Vang Vieng’s reputation as a party city where anything goes precedes it, but travelers visiting today will find this popular party mecca totally transformed.
Up until a few years ago, travelers visited Vang Vieng for one reason only: to party their asses off. It was the wildest place to spring break with drug and alcohol-fueled ragers on the daily.
As the death roll began to rise, the government stepped in to make the city a safer place to travel, and one that would attract more than just the party crowd. Nowadays, you can still find weekly jungle parties, but the famously wild Laotian city has reimagined itself as an outdoor adventure hotspot for eco-tourists (who don’t need to be totally plastered to have fun).
Looking for some adventure? Here are some of our favorite spots to explore in Vang Vieng:
This used to be Vang Vieng’s most rambunctious and dangerous activity: a 2.5 kilometer float down the Nam Song river with over 20 stops at river-side bars for drinks.
Today, you can still get in a gorgeous float with stunning views of the mountains and river, but there are only two bars open to pause and party at along the way. If you’re interested in some of the city’s party history, keep an eye out, you can still spot some remnants of the old bars.
Pro tip: Make sure to bring or rent a drybag to keep your possessions fresh for your return, and bring an extra pair of clothes for after your float. You shouldn’t try to walk through town afterwards in just a bikini; it’s not culturally appropriate.
There are a ton of caves to explore around Vang Vieng, each with its own character that sets it apart from the rest, and no, you don’t actually need to go spelunking to enjoy them. Some of the caves are included on a kayaking tour that’ll have you cruising along the Nam Song and exploring some of the local villages, too.
Tham Chang is the most popular cave, and if you’re only going to check out just one cave, make it this one. In addition to being a gorgeous natural cave with unique rock structures (and a great place to escape Laos’ suffocating heat), it is also full of history. It was used as a bunker during the Chinese Haw invasion and as a sanctuary for villagers during the civil war.
If the river wasn’t enough to satisfy your inner tubing itch, take the trip to Tham Nam Cave for another unforgettable experience. Unlike the Nam Song river float, on this journey you’re moving against the current, pulling yourself through the darkened caverns using a series of ropes.
Pro tip: Your entry cost includes a tube and a headlamp, which you’ll definitely need because once you’re inside the cave, you’re in the pitch black with nothing but sound to guide you. You’ll get to enjoy some really incredible rock formations and trust us, you’ll be telling people about this for years.
The Pha Ngeun trail is the best hiking spot around, taking you up to a series of viewpoints at the highest point around Vang Vieng. Hike this trail in the early morning before the heat sets in and you’ll be rewarded with both a smaller crowd and jaw-dropping views, with a few hot air balloons thrown in for the Insta feed.
Pro tip: It’s a tough hike, with an elevation gain of around 450 meters to get to the top viewpoint, and some steep inclines. The trickiest spots have a bamboo railing to help you navigate them. The trail is marked well enough that you can do it solo, but it’s always safer to travel with a partner. If you’re not an experienced hiker, I recommend going with one of the many tour groups.
The blue lagoons are some of Vang Vieng’s most popular tourist sites for getting out of the heat and swimming through your hangover. With turquoise waters and a lush jungle backdrop, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a totally different world. Depending on which lagoon you end up in, you can find inner tubes, floating rafts, and bars to improve your swim.
Pro tip: Blue Lagoon 1 is the most popular and touristy, but we recommend making the trek a little further out of town to visit Blue Lagoon 3. It sees less visitors because it’s out of the way, making it a better place to chill out and relax.
Need a little bit more of an adrenaline buzz? Take a zipline tour that sends you flying through a series of platforms that cover a kilometer of jungle. You’ll have to navigate some rickety rope bridges and head up to dizzying heights, but the experience is one of the best in Vang Vieng. The longest zipline will take you a full 147 meters through the air over the jungle, with some incredible views that will make great photos if you’re brave enough to bring your camera along.
If you’re bummed that this party mecca has lost its magic, don’t worry. Not only can you still party, and party hard, you can do it without spending a cent. While there are a ton of bars in Vang Vieng, the two big party bars are Sakura and Viva.
Every night, each bar hosts happy hours with free drinks. Head to Sakura first for as many free whiskey shots as your poor liver can handle, and then mosey on over to Viva for an hour of free beer. You can get plenty buzzed, or trashed — no one’s watching how many freebies you chug — without spending a single kip.
If you’re looking to get even more debauched, and if you’ve heard of Vang Vieng before, a lot of the bars have some more illicit substances to offer. The most popular bar for getting into an altered headspace is Space Bar, where the menu boasts joints, shrooms, and even opium.
Pro tip: While you’re fine doing drugs inside the establishments that sell them, never take anything outside of them or back to your hostel since you could be in for some big trouble with the local cops.