Apprehensively we arrived in Vang Vieng (after an 8 hour bus journey which should have taken 5-6 hours…. but thats another story). Vang Vieng has a bit of a reputation and we had thought long and hard about whether we wanted to stop there between Luang Prebang and Vientiane.
Vang Vieng became a hotspot for young backpackers, searching for the ‘tubing’ (floating down the river in inner tubes stopping at ‘rave’ bars on the way – aka a South East Asian pub crawl), drink, drugs and party culture that grew in the area. In 2012 the Laos government cracked down on these activities (apparently due to the high number of drug and alcohol fuelled deaths each year) and they are now trying to attract a more responsible and ethical tourism crowd. We decided tentatively that we should support this area and not just sail past on the bus to Vientiane.
Despite it’s reputation as party capital of Laos (and possibly South East Asia) you can instantly see Vang Vieng’s draw. It is a small and pretty town which sits beautifully on the Nam Song River, surrounded by dramatic karst limestone rock formations.
Sadly we felt that the presence of generic western style (and western run) cafes, restaurants and bars still dominates the town and although we found one super hot Som Tam (papaya salad) from a small stall run by a Laotian family, we struggled to find any really good local food options owned and run by local people. The party crowd may have moved on but to some extent their influence still remains….(as does a fair number of said backpackers who can still be seen being obnoxious and stumbling around the streets of an evening). The government has made a valiant effort and Vang Vieng is arguably much improved, but we felt there was still a way to go…
Here are some photos from our stay (notice the focus on the beautiful bits!)
All in all, Vang Vieng was worth the stopover and hopefully will continue to get better and better over the years.
Next stop Vientiane!