Why Vang Vieng, Laos and Pai, Thailand are great for family vacations

I have heard enough bad things about these two small town in Southeast Asia!  If I had listened to the advice of the numerous websites I consulted, then our trip to both of these great towns might never have happened.  I have been known to go against the norm at times and this time it paid off in spades!  And as it turns out, Vang Vieng and Pai are two of our favorite towns!

Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng gets the worst rap out of the two.  Here are some things I heard about this amazing little town before we visited; "It's just a town full of 20 something drunks", "lazy kids who sit around all day watching TV is all this town has to offer", and "there is nothing to do but get drunk and maybe even hurt yourself".  Needless to say, I was turned off immediately as we are traveling with 3 children and left the party scene about 12 years ago.


Luang Prabang was more recommended than Van Vieng, but a much longer drive on a very windy road.  We had already come so far from Thailand and really weren't feeling up for it more trekking. Vang Vieng was only 3 hours by van from Vientiane -- the Laos Capital -- so we decided we would try it anyway.  Maybe everyone else is wrong we thought, trying to persuade ourselves that this was in fact a good decision.  If it was as bad as everyone says, we can always head to Luang Prabang from there.

Well, we could not have been more surprised!  It is a small town; so easy to walk and it is full of great little restaurants, relaxed bars, hotels of varying cost, and kind welcoming locals.   Sure there are plenty of young people spending their day drinking, but none of them bothered us at all.  They were actually quite an amusing thing to watch.   There are also the TV bars that so many had warned about but you know what, we loved those.  Comfortable, yummy food, and fun shows to watch.  I wouldn't want to live there but for a few weeks it was engaging and fun.  What is so wrong with people relaxing anyway?

What's so family friendly about Vang Vieng?
It is hard to even know where to begin as there is SO much to do with kids of all ages. First, the river tubing that many portrayed as dangerous and full of filthy behavior was awesome.  We went around 10am and even stopped at a few bars, to check out the water slides and ziplines.  I went with my 12 and 8-year-old sons and we all had a great time.
Fun and perfectly safe
In fact, there were only a few other people out there so early in the morning so it seemed like we had the river to ourselves.  You can also just spend time down by the beautiful river itself splashing around and skipping rocks.  There is such a beautiful backdrop of stunning limestone cliffs, locals fishing and washing clothes, and water buffalo swimming that the bars we merely one aspect to enjoy.  All that -- the views, cool river, sun on our faces, and water slides -- sounds like family fun to me.  It is true that some get hurt and even die on that river usually do to irresponsibly drinking buckets of alcohol.  I recommend starting the tubing adventure early in the morning before the partiers' hangovers subside from the previous evening.

Another thing we love to do is rent motor scooters and exploring.  We only do this in small towns where traffic is limited, so Vang Vieng was a perfect spot.  Throw in the fact that there are amazing lagoons, caves, and unique villages that it was the perfect recipe for adventure and happiness the entire 3 weeks.  That's right we liked it so much we stayed almost 3 weeks, and we never ran out of things to do.
Lots of amazing places to explore in Vang Vieng

Where to stay with a family
We realized quickly that the center of town gets quite loud in the evening and were very grateful for the fact that we had booked a hotel at the far end of town.  Laos Haven Hotel was a perfect spot for us.  It was close enough to easily walk to restaurants, but it was far enough away so we were not disturbed by the thumping of house music in the evening.  The rooms were pretty basic but they offer rooms with 2 large beds and the 5 of us were quite comfortable.  There is a great kitchen that serves food all day and the rates were fair and budget friendly.  The owners were helpful and very sweet to all of us.  We highly recommend it!

Pai, Thailand
Pai is a small mountain town in northern Thailand near the Burma border.  Pai also has gotten a bad rap similarly as a party town, but more for being a hippie hangout over run with tourists.  Since it is a short 3-hour van ride from Chiang Mai through some pretty windy roads, okay the most windy roads ever,  I was not sure we would venture out that way.  We generally do not target touristy areas.


After a good friend went and assured us it was a great spot, and since we experienced enough time in Chiang Mai, we decided to brave the drive and check it out.  Admittedly, we do enjoy smaller towns even if they are over run with tourists.  The bigger cities we have visited are really wonderful but we feel more at home in a small town with space for the kids to run around.  It has a calming effect on our whole family.

When we first arrived in Pai, I immediately understood the warnings.  It was clearly FULL of tourists and the town seemed to be set up to cater to them.  It was also a bit larger town than Vang Vieng so it took me a few days to really warm up to it, but once I did I just fell in love.

So what is there to do in Pai with a family?
Well, this is a long list so i'll keep it brief and write more about it in an upcoming Pai only post.  Again we rented scooters at a mere $3 per day.  A great deal and the cheapest we have found in our travels so far.  With those we wee able to explore the entire area.  From elephant camps to hot springs, memorial bridges to waterfalls, there is no shortage of things to keep everyone busy.  It is a beautiful town with amazing temples, rice fields, and mountains to enjoy.  A must see is Tham Lod cave, about a 1 hour scooter ride from town well worth it.  The ride is beautiful and the cave is nothing short of amazing!  There are plenty of family retaurants as well as a great nightly walking market.

Entrance to Tham Lod cave

Where to stay with a family?
Pai Chan was our choice.  They offer discounts for stays over a week and have a really nice family bungalow. with two separate bedrooms, a large bathroom, and your own porch area and picnic table. The hotel also has a pool, although it's a bit cold for most people.  The restaurant is wonderful, and they cook food to order as well as amazing fruit smoothies.  The price is right and located just outside of town you get the best of both worlds, close enough to town to walk, but again, far enough away to avoid any "tourist behavior" you may want to be avoiding, especially at night.

Overall, I would have to say I enjoyed Vang Vieng a bit more than Pai, but I was pleasantly surprised that both of these towns have been portrayed inaccurately.  There is so much beauty and fun to be had in both areas that I consider them to be must sees in this area of the world.  Do yourself a favor and check them out while in Thailand and Laos.  They are both great spots for your next family adventure!

Have you ventured to a town that others condemned and were pleasantlyt surprised??  Tell us about it below!

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  1. Great post. I think that places like these surprise us the most because our expectations are so low to begin with. Wonderful that your family had such a great time!

    Great write up about about the hotels.

    I can't believe you can rent a motorized scooter for $3 US per day! WOW!

  2. Yeah I know, that is a big part of why we stayed so long! We love those scooters. Amazing towns, I am so backed up on individual trip posts. I'll get there!

  3. I'm looking forward to hearing about each trip, in time. This one was great! Now I'm wanting to see for myself! xo

  4. One of the best family vacations I went on was in Phuket, Thailand. It was awesome.