Kayaking Vang Vieng: the other way to see the river

Tubing the Nam Song is the highlight of most travellers’ itineraries in Van Vieng, Laos. While it’s a lot tamer now than it used to be, with most flying foxes, swings and slides gone from the riverside bars, drifting slowly downriver in a truck inner tube, stopping for a drink at a watering hole or two along the way, remains a rite-of-passage on the SE Asian backpacker circuit.

For us, tubing wasn’t a priority, but seeing the river was, so we opted to kayak instead, for two main reasons:

  1. We visited in April, nearing the end of the dry season, and the river is very low, and very slow. The trip would have taken hours and hours, and required a fair bit of paddling. I’m sure there would have been whinging from the kids.
  2. When kayaking, you can start further upriver, and see more of the local scenery.

After our morning caving adventures with Chan from Green Discovery, which you can read about here, we hiked to our starting point on the Nam Song, about 10km north of town, for a lazy afternoon of paddling with the current back into Vang Vieng. This is the view back to Ban Tham Song across the dry rice paddies as we headed away from the caves and towards the river.


It was a 2km hike in the middle of the day, so we were a little dry, dusty and footsore after the hot journey. We’re still smiling, though!


Reaching the river was well worth it.


This was our starting point – another spot all to ourselves!

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And the kids couldn’t wait to get in the water.


Most of the trip my camera was in the dry bag, so I didn’t get a lot of shots, but I managed to snap a few without dropping it in the water



We passed towering cliffs covered in dense forest, wallowing water buffalo, and herds of cows with jangling bells. We navigated around rocky shoals as the river is very shallow in parts, and mostly succeeded, but Phoebs and I got stuck a couple of times. It was an easy fix – jumping out and pushing us off, and the little rapids were a lot of fun.


As we got closer to town, we drifted under disused zip lines and abandoned bars before entering the start of the tubing area. Music pumped from the bars on the banks as the young ‘uns prepared for the ride with a few beverages. We virtually flew past them laying on their tubes, barely moving in the still sections of the river, skin bared and burning in the afternoon sun. We were glad for our paddles and the river got busier as we drifted into town.


You can see a crane in the distance – Vang Vieng is under development. I’m not sure that this is a great thing…


The bamboo bridge welcomed us back into town as paddled past the floating bars.


And there’s no better way to end the day than by taking a final sunset dip in the Nam Song.


We loved kayaking the Nam Song – it was a highlight of Vang Vieng and Laos.

Read my other Vang Vieng posts here:

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