The 'new' Vang Vieng

Last week’s column left off with our heartfelt gratitude at having arrived in one piece! The Vang Vieng of 2012 was a non-stop, “anything goes”, crazy, “off the chart” party ground.

The “tubing” craze had been running rampant for the previous 5-6 years. A silly practice of floating down river on an inner tube while getting as drunk and disorderly as possible along the many riverside bars and restaurants. At its peak the tourists out-numbered the locals 15 to 1! The “No Rules” ambiance led to many accidental deaths, drug overdoses and sexual assaults. The party-goers would all return to the village en masse at sunset. I sat in one of the many anonymous taverns showing non-stop re-runs of Friends and/or South Park and watched this display of complete debauchery unfold. Restaurants sold the powerful (45%) Lao Lao whiskey for $2/litre and menus promoted “Happy Pizzas”, “Magic” shakes and teas laden with opium, mushrooms and cannabis. The euphoria of “Bad Behavior” was rampant. It was so difficult to just sit back and watch the complete disrespect towards the locals, their culture and the community as a whole.

Thankfully the Laotian Government had enough and in late 2012 implemented some “iron fist” strategies which saw the closure of the river rave bars and banishment of the toxic party scene. Initially the local economy suffered from the sudden lack of tourist dollars but has since recalibrated its appeal to be towards an older, adventure crowd, looking for adrenaline-inducing activities or nature-based explorations. The villagers are happier as well. Much of rural Asia practices an animistic-Buddhism which believes that powerful spirits inhabit the natural environment. Many of the locals had refused to venture on the Nam Song River during the peak of the “craziness” as they believed that it was now infested with evil spirits due to the number of deaths attributed to the excesses of the visiting foreigners.

Today’s Vang Vieng offers an idyllic view into the rural life of the Hillside Tribes, local fisherman and rice paddy farmers. The $3/night guesthouses have slowly been replaced with lovely boutique style hotels and pensions. You can still tube down the river but it will be to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Nam Song River. An absolute must-see is the Blue Lagoon and Tham Phu Kham Cave! The drive through the stunning landscape with the karst rock formations between Vang Vieng and the Blue Lagoon alone makes the trip worthwhile. Rock climbing, kayaking, trekking and mountain biking are also popular activities during your stay.

So where I would have normally advised complete avoidance, I now recommend Vang Vieng as a wonderful “off the beaten track” destination for those of you looking for jaw-dropping scenery, a pure cultural immersion into local customs and an overwhelming choice of athletic adventures. Ignore the bad press and embrace the new Vang Vieng with enthusiasm!

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About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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