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Tubing in Vang Vieng doesn't make everyone happy

By: Thomas Wanhoff Posted: August-03-2010 in
DJ at the river in Vang Vieng
Thomas Wanhoff

It could be so beautiful. We arrive at the Organic Farm. Goats standing in their wooden stables, chewing mulberry leaves. A black-white kitten is walking with us, asking for attention with a loud "miau". Birds are singing from the trees. Morning clouds are hanging deep around the hills surrounding the Nam song river valley. Nature at it's best. If there wouldn't be another sound: blasting music. Welcome to Vang Vieng, the “paradise” for backpackers.

It's starts in the morning and ends late night: The new sound of fun is all over the valley, you can't really escape the techno and hip hop coming from the bars along the river. 20somethings from Australia, Europe and the US are the main clients, coming to Laos for one reason: Getting drunk while tubing.
Recently fishermen were complaining that they can't walk barefoot in the river anymore as they did for generations, because of the broken glass from uncountable beer bottles left on the rivers ground. And because of the loud music they can't get much sleep either.

We are walking to one of the bars. It's advertising shisha and chilling tunes. The noise from the bass is rumbling in our stomach. "Why you need to pollute the place with that loud music?", I ask the young foreigner, who is the the DJ and apparently one of the bar owners. "We didn't start it", he says. I try to explain that the beauty of Laos is the untouched nature. That it's a ecotourism country (whatever that means, but for sure not the fun parks in Vang Vieng). "I get your point", he says. I explain about the culture and that girls in bikinis and drunken westerners are kind of offending the locals. "We speak Thai and Lao", he try to find an excuse.
In fact, they don't care about culture, tradition and environment. The government was recently considering a ban for bottles, and want to introduce cans instead. As if this would change anything.

Someone posted on Facebook the other day that the music is marketing, and that the local bar owners need that to survive and make a living. That's just wrong. First of all marketing studies actually proof that loud music leads to lower consumption. That's why drinks in discos are expensive, because people don't drink that much. Second, it's not that they would not get any guests without the music - or less noisy tunes. Some backpackers are already so drunken, they stop everywhere as long as there is cheap beer.

Tourism companies are already pulling out clients from Vang Vieng. "We get too many complains about the music", one employee who did not want to be identified by name told me. Also, due to the small profit local business make with the money-saving backpackers, there will no investment in improving restaurants and hotels.

But it could get worse. The more party people are coming, the more bars will open up. Although prostitution isn't that obvious in Laos, it's there. And it will grow. As the drug use and trade will be. Why should farmers send their kids to school, when they can easily let them serve beer to the young foreigners?

The only solution is a change of the backpackers mindset. Years before, backpackers were exploring a country. They were looking for the undiscovered places. Nowadays, backpackers discover places by Lonely Planet, the bible, dressed in Beerlao shirts, shorts and sandals and the water bottle in hand. Not that much individual, by the way.

Vang Vieng has to offer so much more than tubing. It's a perfect spot for hiking. also try a kajak tour and enjoy the stunning landscape. (Aren't the hills look like the one's on Pandora in the Avatar movie?). Explore the caves nearby. Stay at the organic farm for some days and feed the goats. Talking about hills, Vang Vieng is also perfect for rock climbing. Take a beginners curse or bring your own equipment and literally hang around.

Backpackers must go back to their origin. Responsible tourism isn't only for wealthy people, it's something everyone needs to accept and adapt. Otherwise, westerners will again just invade and destroy parts of South East Asia.

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Wanting to capitalize on this

Wanting to capitalize on this factor, Tag Heuer's Indian ambassadors are a few of the most influential role versions within the culture? ?But if you don't have a lot of time or just don't like going to a health club many people like to workout from the comfort of their home so you may want to look into an Internet based physical fitness club that has programs set up with basics on how to diet safely and provide specific automatic gates


Mr Thomas Wanhoff, I was the

Mr Thomas Wanhoff,
I was the man who you unleashed your foul mouthed tirade on. Firstly I congratulate you on managing to successfully break more or less every cultural and social rule in less than ten minutes. I had a great time explaining to my Lao builders (who witnessed your tantrum) that all of us western folk are not like you! I pride myself that at no point did I lower myself to your level and call you repulsive disgusting names as you so freely did to me. We are creating jobs, teaching English attempting to make recycling the norm in VV and to raise issues about waste and increase awareness about the environment. I know that you probably do have good intentions and I totally agree that what is happening to Vang Vieng (especially at the top of the river) is tragic. However there are still alot of good people here doing alot of good things. And behaving the way you did will only further facilitate the problem. If you ever come back and visit us again I would be more than happy to take you round Vang Vieng and show you some of the community projects we are involved in. Maybe you can donate some money? I know that SEA Lao charity would certainly appreciate it. Incidentally are you still responsible for organizing the sound at rock concerts (as you said to me that day) if so have you thought about your own sound pollution, or is this one of those situations where its okay because its you?


Mr. Thomas Wanhoff, i heard

Mr. Thomas Wanhoff, i heard that you visited our bar back in August time with your wife and kids, not only were you extremely rude to our staff, (we had customers at the bar at the time) swearing at them before even giving them the time of day to explain our situation.

Firstly if you knew anything about Laos culture you'd know its extremely rude to raise your voice in public and using that kind of language in front of your kids what kind of image are you portraying for yourself? Are you being a responsible tourist swearing at bar owners instead of talking rationally and asking politely first.

We had the concept for our bar/restaurant/art space 3 years ago when Vang Vieng was much less crowded and the bars were smaller and backpackers more relaxed. Yes now unfortunately since 2 years ago a few of the bars have been employing foreigners up to ten or 15 at a time, spray painting and writing in marker obscene things on each other, i fully disagree with this. Having 10 to 15 people working at the top bars on the river is totally illegal and does not support sustainable tourism, these jobs should go to the locals, but who has instigated this trend, a few local bar owners themselves. They seem to have the mindset that if lots of foreigners are working there they can promote, drink and eat for free and tell everyone else to come. I totally disagree with this also.

If you think our music is loud, why don't you go to the bars up river? They are played to distortion, as an audio engineer myself I know what levels of sound are damaging to the ear, and ours is certainly NOT. The customers are certainly not requesting the music, my brother and I are the DJs, its not a dukebox service, we play everything from jazz, funk, dub, reggae and yes electronic music but quality electronic music if you don't like electronic then thats your problem not mine, open your ears!! I think you grouped everyone together and just wanted someone to blame and unleash your anger at. Next time take a massage.

We spent almost 2 years making business documents, licenses, visas, permits etc, we did everything by the book; but still we could only get 2 foreign working visas. This is fine you have to accept the rules and do we have any other foreigners working for us? NO. The 2 younger brothers of our friend and business partner work for us, their wage is far better than at other bars/restaurants in Vang Vieng. A year ago they could not speak any English at all, now their English is excellent and improving all the time. As I lived in Thailand for a 2 years and Laos for a year I am fluent in both and (I and my partners) taught them both what they know now. They are both now trained on the bar and can cook all the dishes from our restaurant menu. Sustainable tourism you ask? Well there it is.

Not to mention all the jobs we've created in building the project, making signs and decorations for close by neighbors, we have a good relationship with the majority of the community.

If you saw all the effort we put into recycling, reusing, our art works, decoration, retaining all the trees around, making gardens, compost, working together with the locals as well as raising money for Sae Lao Project maybe you'd change your mind.

You should visit our new website and see for yourself, its not just advertising our bar/restaurant its a porthole for a vast amount of information about things to do in Vang Vieng, NOT just tubing. With maps, info, its quite a comprehensive guide.

So next time you go into a bar all guns blazing like a bull in a china shop, take a deep breath, relax and get some information from the owners first, then you might see the real picture.
Theres lots to do in V V
volunteer at the Farm


Giblet, it is not the locals.

Giblet, it is not the locals. The picture above shows a bar owned by a foreigner. The customers are requesting the music, if they would ask to shut it down, I am pretty sure the owners would do it.


I know it's popular for

I know it's popular for ex-pats to hate backpackers, but I don't think it's fair to put all of the blame on them. The locals in Vang Vieng are are creating a funfair for d-bags and then complaining that it's crawling with d-bags.

user avatar Anonymous


I still haven't seen any of Laos, despite working in Vietnam for three years. Maybe I should hurry up, or maybe it's too late - sounds like Khao San all over again. Sad and pathetic.


"Backpackers must go back to

"Backpackers must go back to their origin" When they are the type of selfish, ignorant, bloodsuckers mentioned here they must go.

Are we on our second or third generation of people who think everything exists for them to have/make use of/abuse/destroy as a right? They don't give a shit about their impact on the locals. (rant over)


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