BETA PHOTO: The west village of Vang Vieng with the main climb...
Hiding in the mist that endlessly covers the mountainous landscape, this once sleepy town resting on the side of the Nom Som river has blossomed into an all-out no-rules party palace to rival that of Ko Pha Ngan’s full moon party. If you’re able to break away from the party scene long enough to sober up you’ll find plenty of activities around town like trekking, kayaking, mountain biking, and of course, climbing.
Three hours north of the border capital Vientiane, Vang Vieng used to be nothing more than a rest-stop on the way up north to Luang Prabang. Now you can’t walk three blocks down a street in Southeast Asia without seeing the name on ‘In the Tubing’ T-shirts worn by westerners. The hit local activity doesn’t so much involve negotiating rapids as it does getting really, really drunk. The antics are drawing backpackers from all over Asia and it has done wonders for the economy of the small town. With that comes an abundance of cheap guesthouses, eats, bars, and more reruns of Friends and Family Guy than you ever wanted to see.
There are three main climbing areas in Vang Vieng, the closest being a quick hike to the mountains on the other side of the river, and the farthest a (worthwhile) 20 minute moto-ride a few towns down. When I was there in the summer of ’09 some new local areas were being developed by Adam (see below) for opening that winter. The potential for new development is limitless.
Vang Vieng is a relatively quick 3 hour bus ride from the capital Vientiane, the main entrance point in Laos. Vientiane is a very comfortable, and cheap, overnight sleeper train ride from Bangkok. Despite what the travel agencies in Bangkok will tell you, as of summer ’09 you could buy Laos visas on arrival for $30 US. Group up with some fellow tourists and share a ride into town (Vientiane), and from there any travel agency can get you to Vang Vieng.
There are a ton of low budget options in town, but some over-priced ones too. You’ll probably be harassed by touts on motos as soon as you hit the streets with a backpack. As a rule of thumb I always check out three (3) places before committing. Best travel tip I can offer. I was there in the wet season and could find plenty of places for 50,000 kip ($6) without AC (which I recommend if there to climb), this will probably go up in peak season. I was also able to score a brand new bungalow right on the river for 70,000; worth every kip.
I splurged the extra $2 a night and got myself a bungalow on the river. Vang Vieng, Laos
"Tubing". Vang Vieng, Laos
There are two main climbing shops as of summer ’09 but I’m sure there will be more soon. Green Discovery is a typical outdoor adventure outfit and takes herds of noobs to the local wall to pull them up topropes. As is typical in these parts, Green Discovery attempted to “buy out” the local cliff – paying the farmer some money so that they can say that nobody other than their guests can climb there, even the FAs. I make it a point to shun these operations.
Also in town is Adam’s Rock Climbing School. “Adam” is a climber and a local Lao who runs an honest self-started business; he’s also one of the main developers in the area. His shop is a great place to stop and get the local beta, pick up a guidebook (available online too, but your $5 goes towards the bolting efforts), or hire a guide.
Dangers and Annoyances
Drugs are easy to come by in VV, but don’t mistake that for tolerance. I don’t believe it’s in the scope of this website to discuss such issues, however the police help maintain this scam so I feel it’s worth pointing out. Not that climbers ever use illicit substances. The law in Laos has a habit of looking the other way to illegal activities that earn income for locals, and that includes trafficking. However, they seem to materialize out of the smoke when a group of westerners light up a joint. It’s a $700 on the spot fine, or go to jail for 3 months, no appeal. Like everywhere in Southeast Asia, if there’s money to be made there are scam artists in on the take. So if you happen to find yourself in this situation demand to see a badge and insist on going to the station to pay your fine. Use your head. And that goes for the ‘Happy Shakes’ and ‘Happy Pizzas’, those aren’t the same mushrooms that you get at Pizza Hut.
There are two ATM sites in town, one in a cash exchange building and one in a small self contained hut. While I was there the machines were on the fritz and after taking your pin and requested amount they then informed you that they were out of order. It was only after trying every ATM in town that I found out that they were deducting the money from your account even though you didn’t receive any. They got me to the tune of $800 and I had to fight tooth and nail with my bank to get reimbursed. I don’t believe at all that this was a one time accident. Be careful, or just bring cash or use the currency exchange.
The Communist government clamped down on the drugs and partying in 2013. However, beer and other hard alcohol is still readily available. It is still a beautiful place with great climbing, but it is no longer party central.
Weather station 1.7 miles from here
24 Total Routes
['4 Stars',4],['3 Stars',6],['2 Stars',5],['1 Star',7],['Bomb',2]
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Latest Regional Forum Messages
Aug 3, 2012
August 3, 2012
We just spent several days climbing on Pha Daeng Mountain in Vang Vieng, Laos with local climbing school owner, Adam (real name Sangthong nieselt). Pha Daeng is currently the only place in Vang Vieng with routes that stay dry in the rainy season.
Adam is a great guy, who speaks good English and German. He was supremely helpful and a joy to get to know. In addition to guiding clients for half or full days, he has gear (ropes, quickdraws and shoes) that he will rent to those that don't want to lug their own stuff. Additionally, he will provide transport to/from the cliffs and/or lunches.
If you are planning on bringing a drill to put up routes, he also has an electrical power converter to make sure the Lao 220 volt power system doesn't fry your battery charger. You can use this for a nominal fee.
His website is: www.laos-climbing.com/index.html
His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
A street view of Adam's Climbing School, which is currently located across the street from the Elephant Crossing Hotel and the hospital in Vang Vieng, Laos.
From: Las Vegas, NV
Feb 24, 2014
As of Q4-2012, Vang VIeng is no longer the party town it used to be. There are still one or two places open after midnight, but even those are rumored to start closing at the official curfew time of midnight - those rumors never materialized the month I spent there. The Friday night Jungle Party started up again.
The tubing is now also a much more relaxed event without the crazy partying. Check out this link on Wikipedia for more information.
Accommodations are still cheap [$4-$40] and plentiful, but it is definitely worth looking around. Spending more money doesn't necessarily seem to translate into better accommodations.
Don't expect to easily find climbing partners like in Krabi, Thailand, if you are traveling alone. Adam at Adam's Climbing school might be able to hook you up with somebody, if there are any other climbers in town. Sadly, there is no bulletin board to post your "Climbing Partner Wanted".
I haven't had no issues withdrawing money from the BCE ATM. There is a 1,000,000 KIP daily limit (~US$125) and a 20,000 KIP fee. US$ Traveler Checks are no longer being accepted (only Euro Checks).