Backpackers in Vang Vieng, Laos – Missed By Many (But Not By All)
Above photo: Backpackers Tubing and Partying in Vang Vieng’s heyday (mountainproject.com)
I recently read an interesting article that discussed the impact of the new, strict regulations in Vang Vieng, an increasingly-former backpacker tourist town on the Nam Song river, north of the Lao capital Vientiane, which features in my Backpacker/Vietnam War crossover novel BACK.
The regulations attempted to minimise drug peddling and other crime, and prevent drunken tubing-related deaths among foreigners, but business establishments fear closure due to a dramatic drop in tourist arrivals.
In the past, backpackers flocked to Vang Vieng to go “tubing,”- floating down the river on tractor tyre inner tubes, and stopping at riverside bars serving drugs and booze along the way.
Locals – or those not making money off them, at any rate – gradually became annoyed at semi-naked foreigners partying around the clock and the government became worried about the bad press the town and the country were getting due to tubing-related deaths among young, pissed and stoned backpackers.
So the government ordered a crackdown in Vang Vieng, shutting down illegal bars, dismantling water slides and wooden towers used for diving into the river, and enforced new safety regulations.
Now the town is said by locals to be “less dangerous” for tourists, which is something, considering there were 30 deaths from drowning and other tourist-related accidents in 2011.
Some residents are pleased that Vang Vieng has returned to its former self—a quiet hamlet set among rice fields, jungle and karst rock formations. They don’t miss the all-night parties or the perceived negative influence backpackers had on the area’s culture, reputation and young adults.
These residents are happier with the new, quieter, more eco-friendly repositioning going on in the town’s tourist industry.
However, tourism business owners in Vang Vieng aren’t so happy, as they’re seeing a large drop in revenue due to a significant reduction in tourist arrivals. Some businesses have suffered despite slashing prices, with hotel and guesthouse reservations down by more than 50 percent since the crackdown, and some shops are going bankrupt or closing down.
Interestingly, tourism is the fastest growing industry in Laos, with more than 3.3 million visitors in 2012—an increase of 22 percent from the previous year.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
Peter Alan Lloyd
BACK Parts 1 and 2:
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