I recently visited Nam Ou as part of my project in Laos working with the Luang Prabang Tourism Department. During the visit the village chiefs raised the issue that some visitors (a small minority) are causing concerns with the community regarding excess drinking and socialising (sexual conduct). They have asked me to asset them to spread the word about these issues and ask that people visiting respect their culture and their desire to keep Nam Ou a quiet relaxing place for visitors. Below is their approved statement.
Thanks you for your attention.
We would like to welcome you to our community of Nam Ou and proudly invite you to experience all that our village and the surrounding area has to offer.
If you are a first time visitor or a returning visitor we would like to ask that you respect our traditional culture and values and remember that this is our home.
Our community has conservative values and we ask visitors to enjoy the peaceful and relaxed environment and refrain from drinking in excess or disturbing other guests.
We have been benefiting from tourism since 1995 but we are aware that tourism will have an impact and influence on our young people so we would ask that you avoid public displays of affection. Nam Ou is a place for relaxation and a chance to enjoy the true essence of Lao.
#1 Oztravels has been a member since 7/3/2012. Posts: 7
There isn't the smallest chance that a group of "Village Elders" wrote that. That was written by a native English speaker using phrases that are organic to the English language.
Culture is not a static thing and can not be preserved unless you close yourself to the world. No culture is static. Two thousand years ago, if there was human settlement in "Nam Ou", you can bet the culture and language were markedly different from what they are today. That's the way the world works and has always worked. The idea that Laos (or anywhere else in the world) is going to open itself up to tourism but not be effected by it is ludicrous. 20 years ago public displays of affection were frowned upon here in Mukdahan, where I live. Last week I saw a couple of young kids sitting on a bench along the Mekong kissing each other. As I said in a post two days ago, the times they are a changin'.
The only way the people of the village can address behavior they find obnoxious or unacceptable is to address it when it occurs. The kind of people who are going to get drunk and feel each other up in Nam Ou are not likely to be reading travelfish anyway.
Where is Nam Ou Village/Town? I've been along the river but didn't know there was a location with that name (Ban Nam Ou?). Is this about Mung Ngoi - because when I was there I felt it was little crazy and the place had been totally taken over by tourism.
Madmac thank you for your observations many of which are interesting to debate however that is not the purpose of my post.
To clarify a few things. Firstly, I do not claim that the statement was written by the "Village Elders" it was actually written by me in consultation with them and as stated in my post approved by them.
Secondly, while I agree that nothing is 'static' as you put it (especially where tourism is concerned) many communities that deal with Community Based Tourism have successfully 'managed' development through many mechanisms including as you say "addressing it when it occurs'.
Irrespective, respecting someones culture should be part every travellers ethos. This is all the community is asking for. Thanks again for your comments.
#4 Oztravels has been a member since 7/3/2012. Posts: 7
"Irrespective, respecting someones culture should be part every travellers ethos."
Are you sure? I find generally that well meaning people who say this mean it only in the context of things like PDA or such, but don't completely think it through. For example, a few months back a Saudi women was executed for practicing witchcraft. Part of local culture (not to mention law). Should we respect that? Stoning adulterers is part of local culture. Should we respect that? Part of Nazi culture was killing people from ethnic groups they don't approve of. Should we have respected that.
Many travelfishers don't respect the fact that sex for sale is an organic part of most SEA culture (and has been for a very long time).
Gross misogyny is an organic part of many cultures in SEA. Should we respect that?
Some Laos villages (as explained here by a Laos expat poster we have) have such complex social rules and religious beliefs, that it's easy to accidentally cause offense. Should we respect that?
Now I'm not saying that everyone should go to Nam Ou and get drunk and fornicate in the streets. But there is pretty much an international norm of behavior and I am saying Nam Ou is probably going to have to get used to it or actively discourage people from coming (as happens so much in many Muslim dominated societies where standards are such that many people just don't want to go).
On a bigger scale I think Laos is trying to have tourist dollars come into Laos without having it effect cultural norms, and that is not possible. When people come, they bring their cultural norms with them, and slowly but inevitably, these alter the norms of a given location. In extreme cases, like VV, they alter them severely. If Nam Ou wishes to avoid that outcome, the village elders will have to be active in local ordnance stricters to prevent the creation of an environment where that thrives, or zone the behavior to a limited geograghic local.
Sorry if I seem harsh on this sort of thing - because in general I don't believe anyone should just trample over local culture unless that culture is violent, but I have noted here before that some backpackers think Laos is their own private playground (not referencing you here Oz) to be preserved in its poverty and culture and consider any non-cultural tourists to be anathema.
Yes I should have been more specific, thanks. Meaung Noi is correct.
#6 Oztravels has been a member since 7/3/2012. Posts: 7
Oztravels, well, I was there back in 2008 and the place was overrun. I didn't even consider it a village so much anymore as a collection of guesthouses, restaurants,and spas - a sort of little Vang Vieng if you will. I can't imagine that it has gotten any better, and I know that it was falling into place with the Laos party Trail (Don Dhet-Tad Lo-Vang Vieng - Mung Ngoi). I can see where the elders could be getting tired of it by now, but from what I experienced in 2008 I'd already thought it was too late for the village to go back to normal. A place like Nong Kiaow with a larger population and area was able to contain the impact better, while Mung Nogi just seemed to get completly absorbed into the tourism business - and I think that had a lot to do with people seeing their neighbors making some money off it and wanting to get in on the deal. I don't mean to call it 'capitalist greed', but I think they sold their village out a long time ago and should have thought about these things before it got as far as it did.
I hope your organization can help them turn back the clock a little bit, but I don't know how they'll be able to - with everyone competing for the tourist dollar with everyone else in the village you run the risk of those with the power pushing others out of the business, but in an attempt to 'quiet things down' allowing themselves to continue to reap the rewards. As well, I'm sure the locals have gotten used to the benefits that those otherwise inaccessible extra kip bring them.
In 2008 there were several boats full of tourists arriving a day and imagine there are even more now. I think that they may have to realize like the people in Lijiang or Hoi'an that the world has turned and left them here.
What time of year were you there Casey? Whilst I wouldn't say it was unaffected by tourism, it seemed pretty quiet and sleepy when I was there last year, in early Oct. I don;t think I would have enjoyed it anywhere near as much if I had been there at peak time.
the local police there are more interested in 'singing karaoke' at a certain restaurant in Nong Khiaw. if am not wrong, the police are also not stationed in Muang Ngoi Neua, but about an hour's boat ride downriver in Nong Khiaw (as of Dec 2009). over the recent years, Muang Ngoi Neua has become well known for theft, & there have been quite a few complaints about how the police there have been unwilling to help. there was one case shared on Thorntree where the police actually tried to do something, but went to the wrong guesthouse in the wrong town to investigate (maybe because tourists refer to Muang Ngoi Neua simply as 'Muang Ngoi', which is an official name of Nong Khiaw).
early Oct is still off peak. in Dec there can be 2 or more full boats of backpackers per morning in each direction (to/from Muang Ngoi Neua).
February, during Chinese New Year. The police were in Nong Kiaow - they interrupted a nice fireworks display that a Chinese family was shooting off the bridge while I was there.
It is obvious to me that Oz is well intentioned here (that wasn't as clear in the first post), but Casey summed up the nature of this dilema really well. If you want tourist dollars, well, frankly, some annnoying elements come with them. I had this problem when I first moved to Thailand and my wife and I opened a cafe. Sounded like a good idea at first, but month after month of having beer swilling guys sitting around I got tired of it, and closed the cafe and just kept the dance studio, and I'm glad I did. On a larger scale, it's harder "close" once you've "opened".
looks blindingly obvious to me that the Laotians want this thing to not have-quite another as Madmac is raging against- the drink too muth and do any vice, scream loud etc. bekpekkers that have ruined VangVieng-and most of Thailands nicer places. The playground of ''springbreakies'' and other assorted pubers who should be home before 22.00 and stay there.
#13 captainbkk has been a member since 16/2/2012. Posts: 472