Vang Vieng, Laos is about 3.5 hours north of Vientiane by van. It is close to the halfway point between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. As such, it is a natural pit stop for travelers between those two Laotian cities.
When I googled “Vang Vieng Laos”, I saw old posts that referenced Vang Vieng as a party town for backpackers. When I looked in Google Images, I saw pictures of people riding hot air balloons in Vang Vieng. Now that would be a lot more interesting to me.
So instead of flying directly from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, my boyfriend and I decided to make the trip by van. We would stop for 2 nights in Vang Vieng.
You can book a van ticket from almost every travel agent in Vientiane. It is a popular route so you will have many van operators to choose from. Most times, they will offer you a choice of a van or a bus. We chose the van because we felt we would get there faster.
The “trick” to getting a seat with good views in a van and not be stuck in one of the middle rows is to ask for the front seat. That’s what I did. The van driver accommodated us with two front seats. That allowed me to look around, take pictures, and take videos. The added bonus is that there is a phone charger upfront. Just be sure to wear your seatbelt. The roads are often windy and there are a lot of potholes and obstacles.
Outside the Vientiane city borders, the buildings and small shops quickly give way to farm plots and houses. What struck me was the number of new mansion style houses being built. For what was supposed to be a poor third world country, I saw that people had nice cars like Toyota Land Cruisers, Range Rovers, and Lexus. They also had really nice farm houses.
The scenery doesn’t really change from farms to rugged mountains until you get closer to Vang Vieng, which is about 2.5 hours out. At that point, the scenery abruptly changes to jagged mountains covered with lush vegetation. It is quite the sight. That’s when you start to sense the real beauty of Laos.
As you approach the town of Vang Vieng, it isn’t really all that impressive or nice. There are restaurants, massage parlors, touristy clothes shops, and tour operators all over town. They make up most of what you see.
The van dropped us off at a tour operator in the middle of town. From there we are supposed to walk to our hotel. Even though the hotel is only a few blocks away, I’m glad we packed light. The last thing you want to do is to drag a bunch of heavy suitcases with you on a dusty street.
We booked our room at the Elephant Crossing Hotel right next to the Nam Song River. Our room was on the top floor with a balcony. That sounded great except for the fact that the hotel doesn’t have an elevator. So we had to climb 4 flights of stairs up to our room. Again, it was a good thing we packed light. Nevertheless, we got our stairmaster exercise a few times a day. It’s a good thing both he and I are fit.
Getting up to the room was a chore, but once we were there it was well worth it. The view was amazing. We had a big window and balcony that overlooks the Nam Song River. Across the river was a mountain made of limestone covered with vegetation. French sliders opened up the room to the wondrous view.
If you stay here at the Elephant Crossing Hotel, make sure you book the Deluxe Balcony View room. We got up early the next morning to be rewarded with a fantastic sunrise with clouds shrouding the mountains.
Our room also included a buffet breakfast by the river in the morning.
My boyfriend wanted to take advantage of the half off happy hour drink special and watch the sunset by the riverfront restaurant. So we went back downstairs. He ordered a mojito for both of us.
It looked pretty. It had mints. It had carbonated soda water. It had ice. But after take several sips from both glasses, I don’t think it had any rum. Disappointing. So in the end, we just had carbonated detox water. At least sitting by the riverfront was pleasant.
Since we only have 2 days here, we needed to get our plans in order. Step 1 was to book a bus ticket to Luang Prabang. Step 2 was to book a ticket for the hot air balloon ride.
Step 1 was easy. We just purchased our van ticket from any of the many travel shops around town. As long as you don’t book it from the hotel, all the rates are about the same. The only choice you make whether to book the van or the bus. The bus will take about 6 hours. The van will take about 4 hours. The van will take the winding road which is the more scenic route. But if it rains, the only road is the straighter road that the bus takes. We chose the van.
Step 2 wasn’t what we expected. It turns out that the hot air balloons don’t operate during the wet season. This includes August. Arghhh and major bummer. We tried checking around with the different travel agencies. Some said that there were flights available. After they made the call though, their answer changed. There is only one or two hot air balloon flight operators so whomever you check with will get the same answer.
So it was onto Plan B. We had to choose other activities. The major things to do here include ziplining, tubing, kayaking, cave exploring, trekking to see the vista, motoring on dirt roads, and swimming in the blue lagoon. Most of the tour packages included some combination of these activities. We chose the package that included the cave tubing, kayaking, blue lagoon, and ziplining. The last activity made me very nervous because I had never done that before. But this was an adventure and where else better to do it than in Laos?
There are many tour operators in town. Make sure you choose one that have newer equipment. For example, ask to see their canoes. Ask to see their life jackets and helmets. Since there are so many tour operators to choose from, make sure you don’t get stuck with one that is subpar.
Our tour truck picked us up from near our hotel in the morning. It made a pitstop at a small restaurant to pick up our lunch. Then we were off to our adventure. If you go, bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, a towel, water shoes, and dry gear for your phone.
Dinner in town is nothing special. There are cafes with relatively good coffee and baked goods. There are restaurants that served Laotian and Thai food. There is Western food. But people don’t come to Vang Vieng for the food, they come here for the adventure.
Follow me to my next destination Luang Prabang in my next article. And if you are hesitant about adventures, be sure to read my articles about the art of adventure here.