Vang Vieng is a small town (pop. 25,000) which rests along the Nam Song river. On Route 13 north of Vientiane and south of Luang Prabang this town has become a major tourist stop in Laos. Known for limestone cliffs filled with tunnels and caverns this is untainted territory for spelunkers. The town offers other attractions as well, all for less than a US dollar, including bike rentals and a tube ride down the river.
The guest houses in Vang Vieng are clean and reasonable. Though rural, it does provide the comforts of western living; people speak English, they have Internet access, hot water, all the comforts of home. There is an American made airstrip in Laos (Lima Site 6), leftover from the Indochina war. The other "leftovers" Americans left here can be seen piled along roadsides or in piles with cows grazing next to them, bombs we deployed during Vietnam that didn't explode.
Laos has been called, "Thailand, twenty years ago" referring to the lax attitude toward drug use. In Vang Vieng, you can get a Big bag of grass for 60 cents rolling papers cost twice as much, your choice of various drugs at the pharmacy; valium, codeine, there are also opium dens in town. When in the midst of the Golden Triangle, the term "illegal drugs" becomes silly. Thailand is different. I have heard too many horror stories about tourists in the Bangkok Hilton serving time for drugs. In Laos, the people are friendly and tolerant.
Vang Vieng isn't all about drugs and bombs. The town has a mystique, a bit of magic swirling around. It is nestled along a river lined with limestone cliffs, with fishermen net fishing, and fog rising in the morning light. Shadows dance throughout the day on the green bumps on the horizon. There are altars in the caves, Buddha images, spirits. More than wonder can conceive.
If you do visit, don't forget to check out the morning and afternoon markets. You can find anything there. I saw live frogs, bats, scorpions, bugs -- all for sale. You can get great spring rolls and fruit here as well. Clothing, jewelry -- anything, I mean it.