About Me

If you want to get a different perspective on my journey, try this blog from Zac. A friend I'm travelling with. zacstravelcolours.wordpress.com

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Are we slowly killing Asia?

Is Vang Vieng flourishing or sinking under the weight of tourist dollars?

One thing I’ve noticed in the Laos country side is the state of the villages. The people don’t look poor. They look happy. Content. Firstly, a big disclaimer, I spent exactly zero seconds talking to these people, I saw them through a bus window and I saw them with western eyes. Plus, I was hungover, feeling sorry for myself and the idea of a simpler life was suddenly pretty appealing.

In a nutshell, here’s my thinking. Judging by the rest of the country (and my wildly unresearched impressions), the people in Vang Vieng would’ve been pretty damn happy before all this tourist money started coming in. Sure they might not have had big TVs or Smartphones (although they did have rusty satellite dishes), but they had family and culture.

Now they have a little more of the commercialised crap we all crave, but they have to deal with westerners in bikinis (they’re not big fans of exposed skin above the waist) taking over their town. They might have a successful restaurant and be able to comfortably provide for their families, but that restaurant sells everything from marijuana to opium and blasts Family Guy 24/7. Once again far be it from me to judge whether this is a good deal or whether they’re even bothered by these tradeoffs. I’m just raising a thought.

The final big concern in a town this successful, this attractive to tourists who want to blow money on all sorts of indulgences, is it can’t be too long before outsiders move in. People are already flocking from other parts of Laos, how long before it’s people from Thailand, India, even Australia running the show? And how long after that before it’s ruined? Before this sleepy little river town becomes just another Phuket? Now this is decades away from any sort of reality, but the fact it’s even a possibility should be a huge concern.

In the end, the question which I’m not at all equipped to answer is this, is the extra money really worth the cultural erosion which comes with such an influx of tourists? The streets of this sleepy town are crowded with near naked westerners, often drunk or more out of their mind and The beautiful river at the heart of the city is undoubtedly less healthy than it was

On the other hand, these flocks of people would seem to indicate maybe life isn’t so great in the bush. The more I write about this the more I realise I’m completely unequipped to write about it. I know so little about these people and their beautiful country. Sorry for an unsatisfying ending but that’s it. Questions and more questions. I hope it at least made you think about tourist destinations (or anything else) a little bit more.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Vang Vieng: The place God would come to party (and possibly does)

Firstly, a note on the title. While in Asia we've seen a decent amount of people who look like they could actually be Backpacker Jesus. Maybe none more so than one particular backflipping, whiskey skulling man right here in Vang Vieng.
Blatantly stolen from AdventurousKate.com because I'm waiting for people to upload photos.

After a six hour hungover bus ride along some more of Laos’ atrocious roads (I mean bad, really fucking bad.  The windiest, steepest potholiest excuses for transport you could ever imagine), Vang Vieng needed to be pretty great. It was. It is. I just don’t want to leave.

I should explain. About a decade ago Vang Vieng was just a tiny river town in Laos which few westerners had even heard of and even less actually visited. I’m not sure exactly what happened, other than some enterprising backpackers had their way with the place and now it’s a hedonistic paradise.

There’s a river, giant rope swings, giant towers, giant buckets, giant inner tubes and what seems to be every beautiful mid 20s westerner in Asia. After what I said about Phuket, I know it seems hypocritical for me to love this place, but I can’t help it. It’s Phuket done right. It’s a place where even shy people can feel comfortable walking up to almost anyone there and having a chat. The bars actually employ people to go around and start up party games and just generally get everyone having a great time.

As a party destination, I couldn’t imagine anything better. But it’s just as great completely sober (even if it’s pretty hard to avoid the tiger whisky they shove down your throat as you go into the bars). Although there’s a good chance the river isn’t quite as healthy as it once was, the surrounding mountains are just as picturesque as ever. You're deep in conversation with an absolute stranger, tearing up the dancefloor or throwing yourself off ten metre plus platforms into the river and then all of a sudden you look up. You're surrounded by astounding natural beauty. And I mean astounding, those mountains which dominate every single part of the town never failed to make me double take. The feeling's almost impossible to explain. Try to picture the best night you've ever had, and right in the middle of it you realise you're right there in the most beautiful picture you've ever seen. 

In this place, it's impossible not to have a good time.

And rope swings. Seriously, rope swings. These things are insane. Coming from Australia where OH&S has ruined most things, they’re such a breath of fresh air. I’ll admit they’re a little dangerous (several tourists die every year) but that’s mostly stupidity (code for way too much alcohol/magic mushies/backflip attempts) rather than actual danger from my experience.

If you need a summary, or a TL;DR version here it is. Vang Vieng is the coolest damn place on earth and if you’re one of my close friends you can expect to be dragged there before you’re 30.

Next post: I'll talk about the darker side of the town. I'll try to explore it with a less selfish "This is the most fun ever!" mindset.