Off the Beaten Path: Discovering Vang Vieng, Laos’ Charming River Town
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering Vang Vieng, Laos' Charming River Town - Floating Down the River
One of the most popular activities in Vang Vieng is floating down the Nam Song River on inner tubes. This relaxing ride allows you to take in the breathtaking scenery of limestone karsts, lush jungle, and rural villages dotting the banks of the river.
As you drift along the crystal clear waters, you’ll pass by local farmers working in rice paddies, children splashing and playing, and water buffalo lazing in the shallows. It's a glimpse into traditional Lao life that feels a world away from the modern world.
The typical float takes around 2-4 hours depending on how fast the current is flowing. Most tubing outlets provide tubes, life jackets, and shuttles to the starting points upriver. Prices are around 60,000 kip ($6 USD).
The best section of river for tubing is from Vang Vieng to Vientiane. This route has fun little rapids interspersed between calm sections perfect for grabbing a drink from one of the many riverside bars along the way.
Be sure to bring along some cold beers, snacks, and sunscreen so you can really relax and enjoy the leisurely journey. It's also a good idea to wear shoes you don't mind getting wet and strap your belongings into a waterproof bag.
Tubing has become a rite of passage for backpackers in Laos. The experience is like a peaceful outdoor party where you can meet fellow travelers from around the world. Friendly banter and new friendships are made as tubes tie together and the beer flows.
While tubing used to be synonymous with wild, risky behavior, improved safety measures have created a more family-friendly activity. Still, it's best to tube in a group and be smart about alcohol consumption as there are sections with stronger currents.
What else is in this post?
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering Vang Vieng, Laos' Charming River Town - Floating Down the River
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering Vang Vieng, Laos' Charming River Town - Trekking to Pha Ngeun Viewpoint
- Off the Beaten Path: Discovering Vang Vieng, Laos' Charming River Town - Visiting Organic Farms
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering Vang Vieng, Laos' Charming River Town - Trekking to Pha Ngeun Viewpoint
One of the top things to do in Vang Vieng is trekking to Pha Ngeun Viewpoint for panoramic vistas over the karst landscape. The moderately strenuous hike takes around 45 minutes each way and rewards those who make the effort with unbelievable scenery.
The trek starts from the bridge in the center of town. Follow the path leading upstream along the Nam Song River. The trail meanders through verdant jungle dotted with banana trees, palms, and bamboo stands. Listen for the calls of hornbills and gibbons in the canopy above.
After about 15 minutes, the route narrows and steepens as it ascends up the side of a karst outcrop. Use the rocks and roots as natural steps to carefully make your way up the hillside. Stop to catch your breath and appreciate the views back over Vang Vieng expanding below.
The last push towards the top leads up a set of steep stone steps. Climb these to finally reach the viewpoint platform. From this vantage point, one can take in the full scope of Vang Vieng’s karst landscape. Sheer limestone cliffs jut dramatically skyward from the lush green valley.
The snaking Nam Song River carves through the landscape far below. Make out the tube rental huts dotted along its banks. Gaze outward to spyremote Laotian villages and rice fields nestled between the karsts. Watch the mist rise ethereally off the jungle canopy.
It’s mesmerizing to sit atop Pha Ngeun Viewpoint and soak in this iconic scene. The panoramic views make the effort to reach the lookout completely worth it. As the late afternoon light illuminates the valley, it’s easy to understand why this spot provides the quintessential Vang Vieng landscape experience.
While enjoying the scenery, be sure to watch your footing around the viewpoint’s unfenced edges. Sadly, there have been fatal accidents in the past with people falling from the cliffs. Take care when taking photos.
Off the Beaten Path: Discovering Vang Vieng, Laos' Charming River Town - Visiting Organic Farms
Getting out into the countryside and visiting local organic farms is a wonderful way to get an authentic taste of life in Vang Vieng. After days spent tubing down the river and exploring caves, a farm visit provides a look at traditional Laotian agriculture and village living.
Several small-scale organic farms situated just outside of Vang Vieng welcome visitors to tour their lush gardens and sample fresh fruits and vegetables. Mr. Bounmy's Organic Farm is one of the more popular farms to visit. When traveler Jane first arrived, Mr. Bounmy greeted her warmly and began to show her around the verdant property. He explained how his family works the land without any chemicals. The rich soil and tropical climate allow them to easily grow a diverse range of crops.
As Jane walked along the rows of plants, she saw leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale thriving. Many herbs were also flourishing, including mint, basil, and lemongrass. Mr. Bounmy smiled proudly as he handed Jane samples of cherry tomatoes, dragon fruit, bananas, and avocados freshly picked from his trees. The flavors were so intense - a testament to the fertility of the land.
After touring the gardens, Jane got a chance to help make a traditional Lao papaya salad dish. She ground chilies, garlic, tomatoes, lime, and peanuts with a mortar and pestle. Mr. Bounmy then let her toss the spicy mixture with shredded green papaya and fresh herbs from his garden. The final dish was tangy, crunchy, and incredibly satisfying.
Jane's day ended with a home-cooked meal made by Mr. Bounmy's family, who live on the farm. They laid out dishes like sticky rice, chicken larb, and mushroom stew for her to sample. Jane was struck by the simplicity of their life and routine. She could tell the family worked hard in the fields each day, but they still emanated a sense of peace that she envied.
Before leaving, Mr. Bounmy gave Jane several avocados and bananas from the farm. She was grateful for the gift, and the entire experience gave her new insight into daily living in rural Laos. She hoped to take a little bit of their outlook back home with her.