Vang Vieng, An Argument Against Tourism?

I read in the New Zealand Herald, “If teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng.” It only took about five minutes to see why…

One of the river’s many treehouse-like bars

We rolled up to the small, dusty backpacker town for an overnight stop on the way to Vientiane, the Laos capital. Vang Vieng’s main event is the Nam Song River with its towering limestone karsts and noted inner-tubing-based party scene. I say noted… though I’m not sure those who experienced said party scene on the day we visited were noting much of anything.

Laos revelers try to wake their intoxicated friend

Still in the throes of celebrating the year 2554, the usually placid (and clean) river was crammed full with thousands of hard-partying Laotians and falangs. The party was in full swing when we floated up on our tubes in search of fried rice.

The wildest week of the whole year in Laos

Vang Vieng was fun I suppose, but I would rather have experienced the beautiful river and the town in a more organic setting. Each side of the tubing stretch of river is lined with bars and restaurants blaring Miley Cyrus and the Black Eyed Peas, and each place has rope swings, ziplines, water slides and other semi-dangerous attractions. Fun? In its own way. It’s a unique stop on the trail to be sure, but it doesn’t reflect Laos culture at all and was absolutely filled to the brim with drunk Westerners. It could be any river in any college town… except apparently mushrooms & marijuana in the form of “happy shakes” are legal and on the menu here.

Mud volleyball… Well, that’s one way to get deathly ill

To be fair to Vang Vieng, it does offer loads of other activities – climbing, hiking and visiting with the local tribes, but if I’m being honest, one day here was more than enough for me.

Up next… Vientiane!

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  • November 28, 2011

    Heard a few stories about this place, and they all fit your description very well, the people I know who have been there have all said it’s good fun. Guess it would be after a happy shake or two.

    • November 29, 2011

      Haha, yes I think the happy shakes must help a lot!

  • November 29, 2011

    I’m not sure it’d be my kind of place, since I don’t really drink and usually just feel awkward at parties… BUT, I’d still be willing to give it a try!

    • November 29, 2011

      Yes! It’s definitely a one time deal. I met folks who went and stayed forever, going down the river in tubes every day for weeks… no thanks!

  • November 29, 2011

    I would definitely hate this place. Thanks for the warning 😉

  • November 29, 2011

    Sounds intense!

  • November 29, 2011

    I don’t mind a good party but I heard some crazy stories about this place and I think I would skip it on my journey! Friend of mine visited and didn’t say good things. Even for a party animal like him it was too much!

    • December 01, 2011

      Unless you love Miley Cyrus and happy shakes, it might be a bit too much =)

  • November 30, 2011

    I was thinking of skipping Vang Vieng altogether when I get to Laos. The Miley Cyrus just sealed its fate… 🙂

  • December 02, 2011

    Strangely, it reminds me of Austin… Laos is so far away, probably a place I’ll never visit. I love your adventures!

  • December 02, 2011

    It has grown crazy since we were there. It was quite calm and placid. shame, I really loved it there. Don’t know if I would so much anymore

  • December 03, 2011

    I agree! I didn’t like Vang Veing – getting drunk and acting like an idiot isn’t high up on my list of things I enjoy doing

  • December 04, 2011

    We traveled in Laos in 1998 and back then Vang Vieng was a small, little visited community on a river… looks like things have changed considerably.

    • December 05, 2011

      I definitely think it used to be special and now is just a backpacking stoner-fest. Sad!

  • December 05, 2011

    It seems to have changed big time. When we were there, we also did some tubing. But there were only 2-3 bars. I had fun.

    I just wonder since when the “happy meals” are legal in Laos?

    • December 06, 2011

      I don’t even know if they’re legal, but they’re prevalent. Every bar along the river has happy options…

      • December 06, 2011

        I’m pretty sure that they are not legal. But there will be some police men, who will have a nice extra income. 😉

  • January 04, 2012
    Theodora

    I really like Vang Vieng, but I confess it’s a guilty pleasure. Got a funny taste in my mouth seeing young Buddhist monks crossing the river in the pull ferry, though…

  • November 27, 2012
    Jon

    Was htere in 1998 – a piece of tranquil paradise. Went back in 2001 and it was completely changed with pubs and loads of tourists. Now it sounds like hell on earth. Glad I have the memories..

  • December 05, 2012

    They’ve actually shut down most of the riverside bars recently. I guess those in charge finally tired of this particular brand of tourism.

    • December 05, 2012

      Interesting. Hadn’t heard that. Thank you for sharing!

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