Vang Vieng: more than just tubing

Whatever your motivation for coming to Vang Vieng, it ain’t to soak up the atmosphere of the town itself. A sprawling affair filled with rather nondescript squat buildings, Vang Vieng isn’t much of a looker. The surroundings, however, are worth the bumpy bus journey.

The scenery around Luang Prabang
The scenery around Vang Vieng

In previous times, the visiting population was dominated by young westerners chasing Lao-Lao buckets, a good time and possibly an STI or two. Increasingly however, Vang Vieng is attracting a slightly different audience. Older couples in sensible khaki clothes lounge in quieter restaurants, while tour groups occupy the larger hotels and restaurants. This is heartening to see, and shows how Vang Vieng has successfully untangled itself from the worst of the tubing scene.

The reason for this change is easy enough to spot. Beyond the Nam Song river, there is much to explore. Companies increasingly are offering mountain bike tours, caving, kayaking as well as adventures in God-awful dune buggies – much loved by aforementioned the tour groups – which make an utter racket and kick up a load of dust.

The day after our tubing adventure we hired two mountain bikes and (somewhat gingerly) pedaled into the countryside. Our 14km cycle took us to the Blue Lagoon and Tham Phu Kham cave. The journey was a challenging one along bumpy dirt roads, but we made it in the end!

The Blue Lagoon was busier than I had expected, and I recognised a few familiar faces from the previous days tubing relaxing in the sunshine! We crossed over the little footbridge and sat watching other tourists use a rope swing and jump off an overhanging tree into the deep pool below. The water looked very inviting!

Cooling off in the Blue Lagoon
Cooling off in the Blue Lagoon

After a nosy round, we headed up the steep steps leading into the cave. Excuse my unimaginative description here but the cave was, um, cavernous. A huge chamber, complete with Buddha statue and altar, lead on to a pitch black interior. We were glad of our head torches as we carefully picked our way through the darkness.

After another relax in the sunshine and a refreshing coconut, we cycled back along the dusty lanes, dodging cows and admiring the beautiful scenery around us as colourful hot air balloons hovered ahead.

A dusty road in the Vang Vieng countryside
A dusty road in the Vang Vieng countryside

If you visit Vang Vieng, do build in at least one day to explore the surrounding area. Vang Vieng really is so much more than tubing and it’s easy to find a quiet spot to enjoy the scenery. We only visited one of three popular caves in the area and I’m sure you’d see even more without a hangover on hired motorbikes.

The riverside of Vang Vieng
The riverside of Vang Vieng
Off exploring around Vang Vieng?
  • We hired mountain bikes for ₭35,000 – about £1.45 each – for a few hours.
  • To get to the Blue Lagoon and Tham Phu Kham cave cost an additional ₭32,000 in entry fees and bridge tolls. The bike ride took about fifty minutes (don’t judge too harshly – we are very unfit, were hungover and the road is in poor condition). It’s worth taking a head torch and sensible shoes if you want to explore the cave, but you can hire these for ₭10,000 (about 50p) if need be.

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