Vang Vieng has become the hub of the tube. The place to go to drunkenly make your way down a river. I’d heard the stories before, the alcohol fuelled deaths that had occurred each year as people zip lined into rocks or threw people onto them. I’d heard of the people that drowned when the river got a little rougher. The 30 odd bars that used to line the river enticing already drunk people to drink more was now down to a mere 4 and the insanely open sale of weed and mushrooms was reduced to a few bribe paying bars in the town itself.
I will admit now, I didn’t go tubing. I’m not sure even now what it was that I took a stand against but a stand I took.
Vang Vieng itself is a backpacker town, but of a different elk to that of Pai. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It’s garish, brash in a way, with every hostel playing episodes of friends on repeat, local shop owners knowing that £1 for a nice cream is a price they are going to get and an infrastructure entirely suited to the wants and needs of the traveller. This time, I believe lonely planet had little to do with it’s ‘success’. Laos itself has surprisingly few places on the traveller route, with roads lacking in smooth cruising, getting around is far more of a chore than anywhere else I’ve been and VV is conveniently situated between Luang Prabang and Vientiane.
Having said that it has all the features found when typing south east Asia scenery into google images, massive limestone cliffs surrounding flat rice paddy fields, cows hogging the dirt track, waterfalls and lagoons.
Cycling through the villages surrounding VV it is hard not to notice the wealth of these families brought in by the tourism. Every house was made of sturdy wood and a proper roof. Motorbikes were two to a house and children were clean. I found it difficult to see how many of these families felt so bitter about the tourism when it clearly give them such a high standard of living in comparison to most other villages I had seen. However it must be noted that the tourism has meant pretty much every other industry has been swallowed up.
VV will continue to attract backpackers excited for alcoholic activities, but perhaps one day people will become more aware of the effect that they have on the locals. Walking around in just a bikini is rude and against their culture, and being loud when it isn’t in your own house is discourteous. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world and there is more to it than tubing.