Oh Vang Vieng… how I hated you.
Don’t get my wrong, the place is pretty – far away from the main strip, that is. Vang Vieng is the worst kind of backpacker town – one where boozed up Westerners flock the main street, seemingly day and night, and save for restaurants offering curries, there isn’t a glimmer of local culture.
I spent two nights in Vang Vieng, and honestly, I’d consider it two nights too many. It’s a hedonistic hell hole where self-entitled tourists are really ruining the lives of the locals. This Guardian article really opened my eyes to the colossal impact that tourists are having. Yes, they are providing some jobs to Lao people – but I think the negative impacts outweigh the positives here.
That being said, Vang Vieng is really beautiful – which is why tourists flocked to it in the first place. This is also why all sorts of adventure activities are on offer in Vang Vieng: climbing, kayaking, buggy driving and the infamous tubing.
I was a bit wary of partaking in these activities for various reasons, plus I had some health problems which took up a lot of my time in Vang Vieng (and I had no mates to go with). As I wasn’t feeling my normal sparkly self I went for the activity that I knew I enjoyed/ could do on my own – which was hiking in Vang Vieng.
Hiking to Pha Ngeun Viewpoint
In saying that, I didn’t even really think I was going for a hike. “Just a short walk to a lookout” I thought to myself as I set off. The day was cool so I wore my tracksuit bottoms and vintage bomber jacket (which is the only warm thing I have with me on this backpacking stint).
Of course, the sun then came out as soon as I left my lunch spot, so I was immediately overdressed. I took my bomber jacket off and hiked on in just my trackies and my top – which I sometimes use as a pyjama top. Certainly not hiking gear.
You can get to Pha Ngeun Viewpoint by walking, bicycle or scooter. I can’t drive a scooter, and I’m sure there’s 5 million places to rent a bicycle in town, but for some reason I couldn’t find one (lol, I’ve been the worst travel blogger ever in Vang Vieng, but I had my reasons for not doing much scouting like normal). So I ended up exploring the good old fashioned way – on me own two feet.
It’s about a 5 kilometre walk from Vang Vieng town centre, so it’ll take you no time at all on a scooter and a little bit more than no time at all on a bicycle. Walking takes between 40 minutes to an hour, depending on how much energy you have (I didn’t have much) and whether you were dressed appropriately (as we have discussed, I was not).
Quite soon after leaving the main street, the scenery transforms into rice terraces and mountains and is really pretty – the quintessential South East Asian scenes that you see on the postcards.
It costs 4,000 kip to cross the bridge on foot (return) and 10,000 kip to ascend to the viewpoint. And then the adventure begins.
I’ve definitely done harder treks, but this was the most unexpectedly difficult one. Normally I’m Mrs Prepared, set for all eventualities; today, I was miserably holding onto the edge of a cliff, with my bag crossed over my body, sweating in my trousers, wearing a completely inappropriate top for hiking and with only 300 ml of water in my bag.
This trek is tough. The stairs get steeper and steeper, and it honestly feels like it’s never going to end. The trees keep getting thinner, and then like a cruel joke, instantly thicken again. It’s a constant battle with the mind – I wanted to turn back about 6 times, but never the quitter, kept pushing through.
Eventually I reached a sign in Lao that said ‘300m’. I’d thought I’d seen a sign saying the entire trek was only 500m at the bottom, so I wasn’t too excited – but this one really was just 300m. Then there was a fork, with the left side continuing for 40m and the right 400m. Guess which one I took?
After the hardest stairs yet for the next 40m – some parts I was literally hauling myself up the mountainside, I made it. There wasn’t only a viewpoint up there, but two ladies selling cold drinks. I have no idea how they got them up there, but maybe they know that nearly every tourist who comes up here grossly misinterprets how long it will take them.
The viewpoint was nice; honestly, the second one might have been nicer, but I wasn’t trying it. I barely made it 40 metres in what I was wearing, let alone 400.
Hiking in Vang Vieng: Is it worth it?
Would I do it again? Yes, if I was well equipped. I was a walking representation of how not to go hiking in Vang Vieng (the only extra I could have had was a ridiculous hangover) but if I was well prepared, I would have probably enjoyed myself.That being said, my not-so helpful tips for hiking in Vang Vieng (which are pretty standard tips for hiking generally) would be:
- Don’t underestimate the hike – it’s rather intense.
- Bearing that in mind, remember – sufficient water, proper clothes, a backpack, suncream, mosquito spray.
- Even if it’s not hot, you’ll get hot. You’re in Laos.
- Maybe take a buddy. Suffering is always more fun in pairs.
And with that, I give you: my quick guide of how not to go hiking in Vang Vieng. I hope if it hasn’t been useful, it’s at least given you a few laughs. I would say I’m off to have a nice hot bath to soak my muscles, but I’m in a budget hostel which only has cold showers, so there goes that idea.
Ps. If this is your first time here, I am normally a lot more helpful, I promise – this post is merely a reflection of the most ridiculous day I had. If you don’t believe me, check out my other Laos posts for lots of great information about travelling around the country.
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