Now that lockdown is starting to ease and we can finally start leaving the house to do more than shopping and going to work, lots of people are looking for things to do on the weekend.
If you’re hoping to get out of the house and see a bit of nature or just escape the city for a day then look no further. Below we have some great suggestions for day trips and activities around Vientiane.
Wat Dane Xoung
This overlooked temple is hidden in Phou Phanang National Bio Diversity Conservation Area to the west of Vientiane. While the temple itself is not the most extravagant of temples in Laos the surrounding area does provide some spectacular views from the escarpment just to the north of the temple. There are great sets of boulders to scramble over and squeeze between with lots of lush jungle to keep the area shaded and cool. Follow the path behind the temple to reach some great viewpoints, and spend some time soaking in the views or have a picnic.
https://goo.gl/maps/4DbTCbHdRVZezQj36 this is a google maps link to the temple itself.
From the downtown area it takes about 60 minutes to drive to the bottom of the hill. To reach the temple drive north on Route 13 before turning left on Houay Xone Rd. Cross over the unfinished expressway and continue along Houay Xone Rd until reaching this intersection: https://goo.gl/maps/b8XkcHowRU23hRoc9
Turn right on to the dirt road and continue until reaching the first road on the left. Here you can park your car and follow the road up the hill on foot. If you have a 4WD the road can be driven all the way to the temple. It is about 3.5 kilometres from the junction and mostly uphill. Make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, water and snacks for the hike.
Vientiane Racing Circuit
If you are looking for something more extreme than a jungle hike you can try your hand at go kart racing at VRC. Located within Phou Phanang National Bio Diversity Conservation Area to the west of Vientiane, VRC is a great way to spend a high octane afternoon. They have go karts and helmets available for rent, or if you are feel the need for speed you can also rent out the track and take your own motorbike out for a spin. After zooming around the track you can relax in the small café with a fresh coffee. A great day out for adults and kids alike.
90,000 LAK per 10 minutes for a single seat
120,000 LAK per 10 minutes for child and adult (double seat)
https://goo.gl/maps/UaY1kqobrqH8PPVY6 follow this google map pin to make your way there (Google map directions tell you to drive along the unfinished expressway, which we don’t recommend). From the downtown area it takes about 45 minutes to drive there.
The simplest way to get there is to follow Route 13 heading north out of Vientiane. Turn left off Route 13 at Ban Houa Sang, cross the unfinished expressway, continue following the paved road until you see the sign directing you to turn right to VRC. Turn right and follow the dirt road for about two kilometres.
Phou Phanang Viewpoint Hike
Sometimes called the Wealth Coffee Viewpoint, this hike though the Phou Phanang National Bio Diversity Conservation Area takes you to an excellent viewpoint atop of the escarpment providing a great panorama view of the Mekong River and Thailand.
To reach the views you will need a bit of experience and sense of adventure as the trail is not well marked and can be difficult to follow. The best option is to go with a group who has gone before. Luckily the Facebook page ‘Vientiane Hikers’ is a very active community and this is one of their more popular hikes.
If you are feeling adventurous and would like to attempt the hike on your own then we recommend at the very least you install a good hiking/map app like OSM Maps. This will allow you view the GPS tracks of people who have previously done the hike and follow their route. However plenty of adventurers have managed to find their way to the top before you!
You will gain about 300 metres of elevation so be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen. Once you make your way to the top you can be rewarded with some great views to soak in while you relax.
Getting to the start of the hike is relatively simple. Make your way to Wealth Coffee (https://goo.gl/maps/bxayTq7CPRrHP1Wf6) where you can park your car or bike. From the downtown area it takes about 50 minutes to drive there. You can follow Route 13 North to just past Wattay Airport and go straight at the traffic lights where Route 13 curves north and follow that road all the way to Wealth Coffee. From here you will need to start hiking north and climbing up the tracks ascending the escarpment to the viewpoint.
The closest waterfall to Vientiane is Tad Moon, although the term waterfall is used loosely. Just off a main road cutting through Phou Phanang National Bio Diversity Conservation Area, it more like a series of small rapids and natural pools along a section of river. The river is almost non-existent during the dry season and the spot is mostly abandoned. However, during the rainy season there is enough water flowing through to make it a popular spot for locals to hang out for an afternoon.
There are many salas overlooking the river and some limited food options available as well as the omnipresent beer Lao. The river is popular with young Lao and families to splash around in the river. After a heavy rain the current can be quite strong so make sure children are supervised. If the crowds of Lao people are too much you can follow the river downstream and find a quieter spot. Regardless of if you want to get amongst the locals, or find your own spot Tad Moon is an interesting spot to spend an afternoon relaxing by the river. Its also a great option for a refreshing swim on the way back from one of the other adventures in the Phou Phanang National Bio Diversity Conservation Area.
Tad Moon is easily accessible from Vientiane by car or motorbike. From the downtown area it takes about 40 minutes to drive there. Follow this link to the Google Map pin: https://goo.gl/maps/csGVBgG92Ps8Yxot5
Visitors can make their way along the Mekong before turning north into the Phou Phanang National Bio Diversity Conservation Area. Alternatively you can follow Route 13 North and turn left onto the road that leads directly to Tad Moon.
Tad Xai Waterfall
Deep within Phou Khao Khouay National Biodiversity Conservation Area lies Tad Xai Waterfall. This spot is an idyllic location to relax and take in some nature. Right next to the parking area you will find the Nam Xai River, which even in dry season still flows over a large sandstone slab. Depending on the water level there are many small streams and shallow pools to relax in. Slightly further upriver are the large Tad Xai falls themselves. These can be accessed by following a path North West from the carpark or walking along the river bed. The impressive falls cascade down a series of rock shelves before falling into a large, deep pool. The large pool is perfect for swimming and relaxing. Just to the east of the carpark is a small trail which, after a few minutes, emerges at small platform overlooking an impressive 50 meter waterfall.
For those looking to extend the adventure you can park your car at the nearby village (Ban Hat Khai) and take a boat up the river for about 30 minutes, followed by a moderate 90 minute hike to Tad Xai. This needs to be arranged beforehand by contacting the Village Chief of Ban Hat Khai. The boat is only available when the river level is high enough.
Tad Xai is much further away from Vientiane than some of the other options suggested above. To get there you will need to drive on Route 13 South and turn left just before the bridge over the Nam Mang River. Follow this road until it crosses a bridge. Just after the bridge the road splits in two. From here the road is accessible for most vehicles during dry season but may require a 4WD during the rainy season.
Take the right fork and follow the road as goes through the small village of Ban Hat Khai. Soon you will get to a small army checkpoint where you will need to pay an entry fee (10,000 kip per person at last visit but may be more). From here continue for another two kilometres until reaching the parking lot.
Another lovely spot on the eastern side of Phou Khao Khouay National Biodiversity Conservation Area is Tad Leuk. Here there is a large flat open area next to the Nam Leuk River that can be used for camping, a short waterfall cascading into a deep pool, and shallow river with a few small pools for swimming and relaxing. In wet season this river can be much higher with a stronger current. The area just above the falls can be treacherous during this time and not suitable for swimming. About 200m north (upstream) of the falls the river bends and there is a very calm section of river suitable for swimming. In dry season the river is much more placid and swimmers can relax in small pools about 100m above the falls.
Here you will also find a rundown visitor’s centre has some information about the park and the flora and fauna of the area. There is a path on the northern edge of the campground leading to a few different hikes. The shorter hike takes around 1 hour to complete a small circuit. The longer hike takes three or four hours and leads you to another waterfall, cascading into a large pool. Non English speaking guides can be organised from the small army outpost just above the campground.
Tad Leuk is quite far from Vientiane and requires and full day trip. Head east out of Vientiane on Route 13 South, and continue along this road for about two hours. Just before a bridge crossing into the town of Thabok there is a dirt road on the left. Follow this road for about 15 kilometres before turning left on to a smaller dirt road. This section of track is usually ok in dry season but in wet season requires the use of a 4WD. Follow this for about two kilometres until reaching a small army outpost and campground.
Nam Ngum Reservoir
Sometimes called the inland sea or Nam Ngum Lake, this is the largest body of water in Laos. Easily reachable by car or motorbike the Nam Ngum Reservoir is a popular day trip option for locals and expats alike. Once you arrive at the lake you can hire a boat with from one of the floating restaurants who can also provide food and beverages to take with you on your cruise. For those looking to increase the excitement some boats (additional charge) have a large slide coming off the roof which can turn a relaxing cruise into a high adrenaline adventure. Without the excitement of a slide the boats will cruise around the lake giving passengers the chance to take in the eerie beauty of the flooded landscape. You will be able to see the tops of mountains that are now islands, quite a lot of birdlife and the occasional fish leaping out of the water to catch a fly.
The boat landing is very easy to get to. From Vientiane take Route 10 north for about 2 hours. Where Route 10 reaches the Nam Ngum River, just south of the dam, turn right and follow the road all the way to the boat landing. You will see a small cluster of floating restaurants with boats attached. All the boats and restaurants are similar in quality so pick whichever one takes your fancy. Google Map directions for this trip are quite accurate and can be followed with confidence.
Laodi Distillery Tour
This adventure is more for adults than families but can be a great day out! You may have already discovered Laodi rhums, served at their bar on the Mekong and in many other great bars and restaurants across Laos. But did you know that you can also visit the distillery to find out how it’s made, the history of Laodi, and sample some of their flavours?
The only producer of sugar cane rhum in the country, Laodi is a Japanese/Lao partnership offering a wide range of delicious rhums. Book a tour through Laodi (by calling Anna on +856 20 7781 8146 or contacting them through their Facebook page) and book a time on the weekend to go and visit. Visitors can discover the sugar cane fields and the distillery while learning about the production processes before visiting the on-site bar to sample their classic white and brown rhums as well as getting into their flavoured offerings. My personal favourite is the Ume rhum with a splash of soda, but with a wide range, there is bound to be a flavour for everyone. Small and large bottles are available for purchase for when you find the flavour that speaks to you.
Make sure to book ahead (by calling Anna on +856 20 7781 8146 or through the Facebook page) to organise a time to visit on the weekend. Head out of town on Route 13 South and follow the road until you reach Laodi. We highly recommend organising a minivan for the day in case you want to sample all the rhums. Tours are free of charge with some tastings.
And there you have it! Our list of places to visit for a daytrip outside of Vientiane. If you think we missed something, let us know !
text & photos by David Ormsby, copyright J&C Services 07/2020