Vang Vieng is a small town north of Vientiane, on the Nam Song River in Laos. It’s surrounded by striking limestone mountains and caves. Tham Poukham, to the west, is a cave with a blue-green lagoon and a reclining Buddha statue. North is the deep Tham Nam Cave, which has a spring at its entrance. Nearby, Tham Xang Cave has a stalactite resembling an elephant. The town is home to 16th- and 17th-century monasteries.
How to reach
Vang Vieng is on Highway #13 between Vientiane and Luang Prabang – by bus (road and bus conditions permitting) about 6-8 hrs from Luang Prabang, around 3-4 hr from Vientiane.
Highway #13 is a two-lane road in poor condition except for a few bumps closer to the cities, nothing to worry about. The road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang is mountainous and boasts amazing scenery as well as worthwhile glimpses of Lao village life. The road between Vang Vieng and Vientiane is flatter and less interesting.
Tickets for tourist buses and minivans can be purchased at almost every guesthouse and should include transport to the bus station.
Buses from Vientiane cost about 50,000 kip (GBP4, €5, USD6). Minivans leave Vientiane all day and cost about 50,000 – 90,000 kip. The The Express VIP bus to Vientiane costs 70,000 kip (Sep 2016). Slower local buses to Vientiane without air conditioning run in the early morning (05:30-10:00) and cost about 40,000 kip for a 5 hour journey. The minivans and local buses leave Vientiane from the Northern Bus Station. The Northern Bus Station can be reached from the city by taking the number 8 bus, which can be flagged down along its route or can be caught at the Central Bus Station, downtown. The number 8 bus cost 5,000 kip as of September 2016.
From Luang Prabang, VIP buses booked through agents in town cost 150,000 kip and minivans cost 120,000 kip (June 2012), you can purchase tickets directly from the Southern Bus Terminal, the VIP bus is 105,000 kip and minivan via the travel agent opposite is 110,000 kip (July 2013). Many guesthouses also sell bus tickets, however, be aware that they often call the normal local bus a minibus. These local busses are much slower (can take up to 8 or 9 hours, if you are unlucky). On the bus ticket, it says that it is 85,000 kip (January 2017) and at the bus station the sign says 95,000 kip. Expect to pay around 120,000 kip, if you buy it from a guesthouse (which then includes transport to the bus station). Also included in the price is a small lunch (sandwich or rice with curry). If you’re susceptible to motion sickness you’ll be much better off on the slower bus than the minivan but it does mean a longer transit time. Buses from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng stop at the Northern Vang Vieng Bus Terminal which is 2km from the city centre, tuk tuk’s can take you to town for 10,000 kip each. Get off at Friends bar as you come into town and explore from there otherwise your driver will take you to his/her preferred guest house.
Taxi from Vientiane airport to Vang Vieng costs USD 90 (Jan. 2015), for which one shall buy a taxi ticket. It will take 3.5 hr without traffic jam or stop.
By rental car
AVIS has locations in Vientiane (downtown only – arrange free airport pickup ahead of time) and Luang Prabang (same). If you’d like to make the scenic drive independently and be able to stop and take in the scenery, two-day one-way rentals start around $200 (~$50/day with a good promo code + $100 one-way fee) + $40 gas (for the direct route). If you have more time, you could stop by the plain of jars too, which would perhaps add another day of rental and some more gas. Vientiane <-> Vang Vieng 3-3.5 hrs Vang Vieng <-> Luang Prabang 4.5-5 hrs (leisurely pace with multiple scenic stops).
The small shops scattered throughout Vang Vieng sell the standard assortment of snacks, trinkets, sunglasses, and bathing suits. The majority of tourists seem to leave with at least one T-shirt, vest or dress with “In the Tubing – Vang Vieng” emblazoned on it.
Prices for tourist packages are quoted in both kip and US dollars. Restaurants, hotels, and pretty much everything else is priced in kip. Most places will accept kip, US dollars and Thai baht for larger purchases.
There are many ATMs that now take all major credit cards but are known for running out of cash. Some tourists have reported only being able to use cards on the Maestro (Mastercard) network. But some reports that use VISA with no problem. BCEL-bank give a poor rate. LDB-bank give better.
The Lao Development Bank changes money at good rates and processes cash advances. BCEL will also do cash advances on credit cards.
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