“If teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng in Northern Laos”
When I visited Vang Vieng in August 2012, it was the hottest ticket on the South East Asian backpacker trail. Little did I know, that same month, it would change forever, being shutdown due to government pressure following numerous backpacker deaths.
The sleepy riverside rice growing village became popular about 10 years ago due to the practise of visiting volunteers on an organic farm, riding tractor tire tubes down the Nam Song River. Tubing became the town’s point of difference and from that humble beginning begot riverside bars, nightly parties and tv bars serving endless repeats of family guy and friends, made palatable with servings of ‘happy’ pizzas, topped with magic mushrooms. The drink of the Nam Song is a Whisky Bucket – copious local whiskey, red bull and soft drink served up in a bucket for only $3.50.
“Laos is the most heavily bombed country on earth, hit by an average of one B-52 bomb every 8 minutes, 24 hrs a day, between ’64 and ’73 by U.S. forces”
It was a backpacker’s dream location – cheap prices, beautiful scenery and lawlessness. Days spent riding the river and nights spent partying, with an revolving array of young hedonists from around the globe to share the fun with. At one of the riverside bars, the barmen kept a record of the most ‘shag’s’ in a day and the double digit figures attest to what a wild party town Vang Vieng was.
27 tourists died on the river in 2011, most drowning in the fast flowing waters of the Nam Song. Figures for 2012 were 7 tourists dead, including two Aussies, by August. Outside pressure on the government lead to the riverside bars being closed down late August and the scene changing forever.
I found Vang Vieng an interesting sociological experiment. Market forces work on supply and demand. Rice farming is one of the most labour intensive industries in the world. When locals see an opportunity to fulfil a need by setting up riverside bars, who is to blame for tourists over-indulging? Do we as humans really need to be controlled and regulated against ourselves?
Vang Vieng in the day was wild and crazy and a hell of a lot of fun…for a few days! To capture the madness I went with a track from The Stooges: ‘TV EYE’, from their 1970 funhouse album. And of course to match such frenetic raw music I needed to edit this baby like a epileptic’s nightmare!
In my video I didn’t want to pontificate about who was right or wrong over the deaths, I just wanted to show you what it was like. I hope you enjoy what some would call tourism gone wrong and other’s, who survived the bedlam, one crazy ride!
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