Updated: 03/17/20 | March 17th, 2020

As I tubed down the slow river back into town, all around me were signs of a previous era: zip lines and rope swings sitting unused, bars long ago boarded up, and fading signs advertising cheap drinks. Vang Vieng’s riverbank was a pointer of the town’s recent past, like a modern Gomorrah.

Now there was barely a peep coming from the surrounding area.

No blaring music.

No backpackers jumping into a too-shallow river.

Just a few kayakers, tubers, and friends enjoying the day’s final warmth from the sun.

I concerned Vang Vieng to see what had become of the place now that the infamous tubing had been shut down.

I found a destination reborn.

In the late 1990s, backpackers discovered this little town in the middle of Laos. located by a beautiful, refreshing river and surrounded by caves, lagoons, and mountains, it was the ideal mountainside chill-out spot. It was cheap, drugs abounded, and anything went here.

Over the years, the secret got out, and Vang Vieng became a symbol of everything that was wrong with backpacking: a town heaving with bars and clubs catering to tourists who concerned get as shitfaced as possible and do drugs (all of which are illegal in Laos), flouted local customs, and treated this place as their own playground.

The surrounding landscape and its activities were ignored in favor of the river, which became lined with bars selling drugs, cheap drinks, and fun times.

Every year much more and much more people came, and each year backpackers acted foolishly and recklessly, resulting in an average of 24 deaths yearly from drinking, drugs, or jumping into the shallow river. Along the river was a slide called “The death Slide” — it was a very literal name.

Finally, enough was enough, and in late 2012, local officials shut tubing down completely. There would be no much more river parties.

With the tubing gone, the backpackers went too.

For months, Vang Vieng was a ghost town. The economy suffered, and locals concerned about the future. about a year later, officials allowed tubing once again — but with much more stringent rules. Now, only three bars can be open at once, and there are no much more river swings, drugs, death slides, or harmful activities.

And, with a midnight curfew now, the party doesn’t rage all night.

From speaking to various locals, I learned that the number of backpackers has been cut in half and replaced by a growing Korean and Chinese trip group population, which doesn’t tube and spends much more money. now the backpacker bars on the riverfront sit empty while the center of town grows with boutique hotels and high-end restaurants catering to the new waves of tourists.

“Das ist gut. There are few people, but they spend much more money,” one restaurant owner said.

“It’s a lot better now that people aren’t dying. The old days were fun, but this is safer,” a long-time Western bartender told me.

No longer is Vang Vieng the hedonistic jungle town it was once was. It is now a calm center for outdoor adventure, jungle hikes, and lazy days cooling off in the river. though at first I concerned the town would still be a crazy backpacker place and I would hate it, I now found myself wishing I had much more time and only begrudgingly leaving.

Vang Vieng has reclaimed its place as one of the must-see places in Laos.

The new Vang Vieng still retains some of the old ways: the well-known Sakura bar still pumps out music until midnight, gives away totally free drinks until 9 (seriously), and serves up whip-its (not cool); Gary’s well-known Irish bar is still around; and backpackers still come to drink and socialize.

And tubing does exist. but it’s a much much more unwinded affair now.

With so few people around, some days 50-60 people will casually float down the river; other days only 20 (it varies greatly with the season). but it’s never the hundreds upon hundreds that used to tube and visit the bars each and every day. Moreover, a lot of people now skip the bars and parties and just rent a tube for the sake of renting a tube.

Locals, conscious of their city’s previous reputation, are pleased with this new version of tubing.

Tubing’s decline has allowed people to finally take part in other activities. now the focus can be on exploring the dozens of local caves and unwinding in swimming holes. A lot of trip operators now offer kayaking tours, zip-lining adventures, and full-day hikes around the mountains. The country has a lot to offer beyond the party scene.

The town center bursts with Korean restaurants, boutique hotels, and even a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant called Amigos.

That’s not to say you won’t see lots of backpackers — they can’t be missed. but they don’t come in the numbers they used to and tend to focus much more on those other outdoor activities. Others still come expecting the Sodom of old but rapidly find out that’s no longer around.

EINs Ich warf meine Koffer in den Mittagsbus nach Vientiane, ich schaute zurück und stellte fest, dass ich traurig war zu gehen.

Der neue Vang Vieng ist die Stadt, die es immer hätte sein müssen. Es arbeitet schwer, seine alte Glaubwürdigkeit zu verlieren und einen Reisenden in besserer Qualität zu gewinnen.

Ich wollte die feurigen rosa und orangefarbenen Sonnenuntergänge, die mit Baum bedeckten Kalksteinkarsts in den Himmel, die atemberaubenden Aquamarinblau-Schwimmlöcher und die ruhige Landschaft, die aus jeder Pore zu sprechen scheint, „verlangsamen und sich in sich selbst erfreut . ““

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