Very few people visit Vieng Thong in northern Laos, but it’s a nice enough town that breaks up the journey between Nong Khiaw and Xam Neua. If you do find yourself here, you’ll likely be the only foreigner aside from the occasional NGO workers and you’ll get a taste of a real Lao village, far removed from the tourist trail. Vieng Thong is also the jumping off point for the Nam Nern Night Safari in the Nam Et – Phou Louey National Protected Area, home to dozens of rare and endangered mammal species, including the only remaining tiger population in Laos (estimated at 9-23 individuals).
Best Time to Go
The best time to visit Vieng Thong is during the dry season from November to March, when temperatures are cooler. March to May is the hot season and the temperatures can reach 40ºC or higher. The wet season runs from May to October and if you’re planning on taking the tour into the Nam Et – Phou Louey NPA, avoid this season, as there’s a high likelihood they will be unable to run the tour due to bad weather.
Getting to Vieng Thong
You can reach Vieng Thong from Nong Khiaw in the west, Xam Neua in the east or Phonsavan in the south. Buses from Nong Khiaw take about 6 hours and they charge 110,000 Kip. They are actually overcharging, since you are getting off halfway to the destination (Xam Neua), so you might be able to get them to agree to a lower price.
From Xam Neua, the trip takes 4-5 hours and they will probably try to charge around 110,000 Kip as well. You might be able to bargain that down. Alternatively, you can probably get a ride in a minivan heading that way.
From Phonsavan you will have to take the bus to Xam Neua and get off at the Ban Ko Hing junction, where the bus heads east and you need to go west. From here, you can either hitchhike or spend the night in one of the two guesthouses and catch the bus heading west from Xam Neua the next morning (around 9-11am).
Walk. The town is really small.
Vieng Thong has a couple of very basic guesthouses that are all very similar. The town gets few visitors, so you will not have a problem getting a room. Just check out all the places (there’s only 3 or 4 of them) and pick the one you like best.
Eating & Drinking
The town has two restaurants where you can have some beers; or you can have them on a balcony of your guesthouse.
Vieng Thong has two restaurants. One serves noodle soup (although the sign promises Korean food, strangely enough) and the other serves noodle soup and a few additional Lao dishes.
Things to Do
There isn’t much to do in Vieng Thong other than enjoy small town life in Laos.
- Nam Nern Night Safari and Eco Lodge: the night safari in the Nam Et – Phou Louey National Protected Area is a pretty unique experience and proceeds go toward protecting the area; the office is at the west end of town, across the bridge; tours may not run during the rainy season; we booked a tour in person and left the next day, but to ensure availability, it would probably be better to book in advance, which you can now do through Agoda here; you could also try emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling +856-20-28600038; for more information, head to the Nam Et website or the Wikipedia page; NOTE: make sure you bring plenty of money if you plan on doing the tour, as there was no ATM in town when I was there (2011)
- Morning Market: might be worth seeing if you’ve only experienced the tourist markets in Luang Prabang; you’ll have to get up early though: 4:00 – 5:30 am
- Walk Around: you can take a nice walk to see a dam in the area, which takes you through several ethnic villages
- Hot Springs: I’d give these a miss; that said, there’s not much else to do here, so maybe you’ll want to check them out anyway; extremely hot and probably not what you’d expect upon hearing the words “hot spring”