Nestled along the Nam Song River, Laos Vang Vieng is perhaps not the hedonistic, druggy party town it once was, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wander down the main drag, pop into the right restaurant, and pick up a “magic” menu.
Legacy Laced with Drugs
In the beginning, it was not the copious amounts of drugs that put Laos Vang Vieng on the map for backpackers. It earned its spot on the Banana Pancake Trail—the path beaten by budget travelers across Southeast Asia—because of its awe-inspiring karst topography, caves, and mesmerizingly blue lagoons.
About 16 or 17 years ago, inner tubing rentals took to the Nam Song River. With them, came ramshackle bamboo and wooden bars on the river banks. According to The Guardian, the bars were, “enticing passing tubing customers with throbbing party music and free shots of the local Lao-Lao whiskey. Rope swings, giant water slides and zip lines sprang up beside the bars, inviting sozzled gap-year kids to take their chances with the rocky riverbed in unsupervised acts of derring-do.”
Image Source: Nick Hewson
As if half-naked women and booze aren’t enough for most boys to put aside common sense, the entire town—including the tubing tours—were known for being able to supply a variety of illicit drugs, specifically, hallucinogens, weed, and opium.
It turned out to be a deadly situation.
Riding the Bus reported, “A 19-year old Australian tourist went missing while tubing down the Xong River [Nam Song River] on January 23  and it took three days for his body to be found in the deep part of the river. His name was Daniel Eimutis and he was on holiday in Vang Vieng, Laos with six of his friends. Earlier last month [December 2012] another young Australian died after jumping from a platform into the same river. These were not freak accidents for as many as 22 foreigners died here in tubing accidents in 2011.”
The “unregulated” nature of Laos Vang Vieng was short lived. In 2012, seven bars along the waterway were shut down and more closures were to follow as rope swings, zip lines, and slides were removed.
Today’s Drug Scene
Read this part.
The recreational drugs you buy in Vang Vieng, Laos, are illegal. We repeat; they are illegal. So, even though it’s super chill to light up a thick joint inside certain establishments, do not start walking around the streets like you own the place. It is possible to end up in seriously sticky situations (and not good hash, sticky) with the police, which can get very costly.
Now that that’s out of the way… If Laos Vang Vieng was on your bucket list because of its hedonistic reputation, don’t fret—the little tourist town still serves plenty of drugs and there’s always a party.
Most importantly, the river tube tours are still functioning. Though they are perhaps not as intense as they once were, you can still rent a tube and float to one of several bamboo bars, where organizers are getting a rowdy bunch of backpackers started on drinking games.
There is usually some version of musical chairs—using the tubes as chairs—as well as flip cup and drinking Jenga. Of course, once you start, you could easily end up with the word “C*NT” scrawled across your forehead—don’t say we didn’t warn you.
If you’re wanting to drink and dance—and huff balloons of laughing gas—start at Sakura Bar and follow the crowd when it’s time to move.
Most of the places you can score a drug menu will also be openly advertising “Laughing Balloons” for 10,000 Kip—about a dollar—or so a piece. However, Milano Pizza is perhaps the best place for magic pizzas. A cardboard sign out front advertises: “The only wood Fired Pizza in V.V. Buy Any Happy pizza Get Free Drink. Happy Shake Buy 3 Get 1 Free… Balloon 15,000 kip :)”
This is what the “Happy Menu” looked like back in 2016:
- Mushroom shakes (100,000 Kip)
- Mushroom pizza (100,000 Kip)
- Happy soup (100,000 Kip)
- Happy garlic bread (100,000 Kip)
- Happy omelet (100,000 Kip)
- Happy pancake (100,000 Kip)
- Bag of weed (100,000 Kip)
- Joint (30,000 Kip)
- Opium joint (100,000 Kip)
- Opium tea (100,000 Kip)
- Opium cigarette (70,000 Kip)
- 1 gram of opium (250,000 Kip)
If you were wondering—the pizzas are surprisingly good for Southeast Asia.
So Much More to Vang Vieng Laos
Before you throw in the towel on Laos Vang Vieng and re-write your itinerary to avoid the debauchery, think again.
Within minutes, you can escape the tourist-scape of cement buildings and open-air restaurants playing episodes of Friends on loop. (Seriously, there are several restaurants that have multiple TVs playing Friends non-stop—nobody knows why.)
Cross the Nam Song River on the rickety bridge at the south end of town and you will be quickly surrounded by lush green rice paddies that creep up to the edges of majestic limestone cliffs decorated with jungle foliage.
You can explore the countryside by either renting a bicycle or motorbike. There are ample cave systems, lagoons, and waterfalls hidden among rice paddies and limestone outcrops to keep anyone busy for several days. The Water Cave is especially popular, as it offers a tantalizing experience as you float through the darkness in an inner tube.
Flashlights can be rented at some of the caves. Though, if you’re going in without a guide, you should bring at least two backup forms of light—and maybe brush up your spelunking preparedness guidelines.
There are also a number of lagoons you can visit. The Blue Lagoon is one of the more popular sites and is often packed with locals and tourists.
You’ll notice that it comes highly rated by Travel Fish, but they are simply wrong with this one. If you’re going to skip something, this is the thing to skip. Even if you aren’t going to skip something, this is the thing to skip.
Pretty underwhelming. Photo credit:Rolling Okie
You’re much better off checking out Nang Oua Kham Cave and enjoying the small turquoise lagoon at the cliff base than going to Blue Lagoon.
How to Get to Vang Vieng Laos
It’s fairly easy to catch a bus from either the cultural heart of Laos, Luang Prabang, or from the miserable capital of the country, Vientiane.
From there, grab the first bus—the very first bus—you can to the Vang Vieng Laos station, which is about two kilometers north of the tiny tourist town. No matter where you’re arriving from, you’ll be able to book a tuk-tuk for about 10,000 Kip a person to avoid the long walk into town.
Final Thoughts: Laos Vang Vieng: Order Drugs from a Menu (If You’re Into That)
Before you head to Southeast Asia and Vang Vieng, Laos, grab a couple of these sick tank-tops and share some laughs with other travelers along the way.
Hit us up on Twitter @TanksGetAround and share your craziest Southeast Asia party experience!
Featured Image Source: Christian Haugen
Isaac, previously the managing editor of an expat newspaper in Thailand, is a freelance writer, photographer drone pilot, adventurer, and all-in-all swell fella. Though currently based in Fairbanks, Alaska, he has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Read his articles on TTGA, but also check out his wild travels at www.dicetravels.com.