Vang Vieng, Laos

Photo: Riverside Boutique Resort
Photo: Riverside Boutique Resort

While sifting through old pictures—actual photographs, not just ones on your screen—you find some from a trip you took while studying abroad. First, you can’t believe how young you look, despite the number of years that have gone by. Then you wonder about the people with whom you’re laughing and linking arms. You swore you’d be friends for life, but lost touch many years back. But you linger on the beautiful scenery and dream of returning to the place you fell in love with so long ago.

That’s how you ended up on this bumpy road in between Vientiane and Luang Prabang in central Laos. You, like so many other students, stopped in Vang Vieng while backpacking through Southeast Asia. You hiked up the limestone mountains and climbed through the deep caves. You floated down the Nam Song River and stopped at the bars along the riverbank. You visited temples and rode tuk-tuks. You made great friends and stayed longer than you expected.

All of these wonderful memories come flooding back to you as you drive north through green paddy fields. But this trip isn’t about reliving the past. You’re not planning to stay in a hostel and drink cheap Tiger Whiskey. Most of the riverside bars are gone. The town, like you, has grown up. But fortunately, the gorgeous scenery remains the same.

Photo: Riverside Boutique Resort
Photo: Riverside Boutique Resort

You have a perfect view of that scenery from the Riverside Boutique Resort. The resort, a 10-minute walk from the center of town, is just far enough away from the hectic main street. It sits along the riverbank. A nearby bamboo footbridge leads to a quiet village on the west bank. Your room, the restaurant, and the bar all have views of the dramatic mountains. But your favorite location quickly becomes the pool. From this quiet spot, you can see the resort’s French Colonial architecture, the river’s slow-moving water, and the limestone peaks while you sip a glass of French white wine.

The next morning, eat warm French bread and buttery croissants with Bolaven Plateau coffee before heading out for the day. Instead of tubing, you decide to kayak down the river. At this time of day, it’s still calm, quiet, and relatively cool. Pass small caves filled with bats and women collecting water as you glide downstream. Ride a bike to the larger caves. At Tham Phu Kham, a sleeping golden buddha lies in a cave by the spring-fed blue lagoon. There’s a perfect view of the city from the lookout point at Tham Chang. While Tham Nong, the Water Cave, is seven-kilometers long and takes hours to explore. Don’t miss Wat Done Hor, the oldest temple in Vang Vieng.

Then return to the resort for a late-afternoon dip in the pool. Another glass of French white wine appears from the bar. While fog starts to roll toward the mountains as the sun begins to set. Despite how much you—and the city—have changed, you still love Vang Vieng as much as you did the first time. Maybe even more.

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