The New Vang Vieng
Replies: 42 - Last Post: Feb 18, 2013 4:05 PM Last Post By: Vientianeboy
Nov 11, 2012 8:07 PM
The New Vang ViengThe Truth about Vang Vieng
I arrived in Vang Vieng, 2 weeks ago to celebrate my step grand-daughter's first birthday. She was born at the Vang Vieng hospital of Australian and Lao/Canadian parents. This is my 4th visit to Vang Vieng and my Aussie partner and I plan to spend 2-3 months here every year, because we like the place and the people so much.
The World Press is full of stories, often inaccurate, about deaths and excess. So here's my candid view on Vang Vieng. For many years Vang Vieng has been on the backpackers' trail as a place to “Party” and go Tubing. There have been dozens of avoidable deaths caused by misadventure, often due to excess of booze and drugs.
Part of the beauty of Lao is the lack of need for rules, because Lao family values and their Buddhist faith makes them unnecessary. Lao people practise a lifestyle that we in the Western world lost over 30 years ago and for which many of us yearn for a return to the good old days. Lao kids are loved and nurtured and they can still play in the dirt. There is no Nanny State here. Old Peoples' Homes don't exist. 3 or 4 generations live happily under the same roof. The concept of a Lao lout or hoon does not exist. If a kid goes off the rails, his family give him a thick ear and sorts the problem.
So, back to the Party scene. It was clear that the Western river-borne hoons did not conform to Lao's excellent social rules, so Lao's Communist Government stepped in on 30 August 2012 and closed every bar on the river, demolished every wooden structure, including the rope swing platforms, zip wire runs and all water slides, including the infamous “Death Slide” of YouTube fame. Contrary to some press reports, the “Party” on the River has NOT re-started. The Lao Government has removed 95% of the bar infrastructure, returning the Nam Song River to a near pristine state and making Tubing even more pleasurable. Yes, Tubing continues and it remains a safe and relaxing pastime for old and young, alike. Safe, as long as you are OK in the water and not completely bladdered. Sure, a couple of enterprising Lao folk are selling beer from cool-boxes. I confess to enjoying a cold one, whilst I drift gently down the stunning river, making sure the spectacular Karst mountain scenery has not changed since the last time I tubed down.
As far as policing is concerned, nothing much has changed. Possession of drugs or sleeping with a Lao woman is against the law in Lao and you risk a fine or jail. Your passport will not be returned until you pay your fine. Simple, straightforward rules, rigorously enforced. If you do either, then you may have to face the consequences.
The most unwelcome consequence of the Lao Government's action and our irresponsible Western Press' desire for a “Story” is a massive reduction in Tourism. Most sane and sensible people would agree it is a good thing the Old Party is over, but the New Vang Vieng needs to build on sustainable Tourism centred around the other stuff that's always been here. Truly outstanding scenery means Vang Vieng is great for hiking, biking, motorbiking, climbing, kayaking, tubing and even ballooning. You won't get a trip in a balloon for $80 anywhere else on the planet. Vang Vieng has 120 guest houses, ranging from clean backpacker places, starting at $5 a night for 2 people up to posh hotels with river view balconies and aircon, starting at $30 a night for a double room. There must be 40 great restaurants and bars in town, catering for all tastes. “Friends” bars, an Irish bar, an Aussie bar, a French restaurant, Korean BBQ's, a Luang Prabang bakery, an Organic Farm Cafe and lots of little local Lao restaurants and street stalls, where a hearty fried rice or noodle meal will set you back $1 and wash it down with a Beer Lao, a superbly crafted lager beer at $1.20 for a big pint bottle to share with friends. Massage and beauty parlours, spas, clothes shops, craft shops, etc etc Vang Vieng has got the lot. You can only withdraw 1 Million Kip ($120) at a time from the ATM's, but as you can see, it's hard to spend that much.
But, here's the rub. Tourism is down to 30% of last year's levels. I went tubing late in the day and my hand was numbered 114, showing the number of tubers that day. The tube man told me last year that I would have been number 400. Odd restaurants/bars and hotels are doing OK, but most will tell you trade is down 70%. This translates directly into lost jobs. The Lao Government's action was not confined to the River. Many businesses had encroached into the footpath space by the roadside, so they have had to bear the expense of pulling back their frontage and even roof structures to the official planning line. Eventually this will “beautify” Vang Vieng. Businesses are really hurting and so are every local family in Vang Vieng. They won't starve because they are a nation of brilliant subsistence farmers and tasty, healthy veggies abound. However, they need our business. Posh tourism is less affected, but Vang Vieng could use more flashpackers. The place is a whole load nicer for NOT having scantily clad, drunken louts, sporting obscene body paint messages. I cannot finish without an impassioned plea to the Party crowd. You are still most welcome in Vang Vieng, but please play by the Lao rules and you'll have a cracking time. My 20-30 year old kids and their partners are joining us in Vang Vieng for Xmas. They'll have a blast. Great food, a few beers and loads to see and do.
The best thing I ever did as a father was to encourage them to take a Gap Year at age 18 between school and university. I sent them off as boys with backpacks and they came back as Men. They quickly learnt to find their own food and room, make their own travel arrangements, cope with officialdom, work to fund their travel and learn to live within their means. They also learnt to respect other people's cultures and how to eat and drink sensibly. They are no angels, but they benefited massively from travel in SE Asia, particularly. I encourage all parents to support their kids in travelling. I can recommend the “University” of Lao PDR for teaching respect and family values and there's no finer place than the little town of Vang Vieng.
Personal Observations of Vang Vieng, Lao PDR by Brian Twigger, English Tourist
12 November 2012
Nov 11, 2012 10:08 PM
1"There is no Nanny State here"
You are kidding? You should have been in Vientiane during ASEM.
"But, here's the rub. Tourism is down to 30% of last year's levels. "
The owner of the Aussie Bar states that his figures are 5% up on those of last year.
Nov 11, 2012 10:55 PM
Nov 11, 2012 11:33 PM
Nov 11, 2012 11:57 PM
Nov 12, 2012 3:02 AM
Thanks a lot. Very welcome post!
Nov 12, 2012 3:44 AM
Nov 12, 2012 4:21 AM
7Brian, thank you for taking the time to write a first hand account of what has been heretofore a black eye in Laos. It is sad that western tourists come here dragging along their drugs and hedonism to SE Asian countries that have long known how to discreetly indulge in the pleasures of life without mawkish theater I have never been to VV, but as a long time resident of Cambodia, who is married to a Cambodian I welcome such views. Foreigners should come to Asia to learn about Asia and go to New York, London or Paris to become hip buffoons. There are genuine problems here and fishing out a drunken cadaver from a river is not one of them.
Nov 12, 2012 5:08 AM
Nov 12, 2012 1:25 PM
Nov 12, 2012 4:52 PM
Nov 12, 2012 8:43 PM
11In response to #1 Vientianeboy.
I note your "Seniority" on this Forum. 3,000 posts to my 3!
Sadly, the occasional post you make that is of use to Travellers is obscured by a plethora of inane, self-gratifying banter with a handful of other "over-regular" contributors.
I am also sad that you were my first reply to my second ever attempt to provide Fellow Travellers with reliable, useful and usable information.
In answer to your fallacious comments:
1. I repeat Lao is NOT a Nanny State.
Lao may be an Authoritarian State, who by all accounts, hosted a recent successful International conference and afforded their VIP Overseas Visitors the security they would have received, had it had been hosted in Europe, but it is not a Nanny State. A Nanny State over-regulates it's Citizens. For example, many Australians break the law if their cats are not shut in at night and the notoriously wacky EU rules that tried to ban the sale of bananas and cucumbers that were too curvy!
Too many so-called First World folk expect their Governments to sort out every minute aspect of their lives. Lao people sort out their issues within their families. I repeat my respect for my own limited experience of the Lao Government.
2. It is an open secret in VV that Steve will accept any reasonable offer for the Aussie Bar, so you would not expect Steve to tell you trade is down.
So, come on VB and your mates, please up your game.
Less posts and better quality.
I assume you reside in Vientiane. I'd love to read useful posts about the Big City.
This will be my last reply on this Forum to you, but when you visit Vang Vieng, I will gladly buy you a beer at one of the dozens of bars/restaurants, where that simple friendly act will have doubled their trade for the day.
I hope my original post encourages Travellers, old and young, to visit and enjoy the New Vang Vieng.
Nov 12, 2012 10:54 PM
Nov 13, 2012 3:36 AM
13Hi #11. I suspect that the most welcome resurgence in tourism in Myanmar has had no effect whatsoever on VV.
VV has been hit by a double whammy. Up-market tourists are put off because all the guide books still say the place is heaving with Party Animals, whilst the Lao Govt River Bar Closures has made it so much more appealing for this group of tourists. The biggest shortfall of tourists is Backpackers, who are staying away because they think there's no Tubing and no Party. Tubing continues and there's a different kind of Party, which will hopefully result in fewer bodybags being sent back home.
So, I think no link whatsoever with Myanmar's tourism growth, other than it was a change of political scene and positive journalism about it that made Myanmar a place to go. Hopefully, the word will also spread that the New Vang Vieng is a great place for Backpackers and Flashpackers, alike.
PS I'd like to visit the new Myanmar myself, soon. Maybe, I can be more forthright when I've been there.
PPS It's only a short ride from Cambodia to VV! Give it a go, soon.
Nov 13, 2012 3:48 PM
14Brian, how long have you lived in Lao? Not long if at all I suspect.
Not a nanny state? Look at the content of the local English language newspaper.
Secondly look at the road closures and the AK47 armed guards stationed around EVERY hotel last week during ASEM. Thirdly look at the active discouragement of dissent and contrasting opinions. I think you don't know what you are posting about.
Steve made it quite clear that he is happy in his new location. He has no intention of selling.
(0 star Hotel)
From US$44.03 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$142.16 per night
(0 star Hotel)
From US$24.77 per night