Jan 20 2013

Vang Vieng: What’s going on?

Published by at 4:44 am under Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng was until recently known as the party mecca of the Southeast Asian backpacker trail, with thousands of youngsters flocking to the central Lao town for unlimited drinking, dancing and tubing down the Nam Song. But all that changed in August last year when government authorities stepped in to shut down the bars lining the river which were seen as the primary cause of so many of the ills befalling the town.

The party may be over, but the scenery is as wonderful as ever in Vang Vieng

The party may be over, but the scenery is as wonderful as ever in Vang Vieng

Although exact figures are hard to come by and it depends on who you talk to, up to 22 people died on the river last year and many more were injured. The government action was so swift that it caught many travellers by surprise — it’s not clear what finally triggered the action, though it’s possible media reports or even pressure from the embassies having to deal with the dead played a role. Now, word has well and truly spread throughout the gap-year community and a shift has occurred in the demographic of people visiting this idyllic town set among some of the most stunning karst scenery in Southeast Asia.

Taking a walk around Vang Vieng now is a much different story to that of just six months ago. You’ll rarely meet a drunk person stumbling the streets during daylight hours whereas in days gone by, hundreds of people would exit the river intoxicated, either bikini-clad or shirtless, and continue to kick on in one of the town’s many bars. That has all stopped. Truth be told, you’ll rarely see a bikini at all except on the river itself now.

Tubing down the Nam Song is still an activity offered, but it’s not the same as it was. The bars are gone and it’s more a leisurely paddle down the river with a bunch of friends rather than a party of epic proportions.

In town, things have also changed. There are no longer hundreds of 18 to 24 year olds wandering the streets, hooting and screaming and generally having the time of their lives. Now the streets are filled with travellers who in years gone by shot through to Luang Prabang after deciding that Vang Vieng was not the scene for them — they’re now staying for three or four nights and soaking up the serenity. Large groups of Asian tourists are also arriving to savour the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside. And what of the bar scene?

Families go about their business in Vang Vieng despite the tourist masses

Families go about their business in Vang Vieng despite the tourist masses.

Bars are now usually closed at midnight. Those that choose not to close are forced to turn down the music and the atmosphere is much more subdued than in years gone by. People are gathering to share a few beers, shoot some pool and listen to some music, but they’re not going overboard and they’re not interfering with the enjoyment of other guests by being rowdy.

So what is the vibe like in Vang Vieng right now? It’s laidback, with the option to get out into the countryside to some caves, go rock climbing, paddle down the river in a tube or kayak or simply rent a bicycle and get lost on one of the many dirt roads around town. If you want to get drunk with your mates, well you could do that too, but you won’t be doing it in a bikini or without a shirt on and you won’t be partying all night long.

Set on the banks of the Nam Song, Vang Vieng is a wonderful place to relax once again

Set on the banks of the Nam Song, Vang Vieng is a wonderful place to relax once again.

Vang Vieng is returning to its roots as a place where people came to chill out, have a couple of beers and take in the natural beauty of the surrounding area. If you were tossing up over whether to come or not because of Vang Vieng’s reputation, don’t deliberate any longer. Vang Vieng is now back on the map as a top spot for those seeking to experience the natural beauty of Laos and interact with the local people. But for those seeking a serious party — the party is over.

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24 responses so far

24 Responses to “Vang Vieng: What’s going on?”

  1. Caroon 20 Jan 2013 at 7:23 am

    This is so amazing. I’ve never been for the very reason that it seemed to be an awful scene. So happy to see government taking a stance against disrespect caused by tourists. If only more communities would take notice and do the same! It certainly is a story full of hope.

  2. Mariaon 20 Jan 2013 at 8:58 am

    The scenery is unbelievable. I just love the combination of water and high hills. Great pictures.

  3. Peteron 20 Jan 2013 at 9:22 am

    We were there in late December & went tubing which was a nice relaxing 2 hours then a hot air balloon ride. There are no drunken knobs about & the town is worth visiting now. Let’s keep it that way. if you want to get drunk & be a dickhead in Asia, Bali or Phuket is for you.

  4. Stefon 20 Jan 2013 at 10:47 am

    Great news!

  5. Clifford Terryon 21 Jan 2013 at 2:10 am

    I have been to Vang Vieng twice and other than the kayaking down the river and exploring the caves, it was my least favorite place to visit in Laos. Now maybe there is a reason to return there.

  6. david oggon 21 Jan 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Vang Vieng was a great place with many things on offer like treeking to waterfalls, exploring caves, ballooning, and generally renting a bike and seeing the surrounding countryside. Tubing down the river was great and the occasional swing, or shute into the river but as a long time traveller i was disgusted with the behaviour of the younger age group behaving like ***holes. It sounds like a great place since they closed the party scene, but why not bring a few bars back with safety controlled swings etc but keep the drugs and drunks away

  7. gordon greyon 21 Jan 2013 at 4:52 pm

    what a great thing. i think it had to do more with media reports and the subsequent world approbation towards the regime in Lao for letting it to continue to happen. the story went in the press that those that had the illegal bars had their passports held ransom for $600. i would have done one better and imprisoned every last one of them selling the drugs and advertising to do so. imprison and then tell them that they would be going on trial and then let them stew and after a while let the perps know that they could easily leave, never to come back but that they would have to come up with $100000, each. (sounds fair enough considering the death penalty in other places for same, such as Malaysia.) The Lao could have made a lot of money to clean the area up, and distribute to the affected and good citizens, there. as far as those that died annually they had nobody to blame but themselves (i have no mercy or compassion for them) and fortunately we can file those passings under normal Darwinian Evolution that the planet needs to survive (and ensure a comfort level for the rest of us.)

  8. gordon greyon 21 Jan 2013 at 11:20 pm

    added . . . . this particularly affected me, pesonally, since i have a history with Lao, in a somewhat connected and also peripheral way having been in the general area 43 years earlier. such events in life gives one pause to ponder how in so many ways people are more like amoebas, or shrimp, bees or worker drones, somewhere on the food chain replicating and replicating, some good, mostly, and some bad, unfortunately and we end with sure knowledge that the madness will eventually come to an end.

  9. Jameson 22 Jan 2013 at 1:21 am

    Great news, now one can enjoy this beautiful place, with out all the drunken yobs spoiling it. Hopefully the TV screens in the bars playing endless loops of Friends have gone as well!

  10. Grahamon 22 Jan 2013 at 3:25 am

    Vang Vieng was a town of legend. For the older generation here – you had the hippy trail of the 60s and 70s, India of the 80s, Thailand of the 90s. There is always likely to be a Sodom and Gomorrah somewhere in the World, and for our generation, Vang Vieng was it. Its ridiculous to hate the fact it existed. To have one lawless place containing that facet of the human experience keeps it away from the civilized world. I am not surprised to see it go, nor am I disappointed. The transience of such a place is necessary to the folklore surrounding it. Its a place about which myths are created. Now, stories will be finessed for the campfire, and post-youths will enjoy the late-night reminiscing of a shared experience, safe in the knowledge that unless you were there, you will never really know which are true and which are embroidered. People will shake their heads in disbelief at stories so wild to be almost unbelievable. The excitement of a group of new friends overloading a tuk tuk en route to the river. Camaraderie high, beer in hand. Stripped almost naked for this pagan ritual – board shorts or bikinis and a waterproof wallet on a lanyard containing a few crumpled notes, cigarettes, and possibly a camera. Nothing else would survive. The sounds of music gradually increase – drawing the worshippers in. It is an otherworldly place. The risk is part of the adventure. Buckets of alcohol for 50p or free during happy hour, spiked with a shot of caffeinated energy drink (rumored to be illegal in the West as it contained something similar to amphetamine). Drugs menus offering happy shakes, happy pizzas, a chance at happiness. A murky shallow dirty river with jagged spikey rocks, strung with cobbled together swings, and zip lines, and the knowledge that the nearest proper hospital is in Thailand. Body paint, public sex, bandaged superating limbs from previous trips – battle scars to be worn with pride. Take your life by the balls and live it. The brief downtime as you drift downriver and lose yourself in the karst mountains, until the next waterbottle on a rope lands by your side, with the offer to pull you in for more and more. The slightly quicker paddle as you feebly try to make good on your promise to return the tube to the town before sundown, but no worries, a small child is on hand and he will take it off your hands. The island is vibrating to the sound of bass music, the fires are lit, the party continues. And when it all ends, if it ends, and the sun rises – the heavenly sight of baguette stands stretching into the distance lining your stumble to an all night cafe showing Family Guy and The Simpsons on loop. Then, a short ride to the fabled Blue Lagoon to wash away your sins, before you commit new ones.

    I don’t feel sorry for the people of Vang Vieng. The money and good times flowed for them. The police were paid off, the villagers were rich. The only law that was reliably prosecuted in that town was “No sleeping with the locals”. And people respected that. Prostitution ruins the free love vibe. I only feel sorry for those travelers that got lost out there. The ones that lost touch with reality and couldn’t leave. And the ones that tragically never made it home. At the going down of the sun before parties to come, and in the morning after, we should remember them.

  11. narongon 22 Jan 2013 at 5:25 am

    Haleluja….Laos has been cured of its main cancer, let’s hope they forthwith reign in Siphandon a bit also……

  12. gordon greyon 22 Jan 2013 at 11:32 am

    The Lao people are simple and poor but smarter than a lot of other more affluent westerners. In Vientiane the law about sex between foreigner and Lao is more relaxed. In the hinterlands it is enforced more rigorously, but for sure it was rigidly enforced in Vang Vieng for more than extracting money from foreigners. (The fine is upward to $5000 USD.) The people there understood that any contact between the two societies – Western and Lao – would indelibly sully and taint future generations for all time with the dumbing down of the gene pool by the dregs, and bottom feeders of other societies; the very visitors they were able to assess as not only being unworthy but a real fright for the present in what to expect in any offspring forthcoming, but more importantly for future evolution. Smart people, the Lao.

  13. Reubenon 22 Jan 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I was just there last June, and things have changed so much since then! Never realised I would be a witness to the end of an era in Vang Vieng. Will definitely go there again in the future.

  14. gordon greyon 23 Jan 2013 at 12:35 am

    It’s the duty of all societies to wipe these scurvies and infestations off the map whenever they crop up, at every occurence.

    The regents decided to rid their area of this blight, to demob with swiftness, using old Soviet helicopters and loud speakers, capital police in order to de-rank the local corrupt ones and without notice and with dispatch, and thus with surprise brought a modicum of order that any society of healthy and normal people aspire to. What a hoot. The few bars remaining open are enforced on a noise regulation! Right on them!

    People want clean and nice environments for their children in order to ensure and to give to them a good grounding in making decisions in their lifetimes as to the difference between right and wrong. These children wiill do the same for their children.

    ‘The keenest way to judge a society is by the way it treats its children’ . . . . . Nelson Mandela

  15. Daveon 23 Jan 2013 at 3:16 am

    What an idiotic comment from Graham. There’s nothing legend about a bunch of immature, privileged a**holes getting drunk and acting like idiots while s***ting on the local culture. Give me a break.

  16. gordon greyon 27 Jan 2013 at 3:34 am

    Because of years of self-abuse (and sometimes not that long a period of time must elapse) often when empty, drug-addlled heads have nothing in rebuttal of a good statement to make in support of a position – (What position? Drugs, partying, mayhem and subsequent accidents and deaths attribute to positions?) – they will . . . . aver to ad hominem pabulum. Ths is a tactic common to those who rapidly change ‘positions’ (the word is used extremely loosely wthin this context; of anyone taking a position who is sponsored by those drugs) since they have nothing to say in response, as noted. To extol partying and drugs and bothersome behavior as virtuous and legendary, on and on ad infinitum is to babble, to be locquacious; a symptom of the burnout case.
    For example, take 2 people debating abortion. The one says to the other, “Of course you are against abortion, because you are a priest.” This is an ad hominem statement, As well, if you have nothing good to say then you can revert to calling others names, such as racists or hateful, as in being accusatory. The ad hominem is compounded by saying it is ridiculous to . . . hate. (Of course it is; empirically we all know that.) Specifically, the thrust is for the first part in being the obvious ad hominem of calling someone hateful, and then the added compound effect comes in with saying what is obvious to all that to hate is ridiculous; ergo, it is calling someone (or group) both ridiculous and hateful, doing duty all in one sentence. This is intelectually dishonest, corrupted and vacuous. This is common and something that thinking, sober individuals must deal with every day. In other words, think of fresh eggs . . . . . “This is your brain; (think of frying, fresh eggs) this your brain on drugs.” There lies the difference between being at the minimum, cursive, and then supposedly intelligent and educated, as opposed to being ‘smart’. The world is full of educated idiots.

  17. Finnon 25 Mar 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Gordon, nobody gives a toss

  18. chrison 14 Apr 2013 at 9:41 am

    Wow! I was surprised to see that Vang Vieng had gotten so out of order since my last visit. I was there like about a year before it got crazy. I remember being reminded of the old vibes of ko pan gan from Thailand, except it was all happening in a rather funky part of Laos.

    I actually went there twice, and noticed the development between trips. The last time i was there it was much busier with tourists, and i hadn’t visited since. I guess greed and word of mouth got the better of it. Still, i disagree with the folk that want it to be stripped bare again. I think it was cool with a few river bars, and i think that a drink and slide can still be done in a sensible and adult manner.

    I’m hoping that Vang Vieng can offer sensible travellers some variety because it’s a place that would be nice to linger longer. One or two bars, happy days, respect for the locals, it can all be done- Just tastefully:-)

  19. Return to Vang Vieng? « MontanaRonon 31 May 2013 at 1:30 am

    […] has come, though, in a report posted on a Travefish blog. It seems that last August, the Lao authorities stepped in and closed the bars lining the area of […]

  20. Armandoon 20 Jun 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I have been 3 times at Vang Vieng and enjoyed every time the beauty of the place. I NOT enjoyed the poor and disgusting behavior of young drunk and druged western travellers, men and women, especially from the UK and Australia. Shouting and singing all night, and no respect to other people’s needs of sleeping in the night.

    I am happy that all this has been stopped, it was simply too much and also an affront towards the local Lao people. The so called “backpackers” are sometimes very rude and respectless folks.

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  23. Ghostlandon 20 Jul 2013 at 9:59 pm

    I love drugs!!! I hate this news!!!!

  24. Rhondaon 23 Aug 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Glad to hear it…. it’s been a few years since i was there but even then the partying and bad behavior was growing tiresome. The town is a place of such extraordinary natural beauty, it was a shame what it was becoming. Good for the officials for making it an outdoor paradise with plenty to do but without the over the top craziness.

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