Vang Vieng, Laos – people have been mentioning to this “notorious” haven over and over since the day it was officially opened to tourists. From the most beautifully flying words in the vocabulary to compliment to the worst description ever for a destination, Vang Vieng has it all. This was not an obvious thing for any destination. Let’s figure it out why.
How about weather in Vang Vieng?
Similar to Laos’s weather and condition, Vang Vieng has 2 seasons in a year: dry season from November to April, then rainy season from May to October. The preferable time to go is in dry season. Traveler said the most perfect month is March, when we can enjoy the picturesque landscape in the cool weather. The ideal months for good weather in Vang Vieng are January, February, March, November and December. On average, the warmest months are February, March, April, May, September and October. January is the coldest month of the year. The rainiest months are July and August. Depending on the weather condition, there will be many favorable activities for traveler to try while being here.
Which dishes to try in Vang Vieng?
There is not a huge different among the food culture while we are in different parts of Laos, compared to its neighbor Vietnam. Vang Vieng also offers its visitor all of highlighted cuisines of the nation. Coming to Vang Vieng with an empty stomach and a heart full of discovery spirit, below are which you should try to feast your inner passion for food.
Khao Jee Sandwich
It is famous food in Laos. Similar to Vietnam’s Banh Mi sandwiches, this kind of baguette is split in half and filled with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, carrot, onion and optional cheese, moo yor (pork lunchmeat), chopped ham and topped with pate or chili sauce. These ingredients together make for a crispy outside layer with warm and delicious flavors on the inside.
It is great to taste Khao Jee sandwich in the morning with a cup of strong filtered coffee. This quick and delicious snack is sold by almost every street vendor in Laos and is readily available everywhere.
Laab Moo (Minced Pork Salad)
It’s one of those things that has you going “Mmm” a lot until you can eat some more.
Laab is composed of ground meat that can be cooked or raw, and mixed with lime juice, fish sauce, shallots, herbs, chili powder and toasted ground sticky rice.
Larb is an authentic Laos dishes, however it is very popular in Isan, a region that consists of 20 provinces in the Northeast of Thailand, as well as in the North of Thailand. Many different meats can be used in a traditional larb, including beef, water buffalo, and chicken and duck. There are even some fish versions or versions that include a combination of meat and offal, especially kidney and gizzard.
Tam Mak Hoong (Green Papaya Salad)
Among the dishes Laos has to offer, few epitomize Lao cuisine better than tam mak hoong, or papaya salad; it’d be difficult to avoid tasting this delicious dish at least once while travelling in the country.
Papaya salad is made with green (unripe) papaya, which is distinctly tangy and crunchy and completely different to the ripe, softer orange fruit. While many stores sell graters, many will argue that the best texture is achieved by using a large knife to hack and thinly slice tiny slivers into the whole peeled fruit, often with admirably careless precision.
The base is usually salt, sugar, chilli and small limes. The vendor will usually ask how many chillies you want, and for beginner Western palates, one should have plenty of bite and two will likely get pretty hot. If you ask for it Lao style, you’re looking at winding up with seven or eight chillies. Good luck eating that without crying and developing a purple facial hue!
Khao Niaw (Sticky Rice)
Laotian sticky rice called khao niew is the base of every meal. Sticky rice is made from a glutinous rice that has a higher sugar content that regular rice which makes it sticky when steamed. Although it is from a glutinous rice it is actually gluten free. They serve this rice in individual little bamboo baskets called lao aep khao. It has a lid to keep it warm. The traditional way to make the rice is in a bamboo basket that is placed over a pot and then covered with a lid.
Mok Pa (Fish Wrap)
This is one of the most ubiquitous dishes in Laos; it can also be made with chicken but the ingredients vary a little. Laos culture rooted in the watery history with Mekong river, which was why fish are considered as the daily food resources for locals. Grinded fished flavored gently with herbs and salt
Sai Oua (Lao Sausage)
It uses simple, fresh ingredients that anyon was able to find in their garden (or your local Asian market). There’s so much depth to the flavor depth to the flavor of this sausage. From onion-y shallots, citrus-y lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to a hint of spice from the chili. The funny thing is when you see them hang on the food stall, they look weird, but if that weird thing are dipped down into garlic and tomato sauce then believe me, no one can resist for the second and endless bite.
Sien Savanh (Beef Jerky)
Sundried beef strips, good with Beer Lao or as a snack. Made from beef flank steak (sometimes water buffalo meat is used), marinated in a mixture of garlic, fish sauce, ginger, sesame seed, sugar, salt and black pepper.
The strips are then left to dry in sunlight, then deep fried until lightly crispy and served with sticky rice or jaew maak len (tomato-based chili dip). It would be absolutely great when sitting on Mekong River, enjoying the Beer Lao and tasting Sien Savanh with friends. Tourists do not ever miss this special and delicious food when coming to Laos.
Brew with rice, malted barley, hops and water, beer Lao is the flagship beer of Lao Brewery Company. It was lauched in 1973 and has since become the best-selling beer in Laos
One of recommended recreational activities is a game of ‘petanque’ with local tour guides. Similar to bocce or lawn balls, petanque is a national pastime in Laos (and France), with ad hoc courts tucked away in every corner throughout town. If you head a couple kilometers from the town center, there are a number of spots with up to a dozen courts and local stalls selling snacks and cold bottles of the ubiquitous Beer Lao. Lao people are very welcoming to visitors, and they absolutely love to see foreign tourists embracing this sport which they are so fond of. Head over to a court with a sense of curiosity and a smile on your face, and you are guaranteed to be invited for a game and a round of beer (or three!) before you know it!
Phangern Mountain Viewpoint
No need to travel Chom Si Mount to get the excellent mountain viewpoint, there is one place in Vang Vieng offering you that experience: Phangern Mountain. Imagine yourself with a bottle of beer, together with your companion, standing high above and enjoying the magnificent scene.
Vang Vieng is situated on the Nam Song river and kayaking is a great way to see all the scenery around the area. You can get a full or a half day tour from any of the companies in town for about 100,000 Kip, which is a little over $10. You’ll kayak down the river for a few hours and stop at a few places along the way for views, lunch and a beer. Shop around for the best tour as some of them can be a bit dodgy.
Vang Vieng is famous for its tubing extravaganza. You rent a tube, float down the river and get drunk at the bars along the way. So many tourists have died doing this however, that in 2012 they shut down most of the bars. There’s still a few and it’s a fun day with your friends if you can manage to not be an idiot and kill yourself. Everyone seems to do it and all the shirts in town say “In the Tubing Vang Vieng!”
If you would like a relaxing space, let’s book a Vang Vieng eco-tour including biking along Nam Song riversides, and visiting local villages. This is a wonderful experience to discover the daily life of Laos. Also, you will have the chance to admire the pristine beauty of the countryside with fertile paddy fields, and watch the gentle sunset scenery. Bungalow – a small house with one floor and made of wood on the riversides will be an ideal rest place for visitors after a wonderful day of exploring, which gives you a sense of serenity that has not existed so far. This is a quiet village which is one of the best Vang Vieng attractions.
Rock climbing on Vang Vieng’s karst rocks is beautiful. There are three main climbing areas in Vang Vieng, the closest being a quick hike to the mountains on the other side of the river, and the farthest a (worthwhile) 20-minute moto-ride a few towns down. When I was there in the summer of some new local areas were being developed by Adam (see below) for opening that winter. The potential for new development is limitless.
Vang Vieng Market
Vang Vieng is not the best shopping destination in the country but visitors may find a few places that sell more than postcards to send home. The local market located north of town sells everyday goods such as fresh food and kitchenware but alongside you’ll find beautiful Lao textiles including many different types of traditional phaa sin (sarongs), ropes and hand-woven shirts. Other exotic items on sale are trays and baskets made from local materials, such as bamboo, grass and straw. Those who have come to Vang Vieng unprepared for water sports don’t worry; you’ll find swimming suits, shorts, caps, hats and flip-flops at many shops scattered throughout town. Most of them are family-run type of businesses therefore they open quite early.
Hot Air-Balloon Ride
Hot air-ballooning was always a faraway bucket list item, something I’d do when I had lots of spare cash because let’s face it, it’s hard to justify spending $350USD on a 40-minute ride when my frugal self usually tosses up between a $2 or $3 dinner option. You can imagine my joy when I learned that Vang Vieng was home to the world’s cheapest hot air balloon ride. I knew then that I had to do it. We spent our first couple of days in Vang Vieng watching the same 3 balloons go up in the late afternoon before sunset. After chatting with a couple of different tour companies, we realized that there was only one company operating the balloons so we knew the best deal would come from the company directly.
The hiking in Vang Vieng ranges from rather flat treks around the river to challenging uphill treks involving scrambling up rocks or wading across streams. Some hikes lead to caves, others to the tops of hills looking out over the town. Try hiking to the top of Phangern Mountain, you’ll see the white flag flying at the top. From the base of the mountain it’s a solid 30-minute hike up wooden ladders and boulders, but the view is well worth it.
Sip a Cocktail on the River
Lao lao, the locally distilled rice spirit, makes cocktails plentiful and inexpensive in Laos. Relax on on of the many hotel terraces overlooking the Nam Song and partake in happy hour. Sip a delicious concoction while watching the motor boats cruise down the river during sunset.
Swim in the Blue Lagoon
Iceland isn’t the only country with a legit Blue Lagoon – Vang Vieng’s rendition gives it a good run for its money too, at unexpectedly cheap price.
Vang Vieng has three blue lagoons that are accessible as part of a packaged tour, including visiting caves, swimming in the lagoons, hiking and tubing. The swimming holes are also easily accessibly via tuk tuk or bicycle. Take a dip in the azure water during the dry season when they are their prettiest color.
The road to Vang Vieng’s Blue Lagoon is quite an adventure in itself and requires a ‘mini-trek’ through a cave before you can even feast your eyes on its pool of soft delicate pale blue; but no one who has come out of this will ever tell you that the extra effort isn’t worth the while. It’s a great way to wile away the afternoon in a surreal, I’m-in-the-seventh-level-of-celestial-heaven sort of way; and can be exceptionally refreshing especially if you’ve just dropped in from dusty ol’ Vientiane or Luang Prabang old towns
Find a retreat in the peaceful village
If you want to find peacefulness and serenity, you can stroll down to the streets in the nearby village. Sharing laughter with the local kids, meeting a herd of wild cows walking across a road, and greeting the people are things you can do while discovering the village. These activities allow you to feel the authentic life of Laos.
Wanna experience it all? Contact us for your next Vang Vieng trip to design it your way of travel!
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