In 2008: Vang Vieng has become even more popular than on my first visit in 2005 when we didn't have problem to find accomodation in high season just after we arrived by bus in late afternoons. Nowsadays the situation looks completely different and it takes long search and lot of luck to find yourself a room if you haven't book it prior to arrival, especially after 3-4 pm. If you plan to come to VV without booking your place in advance at least come early enough, let's say around 11 am when other travellers have checked out and left. If you can't find something in town go back to the bus station and try to find a room in a few guesthouses by the main road, these are usually not full.
As for 2009 and 2013: it seems world economic crisis has reduced number of travellers to Laos and again we saw lots of good places vacant in peak season. But guesthouses that are best value for money will be still sometimes full (or those mentioned in guidebooks). Also keep in mind that there are many Lao travel and student groups heading to VV on weekends - thus filling the rooms and local restaurants (once we were required to change our room where we were staying for days already - because that room was previously booked for students - it didn't matter that we were staying there longer and we will stay after they leave. We got another room from the same guesthouse, nevertheless - and paid less).
Don't want to discourage you from both but it's worth warning: deaths have already been reported of few people who got drunk (or stoned) and drowned when tubing in Vang Vieng. It can be so delusing: waters of Song river are rather lazy, not often with rapids and in certain parts deep. It is safer you take tuk-tuk back to your guesthouse when you're not clear in your mind than going to tubing. You can still do it next day.
Now most of bars by river and all of them in island have been closed since a few years ago.
The choice is yours but be sure of what you're doing and don't take playing with water so innocent. That's one of the dark sides of fun tourism in VV.
While we were by the river walking back to our motorbike there was a sudden gust of wind lasting no more than a few seconds, but strong enough to lift a roof off of a hut, narrowly missing us. A little further upstream the gust of wind was strong enough to knock down a bamboo bridge over the river.
If your bungalow is on the other side of the river be careful if you are traversing this bridge if you are on a motorbike, or be careful if you are a crossing on foot and a motorbike is approaching you. More than one motorbike and passenger have ended up in the river.
I stayed in Laos for 2 weeks, and drove motorbikes from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang in January 2011. I hope you find the following helpful:
Safety: Motorbiking from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang was incredibly dangerous. The trip will take you most of the day, and once you get up into the mountains, the roads are completely fogged out - visibility is about 5 meters in front of you. Frequently, trucks buses and army transports would come roaring past my friends and I. A friend of mine fell off his bike (he's an experienced rider) and sustained an injury to his left leg. The roads themselves are unclosed, rough, and can suddenly turn sharply into a cliff.
Even the person renting the bikes looked concerned and tried to persuade me to take the bus. I advise you to listen to the locals and take the bus.
Cost: expect about USD$10-15 per bike per day after bartering.
Time: 5+ hours, depending on how comfortable you are riding in a white-out.
These two rickety-looking wooden footbridges cross over the small bit of the river in order to get to the so-called "Party Island" where teens go to, well, party hard and drink loads. Be careful on these bridges, especially if you've had a few as they're narrow at the best of times.
There are a couple of caves worthy of visiting, for example the Elephant Cave, the Tubing cave and Phoukham Cave (about 6km at the Blue Lagoon, entry is 10,000 kip)
However, do not be fooled by many other "lagoon & cave" signs along the way. All charge 10,000 kip or more, but are merely scams, like the Khan Cave. It appears that legitimate places have tickets with blue ink and red stamps, any ticket books that are photocopies only black/white may be knock-offs.
I recommend to staying only to the caves that are part of the organized tours (even if you do them on your own), and the Phoukham Cave.
If you are going to explore the caves, I would highly recommend going with at least one other companion. Alone, I followed some make-shift wooden signs through a wet field, only to find three guys at a table (with a giant clever resting on the table) asking rudely for an admission fee (I think it was about $2, which is quite high). Since I had walked so long, I decided to pay the admission fee and trek onward, which was not in good judgment. After another fifteen minutes, I came across another sole explorer who had just come from the caves and said that he thought that you needed a light, as without one it would be very dangerous, which I did not have. Conveniently, another guy comes out of nowhere and is ready to lend me a headlight for $0.50 - 1, also a rip, but I pay anyways.
I decide to travel onward and soon, I see the cave entrance, which can only be accessed by climbing a very wet and slipper incline. After slipping repeatedly (and becoming muddy in the process), I make it to the entrance of the cave and walk therein. About fifty yards in, I realize I am the only sucker in the cave, and as my headlight starts to flicker on and off, I am provided with just enough light to see that there some plunge regions, the depth of which I could not determine. Not wanting to risk my life and having no expectation of being assisted by the gang with the clever, I turned back.
Be careful of the adventures you decide to pursue. There's plenty of activities to do in Vang Vieng (e.g., legitimate caving, tubing) - just make sure you consider all of your options.
The area just north of Vang Vieng, and Highway 13 to Kasi enroute to Luang Prabang in particular, is the haunt of Hmong bandits and insurgents. I didn't pay much attention to warnings I had received and was enjoying some really stunning mountain scenery for the first hour or so of the drive from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang when I saw a couple guys dressed in camo with automatic rifles hiding in wait along the roadside. They didn't pay any attention to us, which led me to believe they were the good guys. For the next several hours of the trip, there were similarly armed (and usually but not always similarly dressed) individuals every half mile or so. We never got stopped and they never gave us more than a passing glance, so they must have been hired hands on the lookout for bandits. Still, pretty unnerving, as I never knew what to expect until we were safely past the gunmen. If you end up traveling this route, be sure to check on the latest conditions as the threat appears to be ongoing and real. Assuming everything is fine, get a window seat and sit back and enjoy the ride.
Make sure you wear the life jacket when you are tubing or kayaking along the Nam Song River, even if you are a good swimmer. The currents of the river are strong and there are rapids along the river. In the peak of the wet season in July and August, the river flows much faster than normal.
While in Vang Vieng i had a few happy shakes on night at a bar.
The shakes are quiet popular in the town infact, Unfortnately i became violently ill after having drank a few and spent the next few days in bed having fits of paranoia, true story
In Vientiane, a Laotian told me to beware of the misused of opium when he heard that I am visiting vang viang. Vang Viang instead of known as little khao san, it is also known as an opium village where you can get somebody else offering you drugs.
However the situation is better now where there are still foreigners taking opium there but not so open.
Walking at night in Vang Viang can be very dangerous in the sense that this small village doesnt have street light.
If you are riding motorbike, it is even more dangerous because there are a lot of holes on the road. If not careful enough, these holes can cause accidents.
If your gueshouse is far from the crowded area (far can means 3-5 m inutes walk), remember to carry a torchlight with you. It is important to know the road condition ahead of you and let the motorcyclist know you are there.
While walking around the village, please beware of the Cow's Dungs around...
I laughed at my fren cos stepped on one, and not long after, i stepped on one too!!