Introducing Vang Vieng
Like a rural scene from an Oriental silk painting, Vang Vieng crouches low over the Nam Song with a backdrop of serene cliffs and a tapestry of vivid green paddy fields. Thanks to the iron fist of the Lao government finally making its presence felt in 2012 (when the river rave bars were finally closed down), the increasingly toxic party scene has been banished and the community is recalibrating itself as an outdoor paradise home with some achingly lovely boutique hotels and a raft of adrenalin-inducing and nature-based activities.
For the first time in years Western families and a more mature crowd are visiting (many en route to fabled Luang Prabang), stopping to kayak the Nam Song, go caving and climb the karsts. Relief pretty much describes the current feeling of Vang Vieng's inhabitants. It is mixed with a dose of anxiety as to how they are going to fill their empty guesthouses, for at its height 170,000 footfalls swept through the town on a yearly basis. Still, locals are glad that Vang Vieng is now untroubled by thumping music, disrespectful teens and the misconception that anything goes.
Spend a few days here – rent a scooter, take a motorcycle tour, go tubing, trekking – and prepare to manually close your jaw as you gape at one of Laos' most stunningly picturesque spots.