Change comes slowly to Laos, but VANG VIENG, the once-sleepy town that reclines on the east bank of the Nam Song River between towering limestone karsts, is something of a rare exception. Just half a decade ago, the main street was a potholed track, crowds were rare, and accommodation was limited to a handful of guesthouses. Then as thousands of party-hungry backpackers descended on the self-styled “tubing capital of the world”, the Lao government found itself struggling to control an inland version of Thailand’s Ko Pha Ngan. Today “happy shakes” appear on restaurant menus more often than authentic Lao dishes, and countless bars, internet cafés and market stalls all compete for the backpacker buck.
Despite the tourist droves, Vang Vieng is still jaw-droppingly beautiful, and you could easily spend a week here cycling, cave exploring, tubing, rafting and hiking, or simply relaxing and enjoying the idyllic landscape. There’s also no disputing one fact: the place is a lot of fun.