Here's a link to a story by AP writer Denis Gray about a 2001 visit to Vang Vieng. While the story is somewhat dated, its conclusion — that Vang Vieng is doomed — is not far off the mark in my opinion.
"For some, Vang Vieng is the first stop on a touristic opium trail which weaves through Luang Prabang and ends at Muang Sing in northwestern Laos. But most come to savor the atmosphere of old Asia rapidly vanishing in much of the continent, and probably also doomed in Vang Vieng."
Anyone who visited Vang Vieng before it’s rapid rise in popularity would hardly recognise the place today. Despite independent travellers often bad-mouthing package tourists for the “damage” they do to destinations, in the case of Vang Vieng, the damage has been wrought almost entirely by these very backpackers and independent travellers.
Why is it that when people travel across the world they end up demanding banana pancakes, internet access, TV (we all know about the Friends cafes in Vang Vieng) and iPod download cafes?
Thoughts anyone? For those who've been to Vang Vieng -- would you have prefered it without the panckes, pizza and cafes? -- why? why not?
#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,710
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I know older Asians who travel halfway across the world to London and Paris and only want to eat "nasi lemak" (a kind of Malay coconut rice), or in Indian and Chinese restaurants. I usually excuse them for their ignorance, due to their age — but increasingly throughout the backpacker trail, I'm starting to think it's not an age thing, but a human thing. Even/especially to 18 year old topless male backpackers. I blame it first on the Lonely Planet, for creating a subculture of travel so contrived and smug it ceases to be involved or engaged. Then I don't know what to think at all.
I was in Vang Vieng in December, and... ran away from it in fear. Was it beautiful? Hell, yes, the scenery was great. But the hours and hours of Friends, the same food in similar (same same but different) venue, scared me. It works for some people who genuinely want to 'recreate' a piece of 'home, everwherever they are. I left because I couldn't find a single good thing to eat, which wasn't watered down and modified for them. To answer your question, I would have MUCH preferred Vang Vieng with a decent plate of noodles and rice (I couldn't find any), with or without the pancakes and pizzas. I honestly have no idea why development for Vang Vieng has to be this way; I mean I've been to my fair share of "touristy" places in the developing world, but none of them have been at all like what Vang Vieng is.
Gosh I must be so undemanding.
I (and the missus) really enjoyed Vang Vieng. We never ate on Pizza Street, and we never watched [heaven forbid] a single TV screen. We spent 4 nights there, the guest house was fine (there's loads), and inexpensive. The bikes for hire were in good condition. Within minutes on the bike you were in the beautiful countryside. As well as cycling there were loads of other activities, eg tubing, caving and kayaking. None of which we did because it was so relaxing just sat down by the river. We could easily have stayed a week longer.
We found V V much more relaxing than either Vientiane or LP, the latter being spoiled by 1000s of mopeds, and foreign tour groups by the plenty.
Anybody reading, do go to V V, but don't loiter on Pizza Street or park yer bum in front of a TV set! Get out and about, and do go to the MayLyn G/H and chew the fat with the boss-man over a couple of beers and lunch.
#3 LancasterLad has been a member since 13/9/2006. Posts: 62
I am in the 'wish I was here 5 yrs ago' category.
Great landscape, the tubing was fun but I felt that too was spoiled by all the beer stops, with the continual 'Beer Lao' enticements and loud crap music making the 2 1/2 hour 4 km experience a little tedious. I managed to survive nearly 11 weeks with out eating a banana pancake and only gave in to the pizza urge once, though not in VV.
I loved the seating in the cafes but hated the blaring TV's. I would have preferred good music and the opportunity to converse without shouting. Deciding where to eat, based on your preference for Friends or The Simpsons seems bizarre to me. We only ate on Pizza St once (once was enough). Le Jardin Organique restaurant was such a different experience.
Also stayed at Maylyn, much nicer than the other side of the river.
#4 marianwarren has been a member since 12/3/2006. Posts: 270
Sorry - Futurama not Simpsons. All rubbish!
#5 marianwarren has been a member since 12/3/2006. Posts: 270
Skinnylatte, I think you’ve slightly missed the point, when ‘Older Asians’ visit London they’re thrown into a multi-cultural city. The Asian restaurants in London are the outcome of what were initially set up as back street eating houses to feed the migrant workers who arrived here in the 1940s, 50s & 60s. The situation we have in VV are eastern conceptions of what we require as western tourists, before you know it you‘ll find a McDonalds springing up on some corner…. ;-)
I find it somewhat bemusing that people 'Travel' thousands of miles to do what they do at home. I can understand having a 'cushion' but to turn whole places into cushions defeats the object of the travel in my humble opinion.
I’ll probably still go to Vang Vieng and take the ’lancasterlad' and 'marianwarren' option.
I remember my first time abroad, I was 15years old and went to Benidorm in 1977, I was so much looking forward to seeing something different, experiencing some new culture; you can imaging my utter disappointment when we were met with Fish & Chips and the ubiquitous Red Lion Pubs around town.................
I'm trying to decide if I have anything significant to add to what's already been written. The answer is probably no, but here I am typing away anyway.
I like Vang Vieng. No one place can be all things to all people, but the joy of a place like Vang Vieng is that you can make what you want of it. If you are looking for a cheap stay with inexpensive rooms, your favorite TV shows and copious amounts of Beer Lao, it's available. But for just a little effort, you can find that out-of-the-way place with nothing but quiet and all of the scenery Vang Vieng has to offer (along with copious amounts of Beer Lao). There's tubing, caving, mountain biking, and relaxing; meals at the organic cafe, and opportunities to volunteer. There is bargaining with folks in market stalls that barely speak Lao. I wish I were there right now.
Plus, if you've been on the road for awhile, a pizza can really be something special. I've often thought that I just missed out by five years or so when I've been somewhere - Prague, Maui, Bali, Vang Vieng - but they are still amazing places and I'm glad I went.
Finally, Marian, I like "Futurama". Can we still be friends?
While I agree that you can escape the tackiness of the mian street and while I agree that the setting and surroundings of VV are stunning I couldn't helped but be shocked by this place. In all my days of travelling I have never come across anywhere quite like it! Inappropriate development has been disasterously bad for the setting of the town, the streets are dirty and there is barely a tree anywhere in town.
I also sensed a money grabbing attitude which okay is understandable to a point but certainly was not so apparent elsewhere in Laos. The scenery is world class and I would love to see the place be developed more sensitively, sustainably and with respect to the magnificance of its landscapes.
The town will implode if it keeps going the way it is going!
#8 spy has been a member since 11/1/2007. Posts: 14
Spy - you can probably say similarish things about many places round the globe. I was in Marrakesh last week which is a super vibrant place which tests all your senses. But it is being spoilt by the modern world and to some extent we all contribute to it.
#9 LancasterLad has been a member since 13/9/2006. Posts: 62
steviej: well.. okay so i'm a fussy nitpicking Asian traveller who hates a place when the food isn't good enough for me — in my warped little food-obsessed Asian head, if an Asian town screws up its food and can't even produce an edible plate of noodles (the ones everyone else in that country can), then the end is nigh and i gotta leave asap.. vang vieng left me with a bitter taste in my mouth that i can't even begin to describe. i've described it as 'khao san.. with a view', but hey, some people really like khao san, the way some people like vang vieng, whereas both of these are places i run from after topping out at a max of 2 hours in each place.
Yo skinny, I wouldn't say your nit picking, it's a very valid point, as you said, "...for creating a subculture of travel so contrived and smug it ceases to be involved or engaged...". and that's what I find so bemusing as mentioned before.
Lancaster lad- take your point but I think VV is pretty unique in how it has grown so quickly. If reports are true then there was nothing there 10 years ago except a few houses and views to the river and mountains.
It is just a shame that it has developed so quickly and without any sense of planning. Unlike other places it was a bit of blank canvas and in my opinion it is off to a very bad start and could get worse if they keep turning the back on the views, building crappy high rise hotels and not bother to put any trees or anything to creat a sense of place.
I know what you mean about other places and tourism pressure but there is nowhere I have been that is quite like VV. Hopefully the locals or gov officials will get their act together soon and work on a masterplan or some sort of planning guidelines. The place has loads of potential to improve as a great tourist destination that improves the economy and standard of living of the locals but it will fall short of potential if it keeps on as it is. Places evolve and this place could be amazing and with a vibrant tourist economy if it was a bit more forward looking!
#12 spy has been a member since 11/1/2007. Posts: 14
Fortunately there are other places in Laos which remain completely "unspoilt", eg Muang Ngoi. Travellers wishing to avoid the topless male/pizza eating/Friends watching/iPod downloading crowd can easily do this. The challenge is how to avoid the other places going the same way as VV
#13 GussieG has been a member since 9/9/2006. Posts: 24