Tag: Vang Vieng

If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em!

So after my rather unfavorable review of the ridiculousness that is Vang Vieng in the previous post, I have to tell you that Ted and I joined the British and Aussie youngsters for a day of party tubing on the river, and it was really damn fun. After renting our tubes and tuk-tuking several miles upriver from town, we arrived at the launch point with dozens of fellow tubers, ready to see what this debauchery was all about.

Tubing Tuk-Tuk

If you were to plop into your tube and cruise straight back to town, it wouldn’t take you more than an hour or so – especially on the day we set out as the river was particularly high due to recent rains. However, no one heads straight back to town because the river is lined with dozens of hilariously entertaining bars that vie for your attention and business. As you float down the river, bar employees literally throw you a rope and pull you in to come visit their establishment. Once on shore, there are a variety of drinking-themed games and loud music that distract people for hours. Some bars have water slides, rope swings, and other potentially dangerous activities for young people who have been drinking heavily, but the day we went they were mostly closed due to the high water level and a previous injury (a broken jaw) by a fellow traveler the day before.

The first of dozens of river-side bars

Party games at stop #2

A rather ambitious waterslide!

Ted and I managed to have a pretty hilarious time. We ran into lots of people from the Slow Boat cruise, and it doesn’t require too much convincing for us to have fun on a beautiful day with the primary activities being drinking cocktail buckets and floating down a river.

Cocktail bucket? Why yes!

Hanging with Slow Boat friends

From one bar to the next, beer in hand!

After a few different stops at the various riverside bars, we decided to call it a day and float ourselves back home before it got too dark. As soon as we set off from the last bar, we had the entire river to ourselves as the sun was going down. It was beautiful, it was serene, and it was hard to imagine the chaos that was going on behind us on the river. In our rather idyllic (and inebriated) state, we managed to miss the proper disembarkation point, and found ourselves hitching a ride back to town on a tuk-tuk waiting for clueless tubers like us.

Away from the bars, it's a beautiful and serene experience

Ted and I managed to get back, with both of our tubes, and in one piece. Many folks are not so lucky – the river claims lives and bones every year. We went on a day that the river was particularly high, and it’s no wonder that dumb drunk kids die there regularly. You’ve got respect that river, and most people don’t, and the rope swings, slides, and diving boards don’t help. Neither do the super-soakers filled with whiskey. In our transport to the river, we rode with folks who opted not to rent tubes at all – they were just going to swim or hold onto someone else’s tube to get back. On a raging river. In the dark. When they’ve been drinking. Not a great idea.

So though Vang Vieng is one of the most beautiful little spots we visited in Laos and we had a hilarious time tubing on the river, I can’t recommend it to too many people. It’s got a lot of potential, but until someone figures out how to attract a more appealing (and potentially more profitable) market of visitors, it’s destined to be a backpacker party town for years to come.

A Beautiful Sh*t Show

Please excuse my language, but there is no better way to talk to about the town of Vang Vieng. Set in central Laos, conveniently located halfway between the World Heritage City of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the country’s capital, Vang Vieng is beautifully situated on the banks of a tributary of the Mekong River and surrounded by picturesque mountains. The nearby area is dotted with dozens of caves that you can explore by yourself or as part of a group, and the river is a draw for rafters and tubers. Our hotel room had one of the best views of any we stayed in all year!

Views from our waterfront hotel

More hotel views

This all sounds quite lovely until I tell you that the average tourist to Vang Vieng is a 20-year-old British/Aussie kid on his gap year before university. We knew we were stopping at a party destination on the backpacker route, but we were kinda surprised to find the Cancun of Asia. The behavior of most backpackers was troubling at best, and downright obnoxious and appalling at its worst.

Vang Vieng must provide a huge percentage of BeerLao's business

When we first arrived, we ate dinner at a small restaurant on the main drag, both entertained and aghast by the steady stream of wet, drunken kids stumbling down the street. It was really disturbing to know that the local Lao people (a very laid back and warm people whose country only opened up to foreign tourism in 1988!) were witnessing this chaos everyday, and such behavior was the basis of their opinions of Westerners. I’ve lived in college towns all my life, and I understand that things get out of hand when people have been drinking excessively, but for a Lao teenager working in her parent’s simple noodle house to see girls stumbling in the streets in just their bikinis (considered inappropriate behavior in this conservative culture), couples groping each other publicly, and boisterous Aussies screaming obscenities at one another, it’s terrible and embarrassing that she knows little else of our culture but this behavior.

Ignored signs

When people aren’t drinking and tubing down the river (the most popular activity by far), they are camped up in the “TV Bars” nursing their hangovers (or contributing to them) and watching reruns of Friends and The Family Guy that are on continuous repeat at these establishments (yes, I did watch some Friends and rather enjoyed it…).

One of 1/2 a dozen Friends and Family Guy restaurants

I was completely overwhelmed by the vibe of this place, and we considered leaving the next day, but fortunately we decided to give it a chance. In the end, we were happy we did, however, I still feel bad for the poor old locals and the craziness they’ve had to endure as their quaint little river town has become the hub of backpacker debauchery in just a few short years.

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