Vang Vieng is a small tourist town surrounded by absolutely stunning mountain scenery, yet it was the least favourite of our destinations. I’m not saying that we didn’t have a nice time; we did enjoy ourselves but I wouldn’t hang around there. One full day was plenty for us. The main reason we stopped there was because, along with it breaking up the journey between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, we hoped to ride a hot air balloon over the karst mountains at sunrise. Unfortunately we discovered upon arrival that the hot air balloons don’t fly during the rainy season. I think I cried a little bit.
Vang Vieng used to be one of the party capitals of South East Asia, backpackers used to flock there in the thousands to go tubing – floating down the river on a rubber ring, stopping off at numerous bars. However, the combination of cheap alcohol, drugs and a river lead to lots of deaths each year so the government cracked down on the activity and now there are only two bars along the river. As a result there are far fewer tourists now and Vang Vieng appears a pretty sad place. Tourism had clearly brought money to the town in what is a very poor country but now tonnes of empty restaurants line the road fighting one another for business. They are all a bit dirty, showing friends re-runs and serving cheap food. Why would I want to sit and watch friends or family guy when I travel? To me Vang Vieng represents the worst side of gap year tourism; when people travel to a place solely to get f**ked up, with absolutely no regard for local culture and tradition. The fact that there need to be signs up telling tourists to cover up and not wear swimwear in town is appalling – it hardly takes much research to find out that Laos is a fairly conservative country. People don’t go to Vang Vieng to experience Lao culture.
Anyway, rant over, how did we spend our time in Vang Vieng…. well we did go tubing (to see what the fuss was about) and we enjoyed ourselves but many of the people we spoke to had been getting wasted every night that week. I like clubbing and drinking but I don’t get it; nights out at home are better than what’s left of the Vang Vieng party scene and you can get wasted with strangers anywhere. Meanwhile places like Luang Prabang are full of beauty and culture, and the affects of tourism are far more positive there. We left the party early as tubing back in the dark can be dangerous. The actual floating down the river I did enjoy though – its a fun way to view the scenery.
We rented bicycles planning to get out of town and see the scenery. We didn’t get very far however as it was far to hot – but in cooler weather, or riding mopeds, it would be a really great option. There are some outdoor activities on offer in Vang Vieng and I think it could be a great destination if they were able to capitalize more on this because the natural setting couldn’t be better. After one full day in Vang Vieng we moved on to Vientiane, on another winding mountainous bus drive with beautiful views.