Following, we’ve described several of the most accessible Tham (caves). Most are signed in English as well as Lao, and an admission fee ranging from US$0.10 to US$1 is collected at the entrance to each cave. A guide (often a young village boy) will lead you through the cave for a small fee, bring water and a torch (flashlight), and be sure your batteries aren’t about to die.
These activities tend to be more popular than the sights, which are mainly monasteries dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. Among these, Wat Si Vieng Song (Wat That), Wat Kang and Wat Si Suman are the most notable. Over the river are a couple of villages to which Hmong have been relocated, which are accessible by bicycle or motorbike.
Tubing into cave, Vang Vieng
For more extensive multi-cave tours, most guesthouses can arrange a guide. Trips including river tubing and cave tours cost around US$8/13 for a half/full day.
Tham Jang (Tham Chang)
Admission US$1, Open 8am-11.30am & 1-4.30pm
The most famous of the caves, was used as a bunker in defence against marauding Jiin Haw (Yunnanese Chinese) in the early 19th century (jang means “steadfast”). Stair lead up to the main cavern entrance.
The main cave chamber isn’t the most impressive, but it does afford magnificent views over the river valley through an opening in the limestone wall. A cool spring at the foot of the cave feeds into the river and you can swim up here about 80m into the cave. Inside are electric lights, which the caretakers turn on once you’ve paid the admission fee. Yon can swim outside the cave for free; not a bad option. To get there, walk south to the Vang Vieng Resort where you must pay a US$0.20 fee to cross the grounds, plus US&0.20 for a bike. The cave is signed on the far side of the bridge.
Tham Phu Kham
Blue Laggon – Admisssion: US$0,50
Vast Tham Phu Kham is considered sacred by Lao and is popular largely due to the lagoon in the cave. The beautiful green-blue waters are perfect for a dip after the stiff climb. The main cave chamber contains a Thai bronze reclining Buddha, and from here deeper galleries branch off into the mountain.
To get there: cross the bridge and walk or pedal 6km along a scenic but unpaved road to the village of Bar Na Thong. From Ban Na Thong follow the signs towards the cliff and a stiff 200m climb through scrub forest.
Tham Sang Triangle
A popular half-day trip that’s easy to do on your own takes in Tham Sang plus three other caves within a short walk. Begin this caving odyssey by riding a bike or taking a jumbo 13km north along Rte 13, turning left a few hundred metes beyond the barely readable km 169 stone. A rough road leads to the river where a boatman will ferry you across to Bai Tham Sang (US$0.50 return). Tham Sang itself is right here, as is a small restaurant
Tham Xang – Admission US$0.20
Tham Sang meaning “Elephant Cave”, is a small cavern containing a few Buddha images and a Buddh ‘footprint’, plus the (vaguely) elephant shaped stalactite that gives the cave its name. It’s best visited in the morning when light enters the cave.
From Tham Sang a signed path takes you 1km northwest through rice fields to the entrances of Tham Loup and Tham Hoi (admission for both 0.50). The entrance to Tham Hoi is guarded by a large Buddha figure; reportedly the cave continues about 3km into the limestone and an underground lake. Tham Loup is a large and delightfully untouched cavern with some impressive stalactites.
About 400m south of Tham Hoi, along a well-used path, is the highlight of this trip, Tham Nam (admission US$0.50). The cave is about 500m long and a tributary of the Nam Song flows out of its low entrance. In the dry season you can wade into the cave, but when the water is higher you need to take a tube from the friendly woman near the entrance; the tube and headlamp are Included in the entrance fee. Dragging yourself through the tunnel on the fixed rope is fun.
From Tham Nam an easy 1 km walk brings you back to Ban Tham Sang. This loop is usually included in the kayaking/ trekking/tubing combo trip run by most Vang Vieng tour operators.
Kayaking is almost (but not quite) as popular as tubing and trips typically include visits to caves and villages and traverse a few rapids, the danger of which depends on the speed of die water. There are loads of operators and prices are about US$8/12 per person for a half/whole day.
Kayaking trips to Vientiane involve a lot of paddling and part of the trip is by road. Not all guides are as well trained as they could be. Before using a cheap operator, check the equipment and the guides’ credentials, and ask other travelers.
The brutal Grade 4 and 5 rapids along the magical Nam Ngum are easjly the most thrilling river ride around Vang Vieng. Two-day expeditions begin with a drive into the previously off-limits area formerly known as the Saisombun Special Zone to put in on the Nam Ngum. A day’s paddling takes you to Ang Nam Ngum, where you sleep on an island in the lake and finish with a ride to Vientiane.
Choosing a company with experienced guides is the best way to maximize safety. Guides, of course, come and go, ask around before you sign up. Rafting is best and safest between October and March.
In just a few years the limestone walls around Vang Vieng have gained a reputation as some of the best climbing in Southeast Asia. One experienced climber we met had spent a week in world-renowned Krabi in Thailand, then a week climbing in Vang Vieng. He promptly reported that he’d bad a much better time climbing the routes in Vang Vieng.
More than 100 routes have been identified by several well-regarded international teams and most have been bolted. The routes are rated between 4 and 8b, with the majority being in or near a cave and less than 20m high. The most popular climbing spots are at Tham Man (Sleeping Cave), with more than 20 routes, and the tougher SIeeping Wall nearby, where some routes have difficult overhangs.
The climbing season usually runs between October and May, with routes too wet at other times.
Virtually everyone who comes to Vang Vieng goes tubing down to the Nam in an inflated tractor-tyre tube. The 3.5 km trip from near the Organic Mulberry Farm, north of Vang Vieng, has become such a popular rite of passage on the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit that liars’ have been set up on islands and beaches along the route, selling Beerlao and food, among other things. The tubing operators have formed a cartel so all tubing is organized from a small building where the old market once was. Prices are fixed at US$3.50 and include your trip to the launch point.There is, however, a catch. There’s a contract that, among other things, says you must return the tube or pay a US$7 fine. This is fair enough, but it get dodgy when you finished the trip, have planted yourself at one of the island bars and a kid offers to take your tube, back for you. What a good idie, you might think. If you do think that, you’ll have someone knocking on your door the next morning asking for US$7. The other thing you remember is to take something – a sarong, perhaps – to put on when you finish the trip and have to walk through town. The locals don’t appreciate people walking around in bikinis as much as you might think.