When read that Vang Vieng was a one-time hedonistic party playground, now trying to eek out a space for itself as the next eco-tourism hot spot in Southeast Asia, I was intrigued. And starting out my travels, I saw plenty of young scuzzy backpacker types roaming around the streets of Cambodia and Vietnam sporting their Vang Vieng "In the Tubing" and Sakura Bar over-sized tanks. I read reports online that described the town as a drugged out wasteland, just messed up kids lounging around cafés that played nothing but Friends on an endless loop.
To give you a little background, and to paraphrase a bit from my Lonely Planet, back in the '90s, Vang Vieng was a sleepy little town on the banks of a beautiful, slow moving river. Backpackers would show up to drift down the river in an old tire, "smoke the odd spliff" and drink at the chilled-out bars along the banks of the river as they floated along. Word got out, and Vang Vieng became Southeast Asia's next drugged-out mecca; make-shift rave platforms started springing up along the river, the drugs got harder, and suddenly there were several deaths a year as people zonked out of their gourd started drowning and overdosing. The government cracked down in 2012, shutting down all the riverbank bars, and, according to Lonely Planet, the party was over, with just outdoorsy activities left behind.
Was it true? Was Lonely Planet right? Or were the accounts of the travel bloggers? More importantly, could a 36-year-old solo traveller (read: single, sort-of older woman) entertain herself there for a few days without being miserable? Was it an endless rave? A town-sized opium den? Or a outdoor enthusiast's paradise on earth? Read More