Choosing the best Vang Vieng viewpoint

Vang Vieng, Laos is a town of contrasts. The drone of endless ATV buggies vie for attention against musical birdsong, and tourists (mainly Australian and Korean) fill the dive bars to the brim, after a day out exploring the awe-inspiring hills. Regardless of what you come to Vang Vieng to see, it’s a place of incredible beauty, and you must hike up one of its many viewpoints to see it laid out in front of you. The question is: Which Vang Vieng viewpoint is the best?

Picture of girl crossing Nam Song bamboo bridge to Vang Vieng viewpoint Laos

What is Vang Vieng famous for and why?

Now you might have come to Vang Vieng for a party scene. And, if you have, you’ll be in good company. While it might not be the same as it was about ten years ago before the government cracked down on the crazy party antics, the town still offers a few days of fun. You can spend a day tubing down the Nam Song river, pulling yourself up to the riverside bars and downing vodka oranges as you try your hand at drunken volleyball or flip cup. You can hop through the many pubs in the town, some of which offer free beer to entice you in. And you’re generally offered many illicit types of drugs, if that’s your thing.

It’s not our thing but luckily Vang Vieng still caters for us too. We spent our days there doing a countryside tour atop a canary yellow jeep driven by a charismatic Frenchman, swimming in the blue lagoons (if you want to head to Blue Lagoon 1, check our footnote for some info), and hiking in the hills.

Picture of girls in yellow jeep going to Vang Vieng viewpointLaos

Vang Vieng viewpoints – which one to choose?

Now, when we get to the viewpoints, generally you’re talking about two: Nam Xay and Pha Ngern, although we’ve included a bit of info on a third, Pha Poak.

Both of them are a relatively easy drive outside of Vang Vieng town, even walkable (about 45 minutes to an hour depending on which one you visit). We would highly recommend driving or a motorbike though.

Both of them offering incredible views across the town, and would be worth the hike. Both of them are moderate hikes although perhaps Pha Ngern is slightly more challenging.

And both of them are about the same price: 10,000 kip (approx. 1 GBP).

Nam Xay is slightly more commercialised in that it attracts more visitors, but it does boast more beautiful viewing platforms, where Pha Ngern only has a few.

It’s really a matter of preference: Slightly more comfort and more tourists at Nam Xay, a more authentic experience at Pha Ngern.

What to bring to the viewpoint

Regardless of which one you choose, the viewpoints in Vang Vieng are still a little untamed: these are NOT hikes you can do in flip flops!

  1. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes, ideally good trainers or hiking shoes or sandals.
  2. Bring lots of water (even in rainy season, since these are steep hikes) and if doing it in summer, plenty of sunscreen.
  3. If you decide to do the hikes for sunrise or sunset, we’d strongly suggest a head torch or handheld torch.
  4. Now, let’s get to the juicy details and break down each viewpoint for you…

How to get to the Vang Vieng viewpoint – a map

We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for you, so here is a little Google Map of the three viewpoints included in this article.

Nam Xay Viewpoint

 

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Still one of the hidden gems of Laos, Nam Xay viewpoint is becoming far more popular, due to the influx of tourism in the area and the rise of Instagram, and the incredible shots posted on countless influencer feeds.

How to get there

The viewpoint is about 20 minutes drive from the central town, located near Blue Lagoon 1. You can either grab a songthaew taxi or, ideally, allow yourself time to explore by renting a motorbike. These are easily hired for about 50,000 kip per day by numerous shops dotted all around the town. (Tip: make sure you take photos of any damage before you take the motorbike, to avoid any nasty surprises later).

Just before you reach Blue Lagoon, you take a quick left and follow the dirt path to the viewpoint. Here you’ll find a parking area and a small hut, which marks the start of the hike.

Google Maps: The viewpoint is here.

Hiking difficulty

The hike itself takes between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on your fitness level. When we visited, it was extraordinarily hot (40 degrees Celsius) so the average time to hike up was 35 minutes, as a number of rest stops were needed. It can also get quite muddy in rainy season, delaying your ascent.

The terrain is moderate. It’s mainly dirt trail with quite a bit of rock hopping, although no significant climbing is needed. There are handrails available for some of the more difficult parts.

It is very steep though, so will undoubtedly get the legs burning!

Picture of Nam Xay Viewpoint in Vang Vieng, Laos

Photo credit: Clare Mulvenna

How much it costs

At time of writing, entrance to the Nam Xay viewpoint was 10, 000 kip per person (1 GBP).

If you need to cross the bridge from town, it will also cost you a toll fee. At time of writing it was 4,000 kip for pedestrians and 6,000 for motorbikes (we didn’t note down the costs for cars).

Pha Ngern viewpoint

 

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It’s a bit of a tougher climb, but Pha Ngern, also known as Pha Ngeun, view point will repay you with the views. It also offers three view points, offering slightly different perspectives of the landscapes before you.

We found the best full guide to Pha Ngern here.

How to get there

Now this one is a little trickier. Like many things in Laos, this attraction isn’t well signposted. More than this, there are two listings for the viewpoint on Google Maps and maps.me, which confuse the situation further.

The view point is a bit closer to town but, like Nam Xay, we recommend a motorbike or songthaew to get there.

You essentially need to go past the Pha Ngern Primary School and turn right onto a gravel road soon after. You’ll go down that road and come to a ticket booth to buy your ticket for the climb, after which it’s a short walk to the bottom.

Google Maps: Turn at this road and the viewpoint is here.

Hiking difficulty

Like Nam Xay, it’s quite steep and mainly uphill. It’s quite forested and has a dirt trail but many areas has concrete steps jutting out of the soil, making the ascent slightly easier.

This one takes between 30 to 40 minutes to the first view point. After about 20 minutes you’ll see a sign to the left, after which it will be about 10 minutes to your first stop.

Viewpoints 2 and 3 are a little more off the beaten track. You’ll need to go back down to the sign and this time go right. Follow the ladders and hand rails.

How much it costs

At time of writing, entrance to the Pha Ngern viewpoint was 10,000 kip per person (1 GBP).

If you need to cross the bridge from town, it will also cost you a toll fee. At time of writing it was 4,000 kip for pedestrians and 6,000 for motorbikes (we didn’t note down the costs for cars).

Bonus viewpoint – Pha Poak

 

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It might not boast the same inspiring views as the other two, but Pha Paok is just outside town (about 1.3 km), making it hugely accessible. No need for a motorbike, since it’s walkable. You walk across the bamboo bridge, take a signposted path across the rice  fields and climb the first karst mountain.

This 30 minute hike is challenging and also costs about 10,000 kip (1 GBP). It does have quite a few rope ascents and some difficult rocks, so be careful on this one!

Google Maps: viewpoint location here.

That’s it! We hope this little guide to the best Vang Vieng viewpoint was helpful – if you have your own tips, please do comment below or get in touch.

A trip to Vang Vieng, and Laos in general, is a must on everyone’s bucket list. We count it as one of our favourite countries in Asia, and fell in love with Luang Prabang, particularly the sunsets there.

Where to stay in Vang Vieng

Wanting to find the best place to stay in Vang Vieng? Many will tell you to stay outside of the town itself but we quite enjoyed being in the town, and able to walk wherever we needed. Either way, we’ve got a selection of options to suit your budget below.

Budget: Okay it might be a little grubby, but Pan’s Place is THE backpacker hostel in Vang Vieng. It’s got everything you need – good-sized beds, hot showers – but more than this, it’s a meeting place for likeminded travellers and a great way to make new friends to go tubing with!

Mid-range: Pick of the bunch is Villa Nam Song. This sweet little riverside resort packs a good punch – it’s nicely appointed and has all the conveniences like a minibar and air conditioning, but is quite affordable for the standard.

Luxury: Premium options in Vang Vieng are a little difficult, you’ll find reviews are generally a little scathing of most high-end properties. The best luxury estate is definitely Riverside Boutique Resort which, incidentally, was the first upscale hotel in the town. It’s the best choice for location but also service standards.

Getting around Laos

If you’re looking for travel options around Laos, we’d recommend checking out Bookaway for buses and transfers. They have amazing 24 hour support and many routes have great cancellation policies – which is a bit of a relief, when you need to change travel plans. Trust us, that happens more than you’d expect.

Footnote: Blue Lagoon Vang Vieng and the Tham Phu Kam Cave

We couldn’t include a mention of Blue Lagoon without providing more information on this spot, even though it’s not the focus of this piece.

The Blue Lagoon has been an amazing attraction in Vang Vieng since it’s heyday in the 1990’s. However, a few years ago a famous South Korean film star visited Vang Vieng and, as part of his feature (which also included the renting of an ATV buggy and a trip to Sakura bar), he spent time at Blue Lagoon.

This has given rise to a wave of South Korean tourism in the area, which has revitalised a dying Vang Vieng town and injected much-needed investment. That said, it means that the Blue Lagoon is one of the most crowded places in all of Laos and absolutely heaving with tourists all day long.

Enterprising Vang Vieng locals have now established man-made ‘Blue Lagoons’ – there are eight of them – which you can visit. The further out you go, the quieter they are, and we liked Blue Lagoon 3.

However, if you’re willing to brave the crowds, we can highly recommend visiting the cave above the Blue Lagoon 1. None of the tourists venture up the 200+ stairs to get to the phu kham cave, and it’s a crying shame that they miss it. This is one of the most fascinating caves we have ever explored and in our two hours here, we only encountered two other tourists.

Couple inside Tham Phu Kam Cave in Vang Vieng Laos

So, make your way to Blue Lagoon but don’t expect to swim in it’s cerulean waters but, instead, explore it’s cave.

What camera equipment and other gear do we use?

We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.


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