I’m currently sat on a cramped sleeping bus in Laos and I couldn’t be more happy – because it’s taking me far far away (right to the southern tip of the country to be precise) from the backpacking cess pit commonly known as Vang Vieng!

I arrived in VV a few days ago with rather high expectations. All along the backpacker trail people talk of this party town and the infamous tubing experience it houses. For those of you out of the loop tubing is best summed up as a pub crawl on a rubber ring!

Hundreds of travellers descend on this small town to party hard and it’s many people’s main destination within Laos, it’s arguably what Laos has become most famous for here days.

 

Two Feet First

We got into town rather later than expected and rendezvoused with a couple of buddies from Lubang and checked into a rather nice guesthouse with air con.
All game for a catch up drink and having steered clear of bars for the last few days we headed into town to see where the night would take us.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer amount of absolutely blind drunk people stumbling around at 8pm!

It soon became clear why, as pretty much every bar was offering free buckets before 10pm, needless to say the hoardes of gap yah students took this opportunity to scull down as many troughs of cheap whiskey as they could.

Buckets + Backpackers + Fire = Chaos!

Now I’m all game for a good night of drinking carnage, but I know my limits and I can control myself. The same cannot be said for the majority of people in VV though and within 10minutes of entering the “Bucket Bar” we’d witnessed a guy smashing bottles everywhere closely followed by the bar staff taking him out with a bat!

Grimy dubstep filled the air, which was already thick with the smell of vomit and whiskey and at the 11pm kick out time we hit Limbo Bar – where some bar owner had had the genius idea of mixing aforementioned drunken backpackers with a fire limbo contest!

Needless to say there were a few accidents!

 

Face the Consequences

To top all this off Matt got his drink spiked and after we all carried him home I spent the night listening to him chunder his guts out whilst periodically checking he wasn’t dead! He’d been chatting to a girl for the evening and we’ve come to be conclusion that she was the target. Bad times all round!

The next day I left him to recover in our air con fridge box of a room and spent the day nursing my own hangover at a restaurant playing a seemingly endless supply of Friends.

As I looked around – and over the next few days – I witnessed many people with what can only be described as the “Vang Vieng Stare”.

They look empty, soulless and lost.

For me that morning set the tone for VV – a town where backpackers loose sight of the beauty of travel and indulge to needless excess.

 

A Shameful Waste

Yup – An Actual Restaurant Menu!

It seems that a mix of backpackers, tourism, opportunism and lack of control have transformed VV into a modern day sin city. A city where weed, magic mushrooms and opium are sold on restaurant menus and can also come premixed in a “disco bucket”.

If the chaos of Magaluf had a sordid love child with the dark underbelly of Columbia, Vang Vieng would surely be it!

VV sucks people in and traps them. The bar staff are the walking dead, caught up in the allure of the party. Like emaciated skeletons they trawl the streets – either hungover, drunk or in a daze. Either walking around lost of half unconscious watching endless re runs of family guy or how I met your mother.
They are however outnumbered by the zombie masses of travellers arriving everyday. And the type of backpackers that feast at a banquet this twisted are the ones you hope you never have to communicate with.

You know the ones – the crazy looking dreadlocked types – not the happy hippy dreadlocked types, but the ones brandishing facial tattoos and blackened or missing teeth. Or the Gap Yah jocks, the ones that turn up to tubing in tiny hot pant board shorts, who eat steriods for breakfast, have crew cuts and try to look cool in aviators whilst acting like obnoxious dickheads.
Or the slutty posh girls who spend the day sculling Bacardi breezers like they’re 14 again and have less personality than a wet tablecloth.

Those kind of people.

And those kind of people are not my kind of people!

Yet VV is a nestled in some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve come across. The jungle covered mountains and cliff faces remind me of the trek to Machu Pichu. It’s stunning.
But poorly controlled tourism and excess has ruined what must have been – until very recently – a tranquil and amazing town.

There are still some nice sides to VV – like the Blue Lagoons, rock climbing or heading out into the surrounding countryside by motorbike, they are all slightly marred by the shadow the city is clouded in though.

By all means head to VV and spend a day tubing (it was actually a pretty fun experience) but a day is enough. I had to stay longer than I wanted too whilst Matt recovered and a little piece of my soul died there.
I became very aware of how much of an impact backpackers can have on a place and how many of my fellow backpackers simply don’t care enough about the culture, history or beauty of the countries they visit to try and preserve it.

There’s a time, place and limit on partying on the road. I love a good party, but I’d never let that side of my travels impact on the vibe of a place or take control of my experience.

Have you been to Vang Vieng or somewhere similar that made you question the impact of tourism by backpackers?

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12 Responses

    • Chris

      hahaha very true Daniel – although I must admit thats probably the most civilised part of the entire town! I did get sucked into that on the odd occasion tho :S

      Reply
  1. Alyssa

    Couldn’t agree with you more! I was appalled by the actions of the majority of backpackers I saw in Vang Vieng. A beautiful town overrun with selfish travelers.
    Alyssa recently posted..Busan: Haeundae BeachMy Profile

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    • Chris

      definitely – I would have loved to have visited it a few years ago before it descended into its current state!

      Reply
      • jeff

        It would be wonderful if there was a forced get your head out of your ass class that was mandatory before all RTW or long term travel to help reduce the number of jerks ruining places. luckily there are still heaps of places where you can get away a bit, although it is sad that it can be harder and harder to find in southeast Asia which otherwise is a great great place. (not to mention the scams and tourist traps as well which i cant help but think with better more respectful travelers would not have developed to the point it is at today either)

      • Chris

        hahahaha if you put that class together Jeff I’ll personally help you market it – and I’m sure heaps of backpackers will vouch for it!hahaha!
        It’s a shame how some people ruin places and they get like that, but at the same time the locals need to take control of their towns…it’s as much them exploiting the situation as the backpackers…

  2. Brady

    Brett Dakin, the author of Another Quiet American, a chronicle of two years in Laos working for the tourist authority, said, “Each time a young Australian woman strolls down the street in a bikini, a bearded American smokes a joint on a guesthouse terrace, or a group of Koreans tumbles drunkenly out of a restaurant, it saps a little more of the essence of a town like Vang Vieng.”

    Reply
  3. Sarah

    I went to VV last June and it sounds like it’s calmed down a lot now tubing has been ‘shut down’/regulated, sounds horrific here but I think now there’s a lot more focus on adventure activities and that sort of thing now and it was actually pretty quiet when I went, still a lot of drink and drugs though the friends/family guy bars are still there but to be honest it sounds like it’s got a lot better although there’s still a long way to go! Hopefully it won’t go back to how it was before-this post reminds me a lot of my feelings about Phuket, Koh Phangnan and many other touristy places in Thailand.

    Reply
    • Chris

      Glad to hear it has calmed down a lot and is focusing more on adventure and activities – might have to pay it another visit and see the transformation!

      Reply
  4. Virginia

    I had a very similar experience in VV in February. The tubing was very fun and the group of people I had been traveling with was amazing. The parties were fun (especially the free buckets), but after 2 days and 2 nights I had more than enough, especially from the food (I kept eating those disgusting street sandwiches and western food while watching Friends), so I decided to leave the group and go on with my journey..

    I think VV is definitely worth a visit, but not for more than a day or two..
    Virginia recently posted..Backpacking through SE-Asia: Chiang MaiMy Profile

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    • Chris

      Interesting to hear you’ve had a same experience recently. I’ve heard mixed reports of it slowly building itself a better and more friendly reputation – I’m tempted to go back myself to see how it has cleaned up its act!

      Reply

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