Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

The Sober Side of Vang Vieng

At the risk of sounding old and not very hip: NO, I did not get drunk tubing down the Nam Sang River or rave all night long at the river-front bars high on shrooms or pot. Famous for shoe-string backpackers who can get there on a bus from Vientiane for 40,000 kip ($5), rent a room for next to nothing, eat on even less, and risk getting doped up drinking exotic concoctions, THAT is not the Vang Vieng we experienced. It’s unfortunate how sometimes the sordid reputation of a travel destination can obscure the natural surrounding beauty of a place, much worse how often Vang Vieng appears in the headlines because of drowned drunk tourist.

Not all hope is lost, however, since the government has been cracking down on establishments that have been a bit too liberal with their mushroom and weed pizzas, and recently, some up-scale establishments have popped up hoping to bring in bigger tourist dollars so that the community doesn’t have to rely solely on the $5 bus passengers for their livelihood. I personally hope (beg) that someone will also open a restaurant worthy of bigger dollars for discerning palates that are a little more particular about our meals than stuffing my face with anything lumpy and greasy on a hungover morning. We found the food to be terrible except for Nazim’s Indian restaurant, which also had much faster service, critical when dining out with toddlers.

There is SO much more to Vang Vieng worth doing and seeing than what it’s famous for. The views are stunning and there is so much nature and outdoor sports to explore. There is rock climbing, caving (even on an inner-tube or kayak), mountain biking and four-wheeling in the countryside, and going down the river (sober) just to enjoy the view, or simply hanging out at the pool and relax which is exactly what we did and we loved it…

View of the Nam Sang River and karst hills from our hotel our first evening.

The same view the next morning courtesy of two kids who woke up at 6am excited and declaring, “Look! Mountains and a river! Let’s go to the pool!!!”

Boats preparing for early morning excursions on the river.

This footbridge is also next to the hotel.

I can just sit and watch people and kids and tractors and motorbikes go by here all day long. There were also lots of kids playing in the river under the bridge on the weekend. Their bubbly laughter and frolic was so fun to listen to.

OK, so this is mostly how we spent most of our time but the kids loved the pool and with these stunning views right in front of me how could I complain? (We booked the Riverside Boutique Resort through Agoda.com)

Our one outing, crossing the Nam Song River to Tham Chang and Tham Jang caves.

G&M on their way to Tham Chang cave. This natural spring water pool is the entrance to explore the cave while floating on an inner-tube.

Like a mini-Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of Laos.

All good things must come to an end but at least we were treated to this gorgeous misty view at breakfast the morning before we left.


You might also enjoy On the Road to Vang Vieng.


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13 comments on “The Sober Side of Vang Vieng

  1. bashfuladventurer
    November 27, 2012

    Beautiful photographs–they make me want to go there (hopefully when more restaurants have opened!).

  2. Ana Gaby
    November 24, 2012

    Looks gorgeous! And the kids seem to have really enjoyed it!!! How are your Bali plans coming along??? Ps, I’m not into getting drunk, either. Maybe I’m old but I’m very happy! hahaha

    • Wanderlustress
      November 24, 2012

      Hi Ana! The kids have fun anywhere there’s a pool 😉

      We’re spending Christmas in Bali with good friends we haven’t seen in a long time so all we’ve done for the trip is book a villa in Seminyak (my favorite area in Bali after Ubud) and planned for Christmas dinner. They’ll be lots of catching up to do lounging around the pool. We’ve all spent a lot of time in Bali before so not much sightseeing in the plans for this trip, but there’ll definitely be beach outings and maybe a visit to the volcano. I’ll definitely have to print out your post on what to do in Bali with kids to bring along, too!

  3. Dani
    November 22, 2012

    Oh wow those mountains!!!! What a stunning looking place. The last shot with that hot air balloon is just perfect and I love the boat shot from above as well. I just can’t get over those craggy cliffs! It’s always a shame when a place gets a reputation for catering to that very specific kind of backpacker for everyone involved–from the local hosts to the other backpackers and travelers who visit not for the cheap drugs but for the scenic locale. I remember when my friend and I were backpacking in Northern India, we always used to say we wanted buttons to wear that said “no! we aren’t those kinds of backpackers!”

    • Wanderlustress
      November 24, 2012

      Thanks Dani! I’ll have to tell G. They’re both his shots 😉

  4. allthingsboys
    November 20, 2012

    Great post! I’ve been away from my reading, but I have thought about you and wondering how you were adjusting to life in Laos. I regale people still about your camel spider story :-). The pool shot brought back memories of my own kiddos at that age. Looks like a great time, and such stunning scenery! Fantastic photos!

    • Wanderlustress
      November 24, 2012

      Haha, there were actually huge spiders at the caves we went to in Vang Vieng but I couldn’t get myself to take a picture. Too squeamish!

  5. www.cleanbirth.org
    November 20, 2012

    Love. The pool is key with kids. Vang Vieng looks beautiful!

    • Wanderlustress
      November 20, 2012

      Hellooooo!!! How’s it going in Salavan? I’m looking forward to reading your next post after visiting the mothers and children. And I was thinking how great it would be if the clean birth kit you’re distributing could be used by someone giving birth while you were here!

  6. pinkbananashoes
    November 20, 2012

    Nice post although I have to stand up for the shoe string tourists and say that Tubing one was of the highlights of my trip. Not everyone who undertakes this as an activity to the area is as bad as you have made them out to be. It is absolutely beautiful and I agree it would be nice if there was more options for the more upmarket tourist. Thanks for posting. Reminded me of some good times.x

    • Wanderlustress
      November 20, 2012

      Thanks for setting me straight. I WAY over generalized and certainly there are lots of people (shoe string backpackers included) in Vang Vieng for all the other reasons I mentioned aside from partying. I guess it’s reputation made a strong impression on me before we went and I felt sorry that that was the case when I saw how beautiful it is. So glad you had a great time there!

  7. travelerlynne
    November 20, 2012

    Looks and sounds like you had a great time. beautiful views.Do I see a red hot air balloon in the last photo?

    • Wanderlustress
      November 20, 2012

      Yes it is Lynne. It slowly drifted down river toward us and landed just behind the trees on the far bank of the river.

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