Vang Vieng Travel Guide
Vang Vieng use to be not much more than a bus stop for travellers on the long haul journey between Vientiane and the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, it has now managed to become a destination in it’s own right. Although still a relatively small town, being not much more than three streets and a bus station, it still has a constant influx of backpackers all year round. Most visitors now go for the partying atmosphere it is well known for.
Many bars line the streets and riverbank of the Nam Song, filled with hundreds of young backpackers taking part in the very popular activity of tubing (See our post on Tubing in the “Things to do” section for more information). Along with tubing most of the bars will have some sort of activity to take part in, normally being a rope swing or zip line over the river. All the bars serve large amounts of alcohol and have music playing till the early hours, with all this and the beautiful scenery that surronds, Vang Vieng is a paradise to the young backpacker.
Partying isn’t the only reason people visit Vang Vieng. There are a number of trekking tours exploring the karst limestone mountains and hidden caves, kayaking down the Nam Song river is a great experience, rock climbing for the more adventurous and you can even take a hot air balloon ride to see Vang Vieng from a birds eye view. All this and plenty more makes Vang Vieng a truley amazing place to visit.
Dangers of tubing - In 2011 the tiny Vang Vieng hospital had recorded 27 tourist deaths. This is due to the dangers that follow drinking and taking drugs while taking part in the water based activities on the river. The river can have strong currents in places, hard for even the strongest of swimmers to deal with, this added with unseen jagged rocks beneath the shallow waters and being under the influence of alcohol and drugs can become very dangerous. So please drink responsibly and take care while visiting Vang Vieng.
Vang Vieng was first settled around 1353 as a staging post between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Originally named Mouang Song after the body of the deceased King Phra Nha Phao of Phai Naam was seen floating down the river, the town was renamed Vang Vieng during French colonial rule in the 1890s. Significant expansion of the town and its infrastructure occurred during the 1964-73 Vietnam War when the US developed an Air Force base and runway that was used by Air America. The airstrip was then called Lima site 6. In more recent times, the town has grown substantially due to the influx of backpackers attracted by the opportunities for adventure tourism in a limestone karst landscape.
Due to the recent influx of backpackers, the natives of Vang Vieng have seen a drastic change in their community. There have been worries that the town is in danger of losing its charm as it becomes full of tourists, mushroom shakes and Friends (the US sitcom is which is shown in almost every bar). Safety measures for the tubing have been described as “non existent” and a mixture of this and heavy drinking has seen tourists drown.
The Laos government is planning to put more controls on the urban sprawl of Vang Vieng, while the Laos National Tourism Administration have produced “awareness programs” that ask tourists to respect and strictly follow the rules, regulations, tradition and cultures of the Lao people, while also educating local people to maintain their Lao identity, way of life, tradition and culture and not imitate tourist behaviour. Vang Vieng is known to have a problem with drugs, which are easily accessible to both tourists and local children.
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