We arrived in Vang Vieng recently expecting hordes of young backpackers tubing down the river with a Beer Lao in hand. Instead, when we arrived we walked past many empty bars and restaurants still screening friends, and the odd 16 year old looking bemused and wondering where the party had gone. It certainly felt like the gold rush had ended for Vang Vieng… or has it?
Visitor numbers have plummeted to ¼ the level they were 6 months ago as a result of pressure from the Australian Government to crack down on the drunken parties taking place along the river as a result of the whole tubing scene. The drunken tubing was starting to get out of hand as 27 tourists died in 2011. We took a walk around the former ‘party island’ and what we found was a ghost town full of boarded up shacks which were bars only 6 months prior, full of drunken young backpackers.
As the bars have been closed down along the river the amount of people taking up tubing has dropped significantly and the agencies renting tubes have seen a huge drop in turnover.
Although visitor numbers may have decreased, Vang Vieng hasn’t lost its stunning karst scenery, riverside setting or surrounding rice paddies, all of which lend themselves well to adventure tourism.
It is Vang Vieng’s setting and spectacular landscape that makes it a great place for caving (either on foot or by tube), rock climbing, kayaking and also trekking. If you want to splash out you can take a hot air balloon to admire the stunning scenery from the air.
There are a handful of adventure tour operators in town already, however I have the feeling that in the coming years this town will become known for adventure tourism rather than solely for its drunken tubing. In my opinion, this is the beginning for Vang Vieng.
Quick reference guide
Stay: Nana guesthouse
Eat: Baguette / crepe stalls on the street
Drink: Gary’s Irish Pub