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Vang Vieng’s Cultural Contrasts

Crowing roosters prance next to restaurants playing “Family Guy” and “Friends” on loop to zoned-out tourists.

Jagged limestone mountains reach skyward behind five internet cafes in a row.

American beats thump late into the night as local Lao families put their children down to sleep for school the next day.

Laotians hand wash clothes in the river in front of Germans eating “Hawaiian-Style” pizza on a restaurant veranda.

Vang Vieng is chock full of cultural contrasts.

I had never before heard of Vang Vieng, Laos, but now that I’m deeper in the tourist trail than the ubiquitous “yogurt, fresh fruits, and muesli” breakfast, the town has been all over everyone’s tongue and t-shirts.

“Yo, you been to Vang Vieng, man? It’s wicked! Craziest place ever!”

In the tourist circuit, Vang Vieng’s main attraction is TUBING. What is tubing? Easy: pay $5, take a tuk tuk a few kilometers upstream, then hop into a giant puffy donut inner-tube and travel for five hours down the Nam Song River, stopping multiple times along the way at each restaurant that throws you a rope and pulls you in.

Maybe shake your booty on the water dance floor platforms that blast Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas.

I was terrified dive into tubing first, given that I was physically weak from three days of illness and given that crazed tourists frequently die on the rocks and the rope swings, but my friends assured me, “No worries– People only kill themselves when they do stupid stuff. Go easy and you’ll be fine. Besides– you CAN’T go to Vang Vieng and not go tubing!”

Indeed, when I actually did it, tubing in Vang Vieng was beautiful, safe and tranquil… perhaps because I didn’t choose to hurtle my fragile self down the forty-foot tile slide, nor leap from the tower that broke our British friend’s foot on the rocks twenty feet below.

Rather, we floated along in the slow river for hours, watching the green and silver mountains smile down on the dark turquoise river and pulling our butts up when a rock would slip into view in the shallow, dry-season water.

As dusk fell, we drifted tranquilly under the mountain-graced sunset into the pebbles of the town. Tiny Laotian boys scurried out to help us to shore, hoping for tips, and we all embraced and agreed it was a wonderful, wonderful day.

Behind us, six Israeli girls in tiny bikinis hauled their tubes to shore, and we realized that on the hill above, two small monks draped in sunset-orange robes were gazing at the scene below.

The posters around town declare that tubing is for the economic betterment of Vang Vieng, and indeed, judging from the hordes of tourists doing it each day, it is pumping mad money into the economy.

That said, if you were an eight year old Laotian monk looking down at the scene, what, oh what, would you think??


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Kristin of Be My Travel Muse

Sunday 16th of December 2012

So interesting reading this because I had the same thoughts when I was there a few weeks ago. Although, the bars and slides and ziplines are all shut down now. It was a beautiful and peaceful float down the river with only a handfull of others around.

That said, I can tell the town is suffering economically. Only a few bars have any patrons now. The power was out most of the time so the annoying hum of South Park and Friends wasn't an issue. Stark contrast to when you were there, methinks.

Kristin of Be My Travel Muse

Sunday 16th of December 2012

It's a government-enforced shut-down due to all of the deaths there. The bars are not allowed to be open.


Sunday 16th of December 2012

WOW-- What a difference! I wonder if its just because of the holidays, or if it's a year-round decline?

Daniel McBane - Funny Travel Stories

Sunday 23rd of September 2012

I was most amazed at how many people seemed to think it perfectly reasonable to walk around town after tubing in skimpy swimwear that would get you arrested in US cities; and this is ultra-conserative Laos we're talking about here, where most local males won't even take their shirts off to go swimming and no woman would ever consider wearing a swimsuit.


Sunday 23rd of September 2012


Zablon Mukuba

Tuesday 22nd of November 2011

i cant wait to start tubing!! that is what they would be thinking

Imported Blogger Comments

Wednesday 26th of May 2010

Luddy Sr. said... He's probably thinking "I gotta' get m'self one of them damn tubes!"

December 20, 2009 12:13 AM


Monday 26th of April 2010

I agree with your sentiments. I have never felt as uncomfortable in an Asian town as I did here. I just couldn't get my head around the contrast between stunning scenery and "Friends" on TV! I love to hear as many other people's views as possible to try and understand the place!

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