Is Vang Vieng The Worst Place We’ve Visited?

So here I was on my own again, separated from Paul who had taken a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia, and heading to Vang Vieng on the VIP bus from Luang Prabang.

Actually, I wasn’t on my own, I was travelling with Paul’s parents and a friend. And actually the VIP bus was only ‘VIP’ in  name. It was a heap of junk on wheels, full of vomiting tourists carrying their bags of sick to the front to throw out of the door into the countryside, driven by a lunatic who spent at least 60% of the time driving through the twists and turns one handed as he made calls on his mobile phone. The other 40% of the time was dedicated to trying to avoid a breakdown and doing roadside repairs to the bus when it did actually break down.

It was after this wonderful 8 hour journey that we arrived in Vang Vieng and I quickly decided that this may well be the worst place we’ve visited on our travels in South East Asia.

Sorry Vang Vieng lovers…

The centre of town in Vang Vieng.

The centre of town in Vang Vieng

In the pursuit of fairness, I must admit that I only spent one night there. I’d booked three nights with my adopted travelling companions Eileen and Pam (of slow boat ‘Fearsome Duo’ fame) and Dave. We were hoping to see some of the surrounding scenery which is supposed to be pretty impressive but we hated the town so much that we decided to leave and bought a bus ticket out of there, within about 4 hours of arriving.

In short, Vang Vieng is weird (and not in a good way)

It’s a collection of tour agencies, bars, touristy shops selling all the elephant trousers that one human could possibly need, mediocre restaurants, massage parlours and hotels.

All the elephant pants one human being could ever need.

All the elephant pants one human being could ever need

To be honest, as soon as we arrived at our hotel, we didn’t get off to a good start. They had lost our reservation and we were left in limbo as to whether they even had a room for about 20 minutes while they shuffled paper and avoided eye contact.

Then we committed the ultimate sin and asked if they could make us some vegan vegetable fried rice for breakfast because the vegans amongst us couldn’t eat the other breakfast options.

All hell breaks loose, they are confused as to why we can’t have dry bread while all the non-vegans at breakfast have pancakes, waffles, eggs etc. They offer a laughable $1 discount and then principles get involved.

We have to invoke the powers of the Fearsome Duo and Eileen is elected to speak to the manager on the phone to explain the situation, which involves using the ‘broken record technique’ and repeating the phrase “we don’t eat egg and milk, we’d like some fried rice with vegetables” about 2000 times before they finally crack and agree.

After this tiring check-in we retreat to our rooms only to read the rules posted on the wall instructing guests not to ruin the bedsheets by sleeping in the beds after getting ‘car spray tattoos’ and warning us that it’s probably going to be noisy with pissed party-goers, but there’s nothing they can do.

Wishing we had packed earplugs....

Wishing we had packed earplugs….

What kind of person gets a car spray tattoo?

What kind of person gets a car spray tattoo?

We decide to go out and explore, letting the natural beauty of the landscape and the charm of the town win us over. This would have been a perfect plan except the natural beauty was hidden behind hotels, bars and building sites, and the town has no charm.

Vang Vieng is in fact, decidedly charm-less

There's some impressive scenery behind that building site... somewhere.

There’s some impressive scenery behind that building site… somewhere

We stroll around town watching people stagger back from their boozy tubing days out. I despair at a girl stood at a burger stall eating her burger, in only a bikini, at 7pm at night. We see a young man in his early 20’s who’s drunk and being aggressive to his girlfriend as she tries to calm him down after he’s randomly punched the wing mirror of a local person’s car.

Seriously, is this the reason why people go travelling?

We read signs in bars which give us a hint that this town is really all about getting drunk despite recent attempts to clean up it’s reputation and become ‘family friendly’. We check out the bars along the river front which are famous for showing constant re-runs of Friends; they seemed to have an aversion to chairs, opting for seating that reminded me of cattle pens with a few cushions strewn about. Perfect if you like Friends and don’t like sitting on chairs of course, or perhaps are too drunk to sit on a chair?

Bars along the riverfront love Friends and hate chairs.

Bars along the riverfront love Friends and hate chairs

A weird family outing might be had here.

A weird family outing might be had here

You might have guessed by now that this isn’t quite our thing

The vegan food options for dinner weren’t looking good either; no quality local Laotian inspired food, a nice (but expensive) looking Mexican place and a load of baguette stalls that would be perfect if it was lunchtime or if we were drunk and wanted to eat cheap food to sober up.

Vegan baguette for dinner anyone?

Vegan baguette for dinner anyone?

This is the final straw for me and so I’m happy when we decide that Vang Vieng isn’t for us and buy a bus ticket get out of town the next morning.

Next stop, although a little earlier than planned, the Laotian capital Vientiane…

Check out a selection of other vegan travel blog posts…


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  1. Jess Meddows April 15, 2015 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    This sounds like a NIGHTMARE. I get hanger very quickly, and easily, so I would have lost my control (and temper) pretty quickly, I think. Poor Shawn has a lot to deal with when I don’t get fed regularly lol 😉

    • Caryl April 16, 2015 at 11:28 am - Reply

      You’d have hated it Jess although I’d love to follow your tweets as you wandered around town…

  2. Ligeia and Mindy April 16, 2015 at 4:11 am - Reply

    So true about Vang Vieng. We were highly disappointed to find that this gorgeous area had been turned into the most ridiculous touristy party town we had seen in Southeast Asia outside of Kuta, Bali (ugh, hands down the worst place we’ve ever been!).
    We managed to stay several days though and found that it was possible to enjoy ourselves there by doing things in the mornings while the drunkards slept off their hangovers. The town was actually quite quiet in the mornings. We also went in October just after the government had shut down some of the bars along the river. They had apparently been serving beer with opium in it and after there were several deaths, foreign governments put pressure on Laos to do something about it.
    We had had hopes that this would turn Vang Vieng around but it doesn’t sound like it based on this post. Such a shame because it is really a beautiful area. 🙁

    • Caryl April 16, 2015 at 11:39 am - Reply

      Wow I think it sounds even worse when you went and know what you mean about Kuta too… I remember getting very offended by the discriminatory car bumper stickers on sale everywhere, not to mention the children being used for begging and of course bar after bar after bar…

      It’s a total shame when we ruin areas of natural beauty (and if the rest of Laos is anything to go by then I’m sure that Vang Vieng was stunning). What is it about us humans eh?

      We should compile a list of the worst places we’ve ever been… think I’d add Patong in Phuket to that list as well *hangs head in shame as she admits to actually going to Patong*…

  3. Stefan April 16, 2015 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Omg so so so agree! Vang Vieng was just rubbish. We rented bikes and explored the surrounding area which was nice (especially the blue lagoon).

    But if you’re over 25 years old this place is horrible.

    Finding good food was a struggle and we have no interest in getting shit faced wasted at all.

    We tried tubing but just felt like old men Ahahahaha. Give me a kayak any day.

    • Caryl April 16, 2015 at 11:45 am - Reply

      Glad it wasn’t just us Stefan! I’m sure if we’d have done what you’d did and got out of town then we might have had a better time, but we just didn’t have the staying power.

      I’m just a little bit over 25 (blissfully celebrating my 40th next year!) and the oldest person I travelled with to Vang Vieng was 78, so I think we were a little bit out of the fun-town demographic.

      Where’s the worst place you’ve been to on your epic adventure?

      • Pam April 17, 2015 at 7:03 pm - Reply

        Caryl who is 78??

        • Caryl April 18, 2015 at 10:29 am - Reply

          You? 😉 No I realise now that I may have aged Dave by a few years… oops!

  4. Jojo April 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Haha, always fun to read what other people thought of Vang Vieng. For me it definitely wasn’t somewhere I’d have spent a lot of time but it sounds like I had a much better experience than you did. Nick and I beat the crowds going tubing and headed out at 10am for a blissful three hours of peaceful tubing down river through the most beautiful scenery, there was a little loud music but only for the first 15, 20 minutes as we went past the bars that were opening for the day. I also spent some nice time chilling at a Friends bar during the hottest part of the day with a vegan mango shake and I ate some great sweetcorn from a street stand. The one veggie place in town wasn’t great but okay for one meal. We also lucked out with out hotel who were more than happy to make us veggie fried rice with soy sauce and no egg for breakfast. I also avoided all of the bars because, ugh.

    • Caryl April 17, 2015 at 8:58 am - Reply

      Gutted we didn’t see the veggie place until we were on the bus out of town – would have liked to go and see what it was like and given them a bit of support. I think you probably did have a better time than us and just got on and embraced it, making the most of the scenery… I just couldn’t get into a good head space about the place and when we walked past a place selling tickets out of there the temptation was far too much! Ah I guess everyone just has places like this on their travels, gotta have somewhere you didn’t like to appreciate the places you love more… all just part of the vegan travel journey 🙂

      Thanks for reading and for the comment – we love to hear from other vegan travellers 🙂

  5. eileen April 16, 2015 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    What a brilliant (and entirely accurate) account of our time in Vang Vieng. It made me laugh out loud, not something I’ve done much of since my return to the UK.
    I had started thinking maybe we should have given it more time rather than ‘jumping ship’ so quickly but reading the responses to your blog I think we made the best decision.
    I visited Phuket a few years ago, not by choice, but to meet up with friends, and had always said it was the worst place I had ever visited. On reflection, it did seem easier to get away from the madness than in Vang Vieng. Both places I will definitely be avoiding in the future.

    • Caryl April 17, 2015 at 9:14 am - Reply

      Well from darkness there comes light and at least our miserable time in Vang Vieng has given us a good travel story and more material for the ‘worst places we visited’ list! Glad you had a bit of a laugh, next travel update will be about our time in Vientiane… seems so long ago now!

      I think our instincts about Vang Vieng were good – just not for us, although i’m sure if we’d stuck it out we’d have found something we liked to do and would have seen some of the beautiful scenery. Not to worry though, plenty more wonderful places to explore in the world xx

  6. Pam April 17, 2015 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    I loved this Caryl and, like Eileen I had been wondering if maybe we hadn’t given it a fair chance. Reading this reminded me of how truly dreadful it was. I’ve since met another couple who were booked for 3 nights but stayed for just one and they are significantly younger (well than me Eileen and Dave anyway)

    • Caryl April 18, 2015 at 10:29 am - Reply

      Glad you liked my little write up of our Vang Vieng adventure Pam… and now you know we aren’t alone! Vang Vieng might well be the Marmite travel destination of Laos – you either love it or hate it!

  7. Maaike April 18, 2015 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    Okay, not so much of a trick question. Won’t be adding this to my bucket list. Also, the brown and white elephant print pants, I’ve a dress with that print, bought in Cambodia. I’m a mass tourist I guess? 😉

    • Caryl April 18, 2015 at 7:40 pm - Reply

      Ha ha, that depends if you wear it with your Beer Lao vest 😉 I don’t actually have anything against elephant pants in all honesty (I love elephants and they do look really comfy!), it’s the just the symbol of what they seem to represent. See shops selling elephant pants then drunken backpackers are never too far behind. I should however confess at this stage that I have been a drunken backpacker one or two times and I also own several pairs of Thai fisherman trousers and some Ali baba pants from India 🙂

  8. Nigel April 22, 2015 at 2:52 am - Reply

    ‘full of vomiting tourists’ LOL. Sorry you had a bad experience I went to Vang Vieng over the christmas period last year and I honestly thought the above would be the same for me! I am happy to say that I had a great time (not rubbing it in or anything). But it has got a bad reputation so I don’t dispute anything you’ve written. And I’ll hold my hands up and say ‘Yes I went tubing’ Definitely need to take the rough with the smooth in Asia.

    Worst place was……Pai in Thailand. I think I’m the only who went and DIDN’T get food poisoning!

    • Caryl April 22, 2015 at 9:35 am - Reply

      You definitely do need to take the rough with the smooth here, that’s for sure! So Pai was your worst place? what a shame – I kind of had it in the back of my mind to head through there at some stage so any details and tips would be great (especially on how to avoid food poisoning there!)

  9. Julia April 23, 2015 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    I’ve been skeptical of VV for several years, back to when it was a crazy party town. I just didn’t get the “hidden beauty” that people would talk about because all I could see on photos were drunk eighteen-year-olds. It wasn’t on my list then and unfortunately still isn’t now. Food has always played a big part in that – I like to travel to places where the food excites me and as a vegetarian, I don’t want to have to eat baguettes and pancakes all day every day! Hopefully your travels improved after this one night stop 😉

    • Caryl April 24, 2015 at 10:54 am - Reply

      Oh absolutely, back to a more chilled kind of exploring – with good food and the kind of sights we like to see. We don’t mind a bit of craziness (like a local market or a huge city) but being from the UK we’ve already had our fill of drunken party-goers! We love a good baguette as much as the next person but want variety and balance and dare we say it a bit of actual nutrition every now and then. Onwards and upwards to amazing travel destinations!

  10. Lost Earth Adventures May 14, 2015 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    It’s a shame you didn’t sound like you had a good time in Vang Vieng. I’ve visited many times over the past 5 years and while I agree the town itself isn’t as charming as so many other parts of Laos, the real charm and beauty lies in the surrounding area. On bicycle (or motorbike) you can easily spend days exploring the countryside. On my last visit in November I took a spin out on 2 wheels and explored a cave I’d never seen before – reminded me why I love to visit. I hope your experience throughout the rest of Laos has been good for you – it’s my favourite country in Southeast Asia.

    Sarah Allard
    Lost Earth Adventures

    • Vegan Food Quest May 15, 2015 at 9:10 am - Reply

      Getting out of town definitely sounds like it would have been better! Think we were just so disheartened by the town that we jumped at the chance to leave… I’m glad we saw a bit of Laos, the countryside is beautiful but the food was a little dull for us (apart from a few standout dishes) so I’m not sure we’d hurry back.
      I think if we had spent more time off the beaten track like you we may have loved it more!

      Thanks for the comment, do let us know any other tips for South East Asia as we’re still here and still travelling about 🙂

  11. Bradley September 10, 2019 at 9:15 am - Reply

    I believe your article is a bit harsh on the city of Vang Vieng! There are plenty possibilities to eat Vegan, if they don’t speak your language google translator is a great option! The mountains a beautiful around this little village and there are many activities to choose from that is if your active! Let’s face it judging a place and only staying their for one day is not a fair review in my eyes

    • Vegan Food Quest September 12, 2019 at 11:10 am - Reply

      hi Bradley, it possibly is a little harsh but was based on our expericen 4 years ago and is an honest reflection. We’re sure there are many more vegan options in town now in line with the growth of veganism and we may well return one day!

  12. Bouy TorQue October 11, 2019 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I’ve gone through your story and I’m
    Hearing you tho the trip and adventure begins with you and your choices. The bus ride that you chose shaped your trip. It’s really that simple. Then maybe your choice again of hotel wasn’t the best, so 2nd step off trip was bad again and so on….for some people it’s hard to come back if you can’t shrug it off and look on the bright side of life..We can all have bad experiences tho if we let them easily shape the rest off our trip then the creation that you create is not going to get any better… open mind opens up possibilities and a negative one with words like l hated Vang Vieng town will get you nowhere. As a World traveller I travel to slums, volunteer, live and sleep in villiages and then l choose comfort where I feel fit, tho l never put down a destination through the choices that I’ve solely made.
    Blame your choices not the destination.

    • Vegan Food Quest October 12, 2019 at 9:47 am - Reply

      Of course an experience is based on the choices you make, we understand that. However, sometimes those choices create a situation where it is tough to see the potential or positives that a destination may offer. I didn’t enjoy Vang Vieng at all and this short blog post was how it made me feel. Is it the worst place we’ve visited? possibly. Does it probably have lots to offer that i didn’t see? probably. Would i rush back and revisit? don’t think so.

  13. Bill Wilson October 22, 2020 at 7:31 am - Reply

    Hi, I am impressed by your story about Vang Vieng. Previously only read rave reviews about this place. Thanks for sharing, this is really very useful to know.

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