Vang Vieng is one of those towns that you read about in blogs and news articles as a backpacker metropolis with a plethora of activities, bars, restaurants and fantastic vibe, easy to spend a few days. Quite honestly, we were a little disappointed. As much as Vang Vieng could have been and maybe in the past was this bustling party town, now it seems a little run down, and filled with cheap booze and drugs mixed with a corrupt policing system that puts all tourists a little on edge.
However, we were here for 2 nights so gotta make the most of it, and we did. We arrived and checked into Galaxy hotel, which for $33NZD per night was pretty good. We have a tv. (albeit with 100 Thai and Laos channels), a balcony, A/C and a private bathroom…ok, it’s actually great. There are much cheaper places in town but for what It’s worth we like it.
On our first afternoon we walked around the town checking out what makes this riverside town special…and that’s just it, it’s the Nam song river and the tall limestone mountains that surround the town. From a distance it’s truly picturesque…then up close it’s a little manky. This could be due to it’s disastrous past when inner tubing down the river gripping bucketful’s of vodka became the thing to do in Vang Vieng. Only a few years ago bars along the river offered unlimited alcohol to go with dangerous zip lines and waterslides. Western kids, many from nearby Australia, got drunk AF, and dozens lost their lives. Since then the Laos government has been working hard to close these down and make it a safer place, unfortunately with unlimited free booze in 2 bars from 8-9PM corrupt police and numerous outlets to buy drugs, I found there was some polishing still needed to make this town the gem it could be.
The sunset here is beautiful mind you and we managed to nag a spot at a cool river bar to watch it on the first night deciding what activity to do the following day. As we are pretty tight on cash and spoilt as we have done pretty much all adventure activities we decided that hiking the mountains would be the way to go.
We decided on the Phangern Mountain hike which takes about 3-4 hours round trip if you walk from town and costs 10,000KIP ($1.80NZD pp + $80c to cross the bridge). It is hard, actually I sweated through all my clothes about 15 mins in so I can say as an avid hiker, it was bloody challenging. Now, there are two viewpoints at Phangern – once you’ve reached the first one which took us about 25-30minutes keep walking and follow a set of steep steps up to the summit where you are greeted panoramic views across the rice paddies and Avatar-like mountains. The hike up took us 1 hour from the bottom, but we were the only ones on the track which was absolutely excellent. We even managed to shoot the drone our to really get a good perspective of where we were in relation to our surroundings.
Other than the amazing hike, we drank beers, watched the sunset, ate lots of yummy Lao food – chicken laab is my new favourite and drank many lemon shakes. We are off the capital tomorrow Vientiane for some museums, culture and I am sure…more temples! Ciao for now 😊