Vang Vieng Laos
Said to be the 8th biggest city in Laos, Vang Vieng’s 25 000 inhabitants weren’t the most important part of Vang Vieng. Prior to August 2012, Vang Vieng had roughly three westerners walking (staggering) around the city to every Laotian and intown Vang Vieng had absurdly 15 Westerners to every Laotian. But that has now all changed. Thank Buddha! Let’s take a look at the new Vang Vieng.
Imagine a gorgeous, tranquil, breathtaking (even though you’re so stress free that you’re breathing a lot less) town only 4 hours from the capital. Vang Vieng, situated on the Nam Song river in between Vientiane and Luang Prabang with tall awe-inspiring mountains surrounding it. If you knew what it was previously know for, I needn’t tell, and if you didn’t better to let the new Vang Vieng speak for itself. Today, far less tourists come to Vang Vieng, which causes for opinions amongst pretty much everyone but the fact is that government decided to shut down most of the trouble causing bars and left the town with a lot less tubs and a lot more mid-class travellers, not that they are anyway near 15-to-1 but still.
Vang Vieng dates back to 1353 and got its name during the French colonial rule. It was previously known as Mouang Song after a king (who strangely was called Phra Nha Pha, solve that puzzle for me yeah with better Lao or creative minds) had been seen floating (dead I assume) through the town of Vang Vieng (or Moaung Song). During the Vietnam war US built an airstip still visable in Vang Vieng (no it’s not just a muddy path). After the war it went back to being a quiet little town with villages of Hmong, Khum, and Lao Lum surrounding it. Then came the tube. (Skip here if you’re tired of the sad story of Vang Vieng and look out for FINALLY to start reading again).
A clever, I’d assume eco-friendly person, with, yet again I assume, the best intentions opened up a Organic farm in Vang Vieng. He then invited foreigners to come volunteer at the farm and figured out another eco-friendly way to have his (hard working) foreigners relax on the beautiful river. He bought himself some tubes, blew them into comfortable (matter of perspective) floating seats and pushed his happy eco-friends into the river. Fast-forward from 1998 when this is said to have happened, to 2001-2002 and tourist with a completely different take on weed were swamping the town, very much to the people of Vang Vieng’s mixed feelings. People got wasted, rode water slides, killed themselves or worse (let your imagination wander, there are worse things than death and some of them happened in Vang Vieng, I’m sure). But speaking of death, it’s said that 22 people died 2011 in Vang Vieng, not counting the ones who were taken to Vientiane to die, or Thailand or homeland. Then came the people that got injured, severely, without hospital equipped to take care of them. You get the picture. The citizens of Vang Vieng were, as I mentioned, two-sided. One hand, a collective of around 1600 household organized themselves to rent tubes (schedule and taking turns) and guesthouses popped up like mushrooms (which were also sold to tourists). One the other hand hand, citizen of Vang Vieng started fearing the rivers bad luck, evil spirits surely must live in the muddy waters. Also, the abundance of naked skin, vomiting teens and loud yelling does not make any permanent resident happy (imagining your neighbour having a constant graduation party (the after part)).
Needed not to make a decision, the government decided to be efficient and closed all but three tubing bars (one said to be the police chief’s sons) and naked prancing suddenly decreased significantly. In actuality the enforced laws forbidding FUI (floating under influence) and destroyed many of the river side bars.
One way of looking at what happened is that the tubing hasn’t stopped, just the part where you get yourself killed. And now we’re left with a stunning city full of exciting activities that makes you feel very alive (jumping from 25 meters expecting a (or two) tiny Lao people to match my weight while belay climbing is fun and adrenaline rushy). But a lot safer.