Whiskey buckets, mushroom shakes, and free shot: all enjoyed while on tubes going down a river! Vang Vieng was a tourism saturated village in Laos, located in the Vientiane Province, about a sickening four hour mini-bus ride north of the capital. The town lies near the Nam Song River with a stunning karst hill backdrop.
“The booze is so cheap, it’s hard not to get drunk,” a cute English girl tells me before downing a free shot of Tiger Whiskey. Backpackers from around the world flock here for the wild party that goes on forever and ever. It all starts with cheaply constructed wooden bars along the river that were built more for maintaining a buzz than architectural beauty. “Don’t forget to do all the rope-swings and zip-lines between each bar, they get easier the more you drink!” The party starts in the in the early afternoon and goes all night. Mornings are filled with dilapidated bodies watching American shows like re-runs of Family Guy in restaurants with American food like hamburgers and hotdogs. The “tourist” here is simply transplanting their own culture over to a different landscape with cheaper booze.
Culture has been replaced by greed, as the locals flock to the area just as much as the backpackers to work in the restaurants and sell food items to intoxicated travelers. Finally, it came to an end in 2012 when new government regulations were implemented to control the death toll. Surprise, surprise, drunk idiots slipped and fell on wet bar floors, crashed into each other on rope-swings, and drank themselves to death enough times to finally cause government action. It only took the reported 22 deaths in the year of 2011. To prevent future death, the government will no longer allow bars or restaurants to operate within 15 meters of the river; furthermore, they are not allowed invite tubers in.
Now, Vieng Vieng is a ghost town compared to its popular glory days. Many locals built large multi storied hotels in preparation for the increasing tourist downpour…that was promptly stopped by the government. Now many families have bad bookings and can’t afford to go on. After this hump of inadequate economic reform, hopefully Vieng Vieng will begin to rebuild some of its lost culture.