Things to Do in Vientiane Province
The world’s river-tubing capital offers more than a thrilling ride down the Nam Song River. Vang Vieng’s backdrop of limestone outcrops is filled with caves to explore, trails to trek, and waterfalls with swimming pools. Extreme adventurers can climb cliffs or take the “Vang Vieng Challenge”.
Hitting the River
Hop in a big rubber tube and tackle the Nam Song River. Kick back while safely drifting through nature, though the ride gets quick, rough, and rocky in places. The guided tubing tours make plenty of stops, but alcohol is off limits. Plenty of registered shops around town, which are members of a cooperative business association, offer safe tubing adventures.
Enjoy Vang Vieng’s scenery you steer your way through Nam Song’s rapids on a stunning kayaking adventure. More than 10 registered companies offer a choice from half-day runs to multi-day camping trips. They also provide lessons for first-time paddlers.
Gather a group and go rafting down the Nam Song on a selection of tours. You’ll lazily drift past towering cliffs, but be prepared to wake up at sections with light rapids. Perfect for families or a bunch of friends. Sign up with one of the town’s tour companies.
Immerse yourself in Vang Vieng’s culture with a tour around town by foot or bike. You can visit the town’s four temples, each with its own history and architecture, and catch a ride in a hot air balloon.
Begin at Vat Mahathat, or simply Vat That, in the town’s north. Built in 1880 as Vat Siviengxong, the temple was moved to its present location and renamed. The original three-room temple had a small stupa inside, and was constructed with 18 stone pillars. Though Vat Mahathat suffered damage over the years, the temple was restored in the 1990s.
Heading south, stop at Vat Kang. Constructed in 1900, Vat Kang houses four monks, 21 novices, and three nuns.
Vat Sisoumang, in the southern end of Vang Vieng, was built in 1944, by a local named Chanthao. Upon his death, the temple was named Vat Thao Sao, before it was changed to Sisoumang.
Visit Vat Meuang Xong (Vat Mixay) in the town’s southernmost village, Ban Meuang Xong. The temple was built in 1889, and originally named Vat Khoua Phane. However, once the French colonialists left, villagers changed the name to Vat Meuang Xong.
For a real high, climb aboard Balloons over Vang Vieng and float over the Nam Song River amidst the upper cliffs of limestone outcrops. This balloon trims treetops before rising higher for a panoramic view. Balloons over Vang Vieng offers three flights a day: two sunrise tours and a sunset journey.
Vang Vieng has 17 caves, conveniently clustered north, west, and south of town. Most of the caves are easy to reach by motorbike and bicycle, and the small entry fees go to local village funds.
You can access three caves from Route 13 heading north of town. Just 4 km out, drive across a Nam Song River bridge to a 300-metre walk through lush forest. A brief clamber up boulders leads to Tham Lom (Wind Cave), and a steep path with a handrail leads to the entrance. You’ll need a torch to explore the 1-km cave that’s about 5 metres wide, and coated with crystal-embedded rock formations. Afterwards, take a swim in the river at one of the guesthouses along the Nam Song.
Continue another 7 km north, and turnoff at a dirt road leading to a Nam Song bridge and the entrance to the Ban Pha Thao Village Group. Tham Pha Thao (Thao Cliff Cave) once served as the home for locals, and you can see the one-time underground residences amidst silver and golden-colour rock walls and formations. Legend has it that those who visit nearby Tham Pha Thao will have good luck. Legend also shrouds its neighbour, Tham Keo (Glass Cave), named after young Miss Keo, who looked like “sparkling glass”, and once lived there.
A further 3 km on Route 13 north, a bridge crossing the Nam Song leads to the Ban Tham Xang Group. The cluster of four caves starts with Tham Xang (Elephant Cave). A trail to the north winds to Tham Hoy (Shell Cave), which has no known end. Moving south along the canal, Tham Loup (Hole Cave) appears as a huge cleft, and further along, the 500-metre-long Tham Nam (Water Cave) was once the source of an intricate wooden irrigation system.
Grab a motor scooter, mountain bike, or tour, and cross the Nam Song to an area with four caves and clusters west of town.
The turnoff for the first cave, Tham Khan (Silver Bow Cave) comes on the right, 3-km from the Nam Song Bridge at electric pole 18. A hunter discovered the cave and 1.9-metre-high Buddha at the entrance. Archaeologists examined the 3-metre-wide, 200-metre-long cavern at the foot of Oua Mountain, and turned up prehistoric knives, axes, and silver bow for which the cave was named. The cave has good access throughout, and you can hunt for the secret passage out…it’s adventurous but quite safe.
The road to the Bee Cliff Cave Complex in Pha Khongkao Mountain is just past the Tham Khan turnoff. The most popular is Tham Pha Pheung (Bee Cliff Cave) with a deceptively small entrance that opens into a 5-m2 room with a 4-metre-high ceiling. This leads to a 70-metre-long tunnel and a water basin. Other caverns in the complex include Tiger Cave, Diamond Cave, and the Gold Mine Cave.
A 4-km dirt road at Ban Phone Ngeun leads to Pha Ngeun Mountain and a tough hike to the top to reach one of Vang Vieng’s most amazing geological wonders. Pha Ngeun (Silver Cliff), a 2-km-wide sheer silver rock platform, stands 250 metres over a valley with views of rice fields and villages and across to Pha Boua Mountain.
Stay right at the road’s fork after Ban Nathong Neua, and continue for 1 km to Tham Pou Kham (Golden Crab Cave). After passing through the small entry hole, the widening cave drops 100 metres to a reclining Buddha statue. Tham Pou Kham displays wet rock formations including a pair of “Golden Crabs”. After exploring the cavern, go for a swim in the Ka River’s water hole or dine at the village restaurant.
To find Tham Chang, follow the river road south of town and cross the Nam Song bridge at the Vang Vieng Resort. A steep set of stairs leads to the cavern with a very cold water basin inside. Locals from Muang Song Village, just south of town, moved to the cave during a civil war raging in Vang Vieng, as it had a high vantage point and was a long way from the fighting.
Tackle the trails on a rugged mountain bike or take a leisurely bicycle ride around Vang Vieng. A number of shops in town rent a range of two-wheelers to meet your needs. You can head out on your own and follow the roads and trails, or join a mountain-bike trek organized by a local tour company. Families, couples, and friends can take a relaxing ride to see Vang Vieng’s temples, quiet rural outskirts, and several of its caves.
Grab the handles of a motorcycle and power your way to waterfalls and caves. Putter along a 5-km unpaved road south then west of town to the popular 100-metre-deep Tham Poukham (Golden Crab Cave) and water hole for a cool swim. Shops around town rent everything from powerful motocross bikes to simple scooters, which are fine for most out-of-town excursions.
Looking to take a dip? Vang Vieng offers several swimming opportunities with a natural backdrop. East of town, Kenglon Waterfall presents a pleasant swimming hole. Along Route 13 north of town, you can wade in the Po River, swim in the Nam Song near Tham Lom (Wind Cave), or swing off trapezes into the river at “Waterfun Park” at Ban Phoudindaeng. Heading west, dive into a Ka River water hole at Tham Pou Kham (Crab Cave), and you’ll find a swimming hole inside Tham Pha Pheung (Bee Cliff Cave).
Explore Vang Vieng’s natural surroundings on an organised multi-day trek, or spend the day walking on your own along marked trails. Check out some of the treks offered by the tour companies and enter a side of Vang Vieng that’s well-worth the hike. You can follow streams, explore caves, eat local organic food, go for a swim, camp out, and visit villages with an overnight stay.
Take a spin on the Kaeng Nyui Waterfall Loop. After a short 4-km road trip past the airstrip to Ban Naduang, follow a 400-metre trail to Kenlon Waterfalls and swimming hole. Walk a further 400 metres along the stream to Kaeng Nyui’s magnificent chute.
Take off on the Vang Vieng Trek with Green Discovery. You’ll head to the western caves including Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), Tham Hoi (Snail Cave), and Tham Nam (Water Cave), where you can swim in a cool, spring water pool. After a picnic lunch, trek through rice fields to the Hmong village of Phathao. Then, return to Vang Vieng on a 2-hour kayak ride along limestone karsts on the Nam Song.
Rock climbers will feel an adrenaline rush when they see the sheer cliffs around Vang Vieng. Would-be climbers can also learn the art of scaling rock walls. Green Discovery and Adam’s Climbing School have teamed to carve out almost 100 routes on eight of Vang Vieng’s crags. Be among the first to claw your way up one of the area’s cliffs.
Hard-core explorers can take The Vang Vieng Challenge, a 2-day outdoor test guided by Green Discovery. It starts out easy, crossing streams and rapids while clinging to ropes, before climbing a mountain trail. Next up, a via ferrata (iron way) crosses a gorge via a U-shaped cable bridge, and abseils on a 50-metre waterfall. Spend the night under the stars on a wooden platform or in a small bamboo hut. Awaken to a zip-line extravaganza, flying from tree to tree and crossing a cable bridge to reach the mountain base.
Nam Ngum Lake
Nam Ngum Lake is actually a 250 km2 reservoir created by a dam erected across the Nam Ngum River in 1971. Take a scenic 90-km drive from the capital on Route 10 to “Ang Nam Ngum”, which has morphed into a weekend getaway and a tourist stop. You’ll find leisure activities like golf and a casino, a full slate of water sports, boat rides to island villages, and camping.
Get an early start from the capital and head north on Route 10 to absorb the rural scenery and take in several sites before reaching the lake. As you approach Ban Keun on the Nam Lik River, stop at the small Thoulakhom Zoo, and “Salt Village”, where they pump salt water from a 100-metre-deep well, boil it in ponds, add iodine, and sell 10 kg for about $1.25. For a peek into a side of Lao life few see, visit Dong Mark Khai Market where locals gather to sell wild game and edible insects.
Continue along Route 10, before cutting east towards Nam Ngum Lake at Toulakhom, and then north to the Nam Ngum Dam. You can enjoy a fresh fish lunch at a shoreline restaurant or on a boat during a cruise of the lake with stops at villages on islands that were once mountaintops. You’ll have the opportunity to meet ethnic Hmong, Tao, and Lao Loum.
Back on shore, keep following Route 10 to Route 13 and head north to Ban Phon Hong and the Vang Xang archaeological site. Built by the Mon-Khmer between the 8th and 11th centuries, its ancient temple has since crumbled, but five Buddha statues still stand at its forested riverside location, which some say was once an elephant cemetery.
Wet & Wild
When tourists think of Laos, beaches and water sports rarely make the list. But now, you can unwind after experiencing the country at Nam Ngum Beach. Resorts are sprinkled along the shore, with a few like the Sanctuary Nam Ngum and River Side offering action on the lake.
Friends and families can have a blast, speeding behind a boat on a water sledge (banana boat). Soft or speedy rides run for 20 or 30 minutes, and even those who can’t swim can enjoy the thrill.
Step it up a notch on a state-of-the art jet ski. Grab a partner and take off on the two-seat Jet Ski Cruiser, with 110 hp to power you to fun. For extreme excitement, mount the Superjet, a power-packed water rocket for one standing person. You can rent them for up to an hour, with lessons provided.
There’s nothing better than slapping on a pair of skis, grabbing a rope, and taking off behind a jet ski. You can water ski across the smooth surface of the lake among the islands and surrounded by a forested landscape. Or try wake boarding, and surf the waves created by the Jet Ski, that tows you along.
You can slow down on a peaceful boat ride among the islands and stop at few for refreshments and to meet the people. You might even want to take a swim. Or, you can take off in a kayak and explore the islands and shore at your own pace. As the sun goes down, board a paddle boat, and take your time checking out the quiet shoreline.
Spend a few days at the Dansavanh Nam Ngum Resort, and play 18 holes on the country’s first international quality golf course that winds up and down the picturesque lakeshore landscape. At night, take your chance with Lady Luck at the resort’s casino. You’ll find 60 tables and 150 gaming machines waiting to pay out.
Camp on an island once used as a prison. Take a boat to Don Nang (for women) and Don Thao (for men) and enjoy a night around a campfire. The less notorious White Beach Sand Island offers a great view of the mountains. Tents are available for rent, and the island offers activities like swimming, jet skiing, kayaking, and sightseeing. Stop at the old boathouse to purchase souvenirs made by the prisoners or just chat with the traders.
The roads leaving the capital head straight into nature, no matter which direction you choose. You can hike in Phou Khao Khouay (PKK) National Protected Area, Houay Nhang Forest Reserve, and the Khoun Lang Cave Nature Park. Along the way, you’ll start meeting the rural folks and people from Laos’ diverse ethnic population, and see some ancient religious sites.
Step into Nature
Dive into nature just 65 km outside the capital in the western flank of PKK. Take Route 10 towards Nam Ngum Lake, and turn right onto a dirt road at Ban Napheng and a 5-km drive to the PKK entrance. The steep and rocky road passes Tad Sang Waterfalls on the 9-km climb to a plateau. It continues through a pine forest to two Hmong villages.
Closer to the capital, the Houay Nhang Forest Reserve just off Route 10 presents a great day trip you can reach by hired tuk tuk. Grab a guide booklet at the entrance, and follow a marked nature trail through its 800 hectares of forest. Along the way, you can spot migrating birds, see bizarre insects like walking sticks, and butterflies. After your nature walk, stop at a restaurant by the fish ponds for lunch or refreshments.
Further along Route 10, as you close in on Nam Ngum Lake, stop at Nong Nok (Bird Lake) near Ban Sivilay. The villagers have developed a conservation and nature tourism project at the “lake”, which is a dammed stream that created a 60-hectare reservoir to raise fish. Wetland birds were the first visitors, with egrets, ducks, jacanas and others, which actually fertilize the pond. You can follow a trail around the lake to spot birds. Camping and simple accommodation for overnight stays are available. You’ll need to hire a vehicle and driver in the capital for the trip.
If you’re travelling between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, spend a half-day at the Khoun Lang Cave Nature Park, about 17 km west of Kasi Town near Ban Houay San. Just steps away from the car park, you slip through the narrow cave entrance that widens into a 250-metre-long passage that leads to four levels. Along the way, you’ll pass an array of limestone shapes formed by stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone dripping with moisture.
Outside the cave, you can trek through the 1,080-hectare nature park, which sprawls over jungle-coated mountains. Hike on trails along Houay San stream and its branches, which drop over rock shelves in the steep Saphai Gorge. You’ll find waterfalls up to 12 metres high including Tad Houay Saphai 1 & 2, and a larger multi-tiered waterfall.
Grab a guide at the visitor centre to hear the legend of the cave and learn about the plants you’ll see. You can bring a picnic lunch into the forest or have lunch at a restaurant in the village, where you can also purchase a local handicraft or ethnic garment.