Several tour companies located along the main street in Vang Vieng offer kayaking trips bundled with cave explorations and stops at small villages just north of town. Each tour operator displays a small billboard in front of their shop; these ‘signs’ are always covered with items such as photos from previous trips and pleased customer comments.
Single day trips range in price from $15 to $25 dollars US. Its always a good idea to shop around for price. Some of the tour companies offer free Lao beer in the evenings for their clients. Because of the free beer for customers, the evenings are a great time to walk around shopping at the tour companies because you get to talk to their customers in person about their days experiences with their particular tour guide.
The man to the left (click photo for larger image) was our tour guide and his name was dubbed “Mr. Lao“. He is an excellent guide. You can print this photo out and take it to main street Vang Vieng – show it to some of the locals and have them point you in the direction of his trekking company. Vang Vieng is not a large town – most of the locals along the main street near the “tour guide shops” should recognize him!
Many of the kayaking trips are offered north of Vang Vieng along the Nam Song River. A typical kayaking trip is one in which you are driven via a mini-bus north of town. You will then spend a couple of hours kayaking down the river until you end up at the bamboo bridge along the banks of Vang Vieng. During the dry season the rapids are minimal along the Nam Song just north of Vang Vieng. During the rainy season this portion of this river can be quite a bit more challenging.
Inner tubing and drinking (and or smoking) is a very popular past-time on the Nam Song only a few kilometers north of Vang Vieng. Basically a tour guiding company will drop you off in the river and you slowly float down – they will pick you up near the bamboo bridge in Vang Vieng.
Fellow travelers and some of the tour groups told me the kayaking between Vang Vieng and the capital (Vientiane) is much more challenging. If you do not stop very often it takes about 4 hours to kayak this distance. If you decided to make this journey, it is probably wise to hire a guide, and yes, there are guides in Vang Vieng who will make this trip.
About 20-30 minutes south of Vang Vieng (back towards Vientiane) is Laos’s largest lake, the man-made Ang Nam Ngum Lake. This vast reservoir of water was created in 1971. Today there are many small villages along its shores and many picturesque islands. There is a small town along Route 13 (called Ban Thahua) right at the edge of this lake, just before the guard’s checkpoint station. There is a particular restaurant in which I rented a dugout canoe complete with a guides services. My rental was from the closest restaurant located to the guard’s checkpoint station (this is the only guard checkpoint station between Vientiane and Vang Vieng).
This turned out to be a rather unpleasant trip. I originally told the guide I wanted to cruise around the lake for 1 hour for a set price and that we would visit an island village. One hour came and went and still no island village – so I told the guide to turn around….he did not turn around and in fact slowed the boat down. I made motions to speed the boat up but no luck. Finally after 2.5 hours we ended up at the restaurant again having never seen an island village and having missed our 1 hour deadline. My point is to be aware of renting a boat with a guide from this restaurant.