A tiny town in central Laos, Vang Vieng was a place of next to no international reputation until very recently, when the former bus hub was transformed into the centre of one of the most popular tourist activities on offer in Laos: tubing.
The lazy river running through this minute old town is now at the very heart of what’s become a tubing franchise. There’s no need to plan ahead, just walk down to the riverfront one morning and have one of the companies set you up with a tire inner tube, and off you go. It’s worth noting that leaving late can make the latter part of your trip uncomfortably cold, though – if you’re a typical tuber – you’ll probably be substantially worse for wear by then, having stopped off at many of the cheap riverside beer pit stops. Equally, you can kayak the same stretch of river, though tubing seems somewhat more in line with the lazy local atmosphere.
Vang Vieng, you see, is a place tailor made for backpackers, and its raison d’etre seems to be extremes of relaxation. Most of the day you’ll find visitors sitting around sipping on smoothies, reading books and occupying the nearest hammock to their hotel room. This spot does have some exceptional countryside, most notable a nearby blue lagoon and some good hillside trekking, though if you get sucked into the typical ‘relax at day, drink at night’ vibe of the town, you could easily stay weeks and never see any of it.
Being a small place, local sights (aside from the countryside) are at a minimum, and include more traditional experiences like taking a traditional Laos sauna, while plenty of visitors head off rock climbing for a more action packed break from the lethargy.
For all its petite size, Vang Vieng is certainly not a local experience of Laos. Quite the opposite, in fact: it really couldn’t be much more focused on the hefty crowds of backpackers. Having said that, it’s the perfect spot to relax, be extremely lazy, and soak up a little of the local countryside.