For a long time Vang Vieng, Laos, was known as THE party place for young backpackers. Bars lined the river. Backpackers could tube through beautiful scenery, swing on rope swings, slide down water slides, and get really drunk.
Unsurprisingly, water activities and lots of alcohol was a very bad combination and lots of people died. Several years ago the Laos government stepped in a shut down many of the riverside bars.
Now Vang Vieng is a pretty great family destination.
We stayed a few nights at Jamee Guesthouse (recommended by Morgans Go Traveling), then moved to Riverside Backpackers Guesthouse (recommended by World Travel Family ) to be closer to the center of town.
The town itself is fairly ugly. Restaurants, shops, minimarts. All geared toward backpackers. It is similar to Khao San Road and Pai, both places which we hated. But it was low season so the young-backpacker-looking-to-get-drunk vibe was much less.
The only time we ran into anything unsavory was one evening as we were heading into a minimart and a group of drunk, young guys were returning from tubing. One of them decided to take a leak in the middle of the street and I glanced over when his peter was still hanging out. I asked my girls later if they witnessed the incident, but they did not.
The area surrounding Vang Vieng is beautiful. The karsts tower over the gently flowing river.
Our family had a great time participating in the outdoor activities this area offers. When we discuss our favorite experiences of the trip so far, many of these make the list.
Cave Tubing and Kayaking
Despite being claustrophobic (and my family teasing me about it), I had fun tubing through a cave. You hold onto to ropes most of the time, get out for a bit, and then pull yourself back out of the cave with the ropes. We went with Organize Tours on a trip that also included kayaking for 120,000 kip (15 USD) per person.
It was our family’s first time ziplining. We loved it! We went with Paradise Adventure on a trip that included going to the Blue Langoon for 170,000 kip (20 USD) per person. It was raining when we got to the lagoon, which was not at all blue at the time. I did jump off a tree into the water though because it turns out I like jumping off things into water.
Tubing down the river
The benefit of being here in low season (October) is that we had the river pretty much to ourselves. Remnants of the old party scene were still there with bars lining the river, but many of them have been closed. It was a relaxing way to spend a few hours. Tubes cost 55,000 kip (7 USD).
Kaeng Nyui Waterfall
Beautiful falls, pools for swimming in, and butterflies that would land on our hands. There were also really cool dragonflies. A songteow (truck taxi) took us there and back for 30,000 kip (4 USD) per person.
While the outdoor actvities in Vang Vieng are fun, the eating there isn’t overly exciting. Most restaurants serve the same fare: fried western food and bland Thai/Laos food. Since we had eaten a lot of Thai food in the past month, we mostly chose the fried western food.
We particularly liked the schnitzel with pepper sauce. We also liked the baguette sandwiches. We didn’t get them from the roadside stands though, because we were worried about whether the meat had been sitting out. We did get fruit shakes and pancakes from the stands and those were pretty good.
Our favorite restaurants were Banana Restaurant where were sat on the balcony over the river in the day and watched Friends inside in the evenings.
And Green Restaurant, which probably had the best food.
We also like the kebab place on the road between Jammee and the main part of town.
Overall, our family had a good time in Vang Vieng. Perhaps this former party town will soon become known as a great family destination.