The town of Vang Vieng was discovered in the mid-1990s by backpackers traveling between Vientiane and Luang Prabang on Highway 13. It's not only a convenient stopover, but also a town bordered by some of the most attractive scenery and countryside in Laos, including the Nam Song River and a dramatic range of jagged limestone mountains. During the Vietnam War the United States maintained an airstrip in the town center;
there are rumors that the abandoned tarmac will someday field direct flights from Luang Prabang or elsewhere. These days the town center is jam-packed with bars and backpacker hangouts, but you can escape the noise and the crowds by making for the river, which is lined with guesthouses and restaurants catering to both backpackers and those on a more flexible budget. The river is clean and good for swimming and kayaking, and the mountains beyond are riddled with caves and small pleasant swimming holes. River trips and caving expeditions are organized by every guesthouse and hotel. Note that the treks to the caves can be fairly arduous, and some are only accessible by motorbike. The less-adventurous adventurer can rent an inner tube for $7 and float down the river for a few hours. Vang Vieng has been famous for its rope-swing party bars along the river, attracting a huge backpacker crowd. In 2012, due to a huge number of deaths caused by drinking, drugs, and drowning, the Lao government closed the bars along the river. Today, Vang Vieng is starting to move slightly more upscale and trying to disassociate itself with the backpacker party scene.