang (Elephant Cave) has an elephant-shaped stalactite inside. Tham Hoi has a Buddha at the entrance, and Tham Loup has stunning stalactites. In the rainy season, visitors can rent a tube and float inside Tham Nam.
Vang Vieng has three blue lagoons that are accessible as part of a packaged tour, including visiting caves, swimming in the lagoons, hiking and tubing. The swimming holes are also easily accessibly via tuk tuk or bicycle. Take a dip in the azure water during the dry season when they are their prettiest color.