Vang Vieng: In the Tubing
Nestled in the mountains of Laos, Vang Vieng is synonymous with two things: tubing down a river...and getting wasted. Long before I traveled in Southeast Asia the fame of this place reached my ears many times as one of the best destinations on the region's backpacker trail. The location is beautiful; there's verdant fields, karst cliffs rising from the west side of the Nam Song River and nearby limestone caves with emerald green swim holes. Tourists rent tubes and frequent about a dozen or so bars along the river, which serve up free whiskey and pump really loud music. Yet the town of Vang Vieng and the accompanying tourist scene are pretty disgusting; it's like an example of tourism gone wrong. Where drunk Aussies and Brits probably outnumber the locals 6 to 1, some people hate it vehemently and some kids love it and stay for months. In a nice article, The New Zealand Herald wrote, "If teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng." The bars in town, (there's plenty of them), are mostly playing episodes of Friends and Family Guy, where white kids nursing hangovers can lay down and sip inexpensive tropical fruit shakes.
Wasted tourists actually cover their bodies with these spray paint stencils...
From the bars, beats of Outkast, Jay-Z and trashy Euro house music blast into the adjacent rice fields where locals continue to grow rice and probably wonder what the hell happened to the quiet village that they used to know. As Corin also points out on his blog post with great portraits, the bars play a remix of Vuò Fà L'Americano over and over and over again, which is really ironic for the song title means, "you wanna do the American?" And aspects of American culture have been exported here as the scene along the river resembles a college frat scene, complete with beer pong tournaments, except that there's young Lao children chasing down the bouncing ping pong balls and whiskey is served in plastic buckets.
A rattanball...I played an awesome match of rattanball with some local guys in a construction site downtown, and it was so surreal for even though the guys on the makeshift "court" couldn't speak English, we could hear the voices of Peter Griffin and Stewie (characters of Family Guy cartoon) bellowing from the TVs in a bar across the street.
Due to quite a few deaths from drowning, some of the more dangerous rope swings and zip lines have been closed down. Sure, tourist dollars are pumping into the area. And the "tubing mafia" is making money - (they've monopolized the industry to the extent that there is a local ordinance prohibiting foreigners from using any other kind of inner tube from any other company) - but the town made me feel bad about being a tourist. But, hey, when in Rome...I went tubing. And I had fun.