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Exploiting Vang Vieng

Updated on July 3, 2012

Cheap Accommodations

Here guests stay for only $4 a night.
Here guests stay for only $4 a night. | Source
What $4 a night buys you
What $4 a night buys you
Tourists mark their bodies with marker to show their love for the wild little hostel
Tourists mark their bodies with marker to show their love for the wild little hostel | Source
A typical party bar along the Nam Song River
A typical party bar along the Nam Song River
It only looks like fun and games... local villigers warn the waters are now cursed by death
It only looks like fun and games... local villigers warn the waters are now cursed by death

Vang Vieng: paradise or death trap?

Sitting at the center of Laos, Vang Vieng is a beautiful village overlooking the Nam Song River. This tropical paradise only appears pricey; in reality it’s one of the cheapest places to vacation worldwide. For $25 a night one can stay at the Vilayvong Guesthouse with free parking, a patio, and Wi-Fi. With fairly nice rooms and reviews more favorable than the average Best Western, it seems like a vacationers paradise. But in reality it has proven to be nothing more than a death trap.

There are 51,000 Natives that live in Vang Vieng and each year 170,000 tourists come trudging through town- making natives outnumbered in their own territory. Only the majority of these sightseers are not coming to respect the tranquil temple or appreciate a new culture, they are coming to party- no manners intact.

Even closer to the river than the Vilayvong Guesthouse, is the hut-style cabana called Spicylaos Backpackers Hostel. Here is where the real partying goes down. Mostly teens and young adults, largely from the western world, come here in search of the famously cheap beds. For only $4 a night one gets a basic bed and a “free sheet” in a dormitory style room, five minutes walk to town center and a 3-minute walk to the river.

The Nam Song River should be tranquil and calm, as it once was. Instead, it’s full of river bars, or rather planks of wood that extend out over the water, each serving more booze and loud music than the next. As vacationers float down the river in old tractor tires, rented from locals who supply the tires, they stop at these bars to have a few more drinks or a pizza spiked with marijuana.

The locals of Vang Vieng call the wild tourists “zombies” and only wish they would leave their town- and children- alone. For one, the loud partying never ceases, turning off all peace and privacy they once knew while the children are exposed to a lifestyle of constant scandal. Extreme drinking and drug use leads partiers into town vomiting and incoherent, often nude or covered in sharpie profanities. Still, more and more villagers are giving up on previous life, even dropping out of school to spend their lives along the river, working for the bars or scooping debris from the river all day. Naturally, parents worry about this, knowing many of their children are also stealing drugs from tourists and becoming hooked.

Amidst the Native’s cries, new hotels and guesthouses continue springing up at rates of about one per week, eager to accommodate the ignorant sightseers looking for outrageous and unregulated fun. But the locals warn, the waters are cursed. Tainted by the many tourists who have died mid-party. In the year 2011 alone, 27 reported tourists lost their lives here.

When out of our regular element we often act more irrational than ussual and in a place as fantastical looking as Vang Vieng, it’s easy to see how realty slips away. One after another ignore the ‘do not jump’ signs as smiling tourists plummet straight to their deaths.

Countless lives are being lost while one sacred town is destroyed. Still the town of Vang Vieng continues expanding on its newfound party capital. No matter what the villagers say, they are powerless in saving their own town. Pitted against the wealthy people who own most of the businesses profiting from the booming tourism, the poor villagers might never win. So who does?


Victims of Vang Vieng

January 2012, 19 year old Daniel Eimutis went missing. Three days later his body was found alongside the Laos River. It's assumed the Australian-native died due to a tubbing accident.
January 2012, 19 year old Daniel Eimutis went missing. Three days later his body was found alongside the Laos River. It's assumed the Australian-native died due to a tubbing accident.
Jaunary 2012, fitness trainer Lee Hudswell took a break from tubing to jump from a rock. The 26 year old fell strait  to this death. Here he is pictured with his mother and sister.
Jaunary 2012, fitness trainer Lee Hudswell took a break from tubing to jump from a rock. The 26 year old fell strait to this death. Here he is pictured with his mother and sister.
Would you want your child to grow up here?  Native children of Vang Vieng are now forced to grow up in a very unhealthy environment, polluted by drugs and partying all times of the year.
Would you want your child to grow up here? Native children of Vang Vieng are now forced to grow up in a very unhealthy environment, polluted by drugs and partying all times of the year.

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    • profile image

      Dave 

      5 years ago

      Just arrived here 9 Jan 2013. The drunken debauchery has stopped. No more bars along the tubing river and all slides and rides and swings have been bulldozed. Makes for an extremely.pleasant tube ride and overall relaxing holiday. Bars open until 1130pm so still able to drink and have fun. Came here on my honeymoon and would now recommend it to any type of traveller. The drunken 18 year old westerners are no longer here. I'm in my 30's and my wife is in her 20's and we are from Australia.

    • Becky Bruce profile imageAUTHOR

      Becky Bruce 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      A.K.A . ALIAS-- isn't it always the most beautiful yet poor and volnerable countries that are exploited by the rich and powerful? It really is a shame, and even worse is that so many people visiting Vang Vieng know nothing about the real culture or how badly they are even exploiting it.

    • Becky Bruce profile imageAUTHOR

      Becky Bruce 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      livingabroad, thanks so much for sharing this story! I love hearing personal experiences. I've heard many return, shocked to find Vang Vieng in such a different state than when they last saw it, just as the case with your friend. Who by the way, I'm so glad to hear is alright- thank God for that doctor in training! And as you say, many- in fact most- people go and return home safely but I just think about the people who call Vang Vieng home- the ones who have lost their land & privacy, for them the risks and nightmares never end because more tourists keep flooding in.

    • Becky Bruce profile imageAUTHOR

      Becky Bruce 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      A.K.A . ALIAS-- isn't it always the most beautiful yet poor and volnerable countries that are exploited by the rich and powerful? It really is a shame, and even worse is that so many people visiting Vang Vieng know nothing about the real culture or how badly they are even exploiting it.

    • livingabroad profile image

      livingabroad 

      6 years ago from Wales, UK

      A very well written piece which I would like to add a personal experience too. I visited this place around a year ago with two friends. After a couple of buckets downy we stupidly decided to cross the river, without tubes. Two of us made it to the other side fine. The third was in the middle of the river head bobbing up and down taking on water as we looked on trying to catch our breath.

      An onlooker had noticed he was in trouble and had gone in after him with a tube. As they disappeared out of sight we couldn't tell whether he had got to him in time, and my mind started to run...."Is he alive?", "What am I going to say to his parents?"

      We hurried down stream to find him in a bar coughing up river water, saved by a trainee doctor as we discovered. A lucky escape unlike the many who have lost their lives there. It's only a good thing that you have highlighted this knowledge here. Living in Thailand, I have heard many horror stories and seen first hand the consequences of tubing and partying.

      If you are a parent I wouldn't let your children go travelling unless they are mature enough. The temptation is too much for us western folk so heavily governed by rules and regulations. I know many people go here and come away with nothing more than pink eye from the dirty water, however statistics don't lie. this is a dangerous place on the backpacking route. Such a shame for such a beautiful place.

      The same guy who nearly drown here had visited 10 years ago when it was nothing more than a tranquil village with the odd tourist here and there floating down the river. Lucikly he came away with his life to tell stories of the differences.

      Up, Useful SHARING.

    • A.K.A. Alias profile image

      A.K.A. Alias 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention BB. This is a prime example of thoughtless exploitation of an impoverished nation.. Laos is a beautiful country with long-suffering people....and it is one of the poorest nations (economically) globally and THE poorest nation in Asia. ......Shame shame shame....

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