Despite the increasing popularity of tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, Laos has remained one of those rare places where adventurous tourists can still find things to surprise them. Laos is quite possible one of the least beaten tracks in the southeastern corner of the continent, and one that attracts backpackers with promises of dramatic landscapes and a slow rhythm that allows you to appreciate life’s finer pleasures. The Laotian capital, Vientiane, is sleepy compared to the neon metropolises of Asia, and even so it is large compared to the other tourist hubs in the country. Tiny towns like Vang Vieng have everything that’s needed to make a traveler happy: stunning surrounding scenery, a gentle pace of life and friendly people. Here are some of the things to do in Vang Vieng, Laos’s tourist gem.
Climbing doesn’t have a long tradition in Laos, and yet the spectacular limestone landscapes around Vang Vieng put this spot on the same level as many of the best rock climbing destinations in Asia. The beauty of climbing in Vang Vieng is that you can enjoy yourself just as much regardless whether you’ve climbed zero or a hundred mountains before. If you want to learn the basics of rock climbing, you can take a three day course in Vang Vieng.
Go to the sauna
Forget Finnish traditional saunas and try the tropical version of the steam bath in Vand Vieng. People in Laos have been using saunas to cleanse their bodies for centuries if not longer, adding over thirty types of herbs to the steam to give it healing properties. Top the sauna session with a traditional Lao massage and you won’t even feel the effects of a day of rock climbing.
The limestone mountains surrounding Vang Vieng are a spelunker’s paradise, with beautiful caves that can be explored with or without a guide. Several tour operators in town offer trips to the most important caves, like Phu Kham Cave with its reclining Buddha, Padeng Cave, Ring Cave and Xang Cave. The Blue Lagoon near Phu Kham Cave is a great place for a dip before or after exploring the cave.
Tubing and high swinging
Tubing in Vieng Vang is met with mixed opinions – some say it is great fun, while other blame it for ruining the traditional atmosphere of the sleepy small town. Tubing definitely won’t help you learn about Lao culture, but if you are an adrenaline junky the you will definitely get a kick out of it, as well as the high swings and zip lines above the river. However, make sure to take safety precautions, as tubing in Vang Vieng can often be dangerous.
Hot air balloon rides
If the pockets of rowdy tourists in certain areas of the small town and along river make you yearn for a bit of quiet contemplation of the scenntryery, then a hot air balloon ride the perfect solution. You get to see all of the stunning countryside surrounding the town, and the jagged karst mountains from a bird’s point of view.