Pha Ngeun is the highest point in the area surrounding Vang Vieng, Laos. A well marked hiking trail winds up the hill, providing spectacular views of the lush green landscape of cliffs, peaks and paddy fields. After ascending the route myself, in this article I share my insider tips on how you can tackle this challenging yet rewarding Vang Vieng hiking trail. It’s a return hike that can be done in half a day or less, depending on your experience and walking pace.
I’ve included some details of costs I incurred when hiking the Pha Ngeun trail, which are all relatively small if going unguided. I aim to keep the costs updated, but the latest information isn’t always available online, so you may find it’s slightly more when you arrive. Check xe.com for exchange rates.
Guided tour or solo?
There are some tour operators in Vang Vieng town centre that offer guided treks to Pha Ngeun. This is a reasonable option if you’re not a confident hiker or you’d like to learn some local insights during the hike. It’s also a great way to meet people and share the experience.
However you choose to do it, hiking to Pha Ngeun is definitely one of the best things to do in Vang Vieng!
Pha Ngeun is also easy to hike on your own, which is a much cheaper option. The only fees you need to pay are:
- Toll bridge fee – 4,000 kip by foot / 6,000 kip with a bicycle
- Trail entry – 10,000 kip
- Extra water on the trail if needed
- Transport to and from the trailhead – you can hire a bicycle for 20,000–30,000 kip
Hiking the trail independently also allows you to take it completely at your own pace. (We once had a bad experience on a guided hike in Peru when the guide pushed the pace beyond our comfort level. This was a rare occasion, but when going independent, you’re always in charge of the pace.)
Pha Ngeun is a physically challenging hike split into two sections. It takes 30–60 minutes to reach the first viewpoint depending on your pace, and about the same again to the top.
The total elevation gain to the top viewpoint is around 450 metres. The path is steep most of the way, but in the most difficult sections there is bamboo railing to hold onto.
In some sections of the trail there are loose and uneven rocks, which can make it a little trickier to descend – so take your time.
Before you go: tips for hiking Pha Ngeun
There are a few things you should be aware of before attempting to hike Pha Ngeun:
- Wear suitable footwear for hiking. The terrain isn’t too bad on the trail, but it gets quite dusty and it’s easy to slip. Boots will also make it much easier to scramble over those loose rocky sections. It’s doable in trainers, but don’t attempt it in flip flops. Check out our guide to the best hiking boots for travel for some ideas.
- Avoid hiking at the hottest time of the day – I made this mistake myself. The early afternoon heat was overpowering and made it much more difficult. A great time to go would be at the earliest morning light, as the temperature will be cooler and you’ll be able to see the hot air balloons flying above. There will also be fewer people around, making for a more tranquil hike.
- Bring plenty of water. You can buy bottles in a shop at the trailhead and again at the viewpoints, but there is a big price markup (10,000 kip for a small bottle). I took three litres, which barely lasted until the end. Make sure you keep your empty bottles though – it’s always sad to see them littered along the trail.
- Stop for plenty of breaks along the way, especially if you’re hiking in hot weather.
- You should hike with a partner if you don’t take a guided tour. I hiked it solo myself, which I regretted once I was on the trail. While I didn’t come to any harm, I was wracked with worry that I would be in trouble if something happened. If you slip and get injured it could be a long time before any help arrives.
- If the full hike sounds too difficult, it’s well worth doing just the first section to the lower viewpoint. It offers a beautiful panorama of the surrounding landscape.
- Go to the toilet before you go. There aren’t any facilities once you’re on the trail.
How to get to Pha Ngeun
Pha Ngeun is around 4 kilometres to the west of Vang Vieng town centre. I actually opted to walk there, but I wouldn’t blame you for choosing another way. You can hire bicycles or mopeds from shops along the town’s main road.
To reach the trailhead, you first need to cross the Nam Song river toll bridge on the south-west side of Vang Vieng. This costs 4,000 kip on foot, or 6,000 kip on a bike. Once you’re across, walk around the corner to the main west-bound road and it’s then a further 3 kilometres straight to the starting point.
When you arrive, you will need to pay a fee of 10,000 kip to enter the trail. There’s a small shop in case you need any supplies.
My Vang Vieng hiking experience
Lisa was bedridden recovering from illness after accidentally swallowing river water on our excursion the previous day. After looking after her through the morning, she insisted I got out and did something in the afternoon. I decided to try the Pha Ngeun hike; it was the only time on our travels I’d hiked without her.
I soon found my way across the toll bridge and onto the long straight road to the trailhead, but regretted my decision not to hire a bike. Miraculously, a young couple on an ATV dune buggy came to my rescue! Seeing my plight, they stopped and offered me a lift. I obliged, and enjoyed a five-minute white-knuckle ride clinging onto the back.
After they dropped me off, I followed a short track away from the main road that led to the starting point, paid the entry fee and set off.
I was quickly relieved that I had brought my boots and walking poles, for two reasons: 1, the slippery rocks, and 2, snakes. I didn’t see any of the latter, but I knew it was possible, and I was happy to have my feet and ankles protected.
It was a tough slog to reach the first viewpoint, and I was drenched in sweat when I made it, with my water supply vastly diminished. But the exertion was worth it. From the hut across a small ridge I could see to the horizon in all directions. Beautiful.
A sign informed me it would be another 450 metres to the higher viewpoint. In the searing heat, like many other hikers I’d passed, I decided to call it a day and head back down. I was satisfied with what I’d seen, and wanted to get back to Lisa.
I didn’t get so lucky on the return trip, and walked the long road back to town. Somehow on my return, I looked in worse shape than Lisa in her sickbed. Nothing that an ice-cold Beerlao couldn’t fix, though.
How to get to Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is located halfway between Luang Prabang and Vientiane on the popular backpacker route through Laos. It’s easy to reach from either direction by bus or van.
We arrived from Luang Prabang by minivan transfer, which cost 120,000 kip booked through our hostel. We travelled on to Vientiane afterwards, where similar services were advertised going in the opposite direction.
Further reading on Laos
For more inspiration in planning your travel through Laos, read some of our other articles:
- Everything you need to know about the slow boat to Luang Prabang
- The Luang Prabang bar rebuilding a flood-damaged village
- COPE Visitor Centre, Vientiane: legacy of war in Laos
- Things to do in Savannakhet: a two-day itinerary
- Five great places to eat in Savannakhet, Laos
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