To and from Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is together with Luang Prabang the main tourist attraction in Laos. The last time I visited it was already an expanding tourist destination with western styled restaurants, booking services and trekking facilities. The extension continues. Nowadays it's more like a Lao variation of Khao San Road in Bangkok.
The main road in the tourist part of town is upgraded and supposed to be ready in July 2006. More guesthouses are available and more are coming.
Some Offer a good room for little money, others are different. Apart of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, you will find few places in Laos with a variety of western food.
For cyclist it is important to know a little bit about the roads going north and south.
The road from Phoukoun to Vang Vieng
As wrote for the chapter about Luang Prabang to Phoukoun, riding north is different from riding south. I found going north a hard road. After leaving Vang Vieng, it is reasonable flat until Phatang which is 18 km from Vang Vieng. From here on the road starts going up. It is not a hard climb and it won't bring you too high too but it's not too easy too.
The reason is that the ascending goes so slow you don't realize it much until your legs start hurting a bit. The second part of this climb is harder, steeper and in a beautiful surrounding of karst limestone mountains. The highest point is at about 650 meter, 400 meter higher then Vang Vieng.
From here to Kasi, about 50 km from Vang Vieng, it goes up and down but always slow. In Kasi there are three guesthouses and it seems more are coming.
Kasi is nicely located within the Limestone scenery and I wouldn't be surprised when this little town would be another "would be" tourist destination.
Phoukoun is now "only" 47 km away. It doesn't sound much but, from the altitude of Kasi at 340 meter the main climb is yet to come.
Up to the climb there are several small villages to pass and here and there it goes up and down in short, though sometimes sharp slopes.
23 kilometer before Phoukoun the climb starts. The main problem of this climb is the beginning which is here and there quite hard. For that reason it may be easier to stay a night in Kasi. The climb stops a few kilometers before Phoukoun. Now the road goes a little up and down at over 1300 meter. And yes, the length of the climb is about 20 km.
Phoukoun has a few very basic and quite expensive (for what you get, it's still only a few dollars) guesthouses but at least you rest your by that time tired body.
Going the other way is also not that easy since it is for sure not all the way down although the altitudes may suggest that. However, I think, having done this ride both ways going to Phoukoun is for sure more difficult then going south to Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng to Vientiane
In a way it is getting boring. Going from Vang Vieng to Vientiane is for sure easier then the other way around. If you start from Vientiane you may consider the old National Highway which is hardly in use these days.
It's a bit more hilly then Highway 13 but far nicer. The advantage of the new road is that there are literally a dozen guesthouses and hotels can be found after kilometer marker 45.
Probably the nicest places to stay are Phon Hong and Hin Heub. Phon Hong is a bit bigger then Hin Heub but location wise, Hin Heub, on a river arm, is much nicer when you talk about location. Phon Hong has a bit more variety in food and a reasonable big market.
The road is flat until Phon Hong if you use the new road. On the old road, you will pass the south part of the lake. There's a resort on south part and it is a good spot they have located for that. A hill has to be climbed before reaching Phon Hong where the old and the new road join for the next 88 km to Vang Vieng.
It's a bit hilly but the climbs are never more then a few hundred meters at most. I wouldn't say it is the most beautiful part of Laos but it is a nice ride to Vang Vieng.
Vientiane to Vang Vieng is 160 km and it can be done in one day. However, I wouldn't do it. Phon Hong or Hin Heub offer basic guesthouses and it is not worth the effort. Going from Vang Vieng, strange maybe, is a lot easier. Going south means also you have the flat 70 km from Phon Hong to Vientiane in the last part of the ride. This is good to do. However, why hurry if you do not have to?
In Vang Vieng town you will find plenty of small guesthouses for a few dollars. Do not expect anything fancy. Check a few before you book anywhere. Vang Vieng is a tourist trap, a mini Khao San Road in some ways but it does have its attraction. Some of the nicer hotels and guesthouses are a little further away from the town center.
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Map of Laos