Vang Vieng has shaken off its old party vibes and reinvented itself as Laos’s premier destination for outdoor adventuring – perfect for those who want to cave, climb and kayak in some of the world's most spectacular karst scenery.
From quiet rural village, to secret CIA air base, to notorious backpacker party haunt, to top outdoor adventure destination: Vang Vieng has certainly been on a journey. In fact, pretty much the only thing that hasn’t changed is what drew people here in the first place: the landscape. As the Nam Song River winds its way south through this small town, something spectacular happens to the scenery. Huge limestone mountains tower over the river valley below, with near-vertical slopes dripping with greenery and peaks lost in the clouds. The town itself sits sandwiched between these karst cliffs and the palm-fringed river edge, and it’s simply one of the most picturesque spots in Southeast Asia.
If you’d come to Vang Vieng ten years ago, you’d have found it overflowing with loud, drunk, half-naked tourists causing havoc as they floated down the river on rubber innertubes. Thankfully, the Lao government eventually clamped down on the mayhem, closing down the all-night bars and giving Vang Vieng room to breathe. Today, the area has relaunched itself as an eco-adventure destination, and though you’ll still find pizza restaurants playing Friends on repeat, you’ll also find kayaking, caving and hot-air ballooning – perfect for those who prefer to get their thrills from nature. We must be getting old, because we think that’s a good thing.