Vang Vieng, Laos travel tips

Where we ate:

In Vang Vieng, we didn’t like many of the eating options.

  • Natureview Restaurant, on the road to Pou Kham Cave – Though we only had one dish of lap, a lao lao mojito, and homemade potent pineapple wine, it was by far the best food we had in Vang Vieng. Only problem, it’s a one hour bike ride out of town. Lunch only: YEH
  • Organic Farm Cafe, in-town location – Touted as one of the better places to eat in Vang Vieng, we were underwhelmed. The mulberry wine was particularly disappointing, more juice-like than wine-like. This was not even in the same league as other Laotian social benefit restaurants: MEH
  • The Other Side Bar – A nice enough place to relax if you can snag one of the riverside booths that don’t have seats, only pillows. Nothing worth seeking out. Do not order the local wine unless you’re into drinking a bottle of melted Jolly Ranchers. On the positive side, that wine was only $1.75 for a full-sized bottle, which we couldn’t bring ourselves to finish: MEH
  • Sukura – The loud bar across the street from our hotel, it was usually packed at night with people having a loud, fun time. We also met a few seriously sad alcoholic expats there, killing themselves slowly. Fine for a few beers if you’re in a festive mood: YEH
  • Xayoh – According to the Rough Guide, they have a second floor restaurant area with a view of the river and excellent pizza. The 2nd floor was closed, and the pizza was hella expensive. We opted for the pad thai and a curry and both sauces tasted like they came out of a bottle: NAH
  • Slide Bar, a bar on the Song River – Even if you don’t slip down the slide, the bar has the largest selection of snacks we saw on the river. The fresh spring rolls were some of the better food we ate in Vang Vieng: YEH
  • Luang Prabang Bakery Restaurant – It’s near impossible to find somewhere to eat that isn’t playing Friends. We stopped here because they played movies, which were a little hard to hear from anywhere but near the screen. The food was edible, which is pretty special for Vang Vieng: MEH
  • Dala Vanh – Probably the meal that gave me a fierce 24 hour case of nasty food poisoning. Avoid at all costs: NAH
  • Khun Kham Restaurant – They have a large selection of typical Laotian dishes as well as some local specialties. It was all interesting, if not mind-blowing. Free lao lao and a fruit shake on Christmas Eve. The staff was festively inebriated: YEH
  • Tula Bar – As I was still weak from food poisoning, we headed out for a place to watch yet another movie over dinner. The BBQ was better than the pizza, which was overcooked but edible. Best feature was the gregarious owner who we found out was San Francisco’s Mr. Leatherman 1983: YEH
  • Xanaxay Restaurant – Half the restaurant can barely hear the Friends the other half is spaced out to. The food was not worth the Friends proximity: NAH

Where we stayed:

  • Malany Villas – We saw the room during daylight, so it was a surprise at night to find the overhead lighting consisted of one bare bulb that made the room seem truly dismal. It also had a horrible smelling bathroom, so we figured out how to wet a towel and pile it over the shower drain to block the smell. Yet, it was one of the nicer budget places we saw: MEH

What we saw:

  • Tubing – Do it. It’s stupid fun. Especially if you’re visiting during the high winter season, try to get to the tube rental shop (the hotel can tell you where to go) by 10 am. By 4pm the sun hides behind the karsts and it gets cold. During the dry winter season, the water level is very low, especially once the bars are behind you. We had to paddle awkwardly with our hands to get back: YEH
  • Sunset over the river – Laos’s sky was the most stunning so far in this world. The sunset viewed over the river with the mountainous background was stunning. Unfortunately we had to stand in a dirty back lot of some random building to catch it since few places in Vang Vieng have set up any decent sunset view. We met nice people in the lot, so that’s something: YEH
  • Hobo Map of Vang Vieng – Impossible to find in town, but invaluable for taking a self-guided bike ride of the countryside. So detailed! We had to force our bike rental shop to let us borrow theirs for the day. Nicely, Hobo Maps makes their maps of Vang Vieng and elsewhere in Laos available for free online at YEH
  • Tham Phou Kham – The bike ride there is bumpy, dusty, and there’s not a lot of shade on the road but it’s freakin’ beautiful and peaceful. The only disturbance is kids running to the road to smile, wave, and shout “Saibadee!!” (“Hello”)at you. The cave is a nice clamber, made even more worth it if you bring your bathing suit and swim in the oddly bright blue creek. It’s a long ride, leave plenty of time to get there and for a leisurely lunch at Natureview Restaurant on the way: YEH
  • Kayak and Cave – Damn Todd, didn’t write down the tour company name. They were super nice, letting us postpone our tour until my food poisoning abated. The lunch on the tour was decent BBQ skewers and bad fried rice. Their kayaks are the cheap kind that you sit on instead of in, but they were fine for the slow winter river. Kayaking the river is blissful, very quiet and scenic until you catch up with the tubers. The caves we saw are described below: YEH
  • Water Cave – A fun, silly little cave, where you get in another tube to float through meandering caves filled with ice cold water, topped with ceilings that will make you say “Ooh cool!”: YEH
  • Elephant Cave – More than just an elephant, this cave has a folksy collection of brightly painted Buddhist icons. It’s not easy to find on your own: YEH