Vang Vieng, Laos
Having arrived in Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang we weren’t sure what to expect after hearing stories of all kinds of craziness. The town has, however, cleaned itself up, or did so in 2012 when the government cracked down on drugs and shut down the worst offenders, but it’s safe to say it’s been gradually going back to Traveller Trev territory, with plenty of bars, mushroom shakes, techno music and tubing bar crawls still in full swing. There’s also some rather annoying Mad Max style buggies now too – in fact the only thing we didn’t see was opium. If however, like us you left your mushroom shake days on the Thai islands in the early 00s then here’s our tips on how to have an *almost* Traveller Trev free time in Vang Vieng.
First things first, accommodation – stay over the river, do not stay in Vang Vieng itself. We made the mistake of staying in town on our first night and had no sleep but moving to Bearlin Bungalows the next day was like moving to a whole new place. It’s a super peaceful collection of bungalows reminiscent of the village out of Lost. Once over that bridge we suggest you don’t cross back unless you need the ATM (avoid JBD as they charge a percentage whereas most others just charge 20,000 (2 squid)!
The riverside area is lush and green, a world away from the dusty town. From the bungalows you can walk to Pha Ngern mountain and take a 45 minute hike up – be warned it’s pretty steep but you’re rewarded at the top with an incredible view and a cold drink seller. You can eat delicious local food at Sae Lao – one of the very few places to offer Papaya salad without fermented fish should you desire, great milk shakes and beautiful surrounds sitting over a pond. It’s a social enterprise too, so all the profits go towards educating the local people. You can also volunteer here if you have spare time.
Lao Valhalla restaurant next door to Bearlin does great local dishes as does Bearlin Bungalows where the owner speaks perfect English so as well as food she can help you book whatever you need and give you advice. Rent a bike or moped and explore the caves, the three blue lagoons and other mountain hikes. There’s also a 30km route which we cycled but we’re not gonna lie the roads are rough, super bumpy and we had a sore ass and blistered hands from gripping the bars but we got to see a lot and take it at our own leisure. The best bit though, apart from the odd buggy speeding past we didn’t see a dreadlock, mushroom shake, pair of elephant print pants or hear a single techno beat in the two nights we spent there. BLISS.