Vang Vieng is great, it is the reflection of what Asians think Americans/Westerners want. Though it may be hard to accept the reality, they hit the nail on the head and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is based on the Western ideal vacation: doing nothing. The “restaurants” are tables and chairs faced at TV screens showing reruns of Friends and Family Guy. This isn’t one or two restaurants, it’s essentially all of them. While the shows may not be our first choice, being able to pass your time eating, drinking, and sitting around, is pretty nice. This is as American as apple pie in front of the TV, which you can have here.
When the weather is nice Vang Vieng gets even better, you can drink on the waterfront. From Boston to Miami, icehouses in Minnesota to the steakhouses of San Antonio, this is as American as, well, drinking by the water. There are games to be played including beer pong, flip cup and drinking challenges. Best of all, there is a cool river that you can jump, slide and swing into when the equatorial sun becomes too much. Drinks are cheap and come in children’s beach buckets with straws a plenty for you and your new friends.
After you make a fool of yourself at one bar, there are dozens more you can walk, swim or float to. When you reach your end point, it is back to town where drinks are cheaper and served to you in front of the TVs.
I see now that if I replaced “Vang Vieng” with “Mexico” I wouldn’t have to change very much. Clearly it is well understood what the Western tourist wants.
Vang Vieng, Laos was not my favorite destination on the trip even though the scenery, especially getting there and leaving is absolutely breathtaking. The activities just weren’t my style, as you may have learned from the debate about seeing it all that I am not very good at sitting idle. Therefore an entire city built around TV watching and drinking on the river with little else to offer was not the place for me. Three days of eating Laos’s version of western food and watching re-runs of FRIENDS and Family Guy was plenty for me. This may be what the majority of vacationing westerners are looking for, but it’s not what I expected to find in Laos.
The Lao people’s view of westerners is surely tainted by everyone lazily watching TV, ordering plate after plate of food and drinking excessively. Our time in Vang Vieng coincided with two straight days of rain and so our TV time was increased by the weather not cooperating for outdoor activities. When the rain did quit we spent the day on the river, which admittedly was pretty fun- the wild, crazy Cancun style spring break that I never had in college. For me just one day of the river mayhem was enough, but I was happy to have waited out the rain.
When it is sunny and the rope swings are in full force a day on the Nam Song river is the way to go in Vang Vieng and if I were 10 years younger I could see myself really enjoying Vang Vieng. I hate to say it, but maybe I am just a little too old for cheap whiskey buckets, back breaking rope swings and loud hip-hop music under the equatorial sun. My beer pong skills aren’t as sharp as they were in college and Jag Bombs just don’t go down as easy. So, if you’re thinking of making a trip to Vang Vieng do it now before you’re too old.