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Friday, July 13, 2012

Tripping in Vang Vieng

Ignore the naysayers. Then ignore the naked, drunken, high-on-meth young tourists that trample the streets with buckets and beer bottles in hand. It's a bit like a sports event gone bad. In this case, it's the phenomenon of "tubing" that has become the big draw for young backpackers. There's even the trophy t-shirt to prove you've been-here-done-that stating "In the Tubing Vang Vieng". Nothing like boasting your stupidity with a grammatically incorrect statement. Last year alone, 27 travelers died here. Countless others, with injuries, usually alcohol and drug related, end up at the local hospital.

Tubing harmlessly began when a local farmer bought some inner tubes so that his volunteers could enjoy the Nam Song river. In the past 3 to 4 years it has taken off as a place to check off on the backpacker trail. It's a double-edged sword since this has been both an income maker for Vang Vieng and a serious smear on it's reputation. When I spoke with a young girl from Luang Prabang if she had ever been to Vang Vieng, she was told by her mother that it was "where people are too free" and that it was a place that she didn't want to go since it was full of bad foreigners.

We too were advised by many to skip Vang Vieng but the bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang was just too long, so we decided to spend one night here. We discovered that it was so much more than what the guidebooks and other travelers were negatively portraying it to be. Just the view from our hotel was enough to tell us that it was worth stopping more than one night here.

Bad reputation aside, Vang Vieng is one of the most (if not most) beautiful places in Laos. Even in town, on the southern end, you'll have gorgeous views of black, limestone karsts with stilted wooden houses, horses running wild, fresh green fields and the peaceful Nam Song river right at your window.

Then take a bicycle or even better, a motor bike on the bumpy, dirt roads and there are a plethora of caves and lagoons to explore, a national park with waterfalls, not to mention view upon view of the karsts behind locals tending to their lime green rice paddies. And this is all within 7 kms of town! Don't worry about bumping into too many people because the party-goers will be sleeping until mid-afternoon. We went to the popular Blue Lagoon (really more green/brown these days due to all the run-off from the rain) and nearly had it to ourselves for the first half-hour, and that was after 12pm.

Blue lagoon empty
Favorite of locals and tourists alike

It's just business as usual for the locals.

A 10-year old girl guided us through rice fields to a pristine swimming hole beside a cave. No one else around but us.

So, instead of tripping on drugs - trip on the gorgeous scenery, the gracious humility of the Lao people, and remind yourself that when you travel, what you do actually affects the local community. 

Here's an article from the Guardian for more on Vang Vieng:

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