Vang Vieng cleans up its act

VIENTIANE, 15 May 2017: Information, Culture and Tourism Office reports Vang Vieng attracted 183,000 visitors last year generating more than 70 billion kip (USD8.52 million) from its tourism industry.

Lao News Agency noted that of the total visitor count, more than 141,000 visits were foreigners. Efforts to clear the resort of unruly backpackers and reduce drug abuse has also been partially successful.

About half of all tourists in 2016 came from Asia, 30% from the EU and 20% from other parts of the world.

Vang Vieng district’s Information, Culture and Tourism Office director, Bounmy Phommavongsa, was quoted saying that more family groups visited the town in 2016, which stands at the halfway point on the overland trip to Luang Prabang.

South Koreans were mentioned as the group that promised the most potential in the family travel market.

Vang Vieng is recognised for 43 natural tourist sites that include 34 caves, two waterfalls, four cliffs with viewpoints on top, and three natural reservoirs.

Most travellers visit the riverside town to chill-out in the small resorts and guest houses that line the river banks.

Vang Vieng has 145 places of accommodation for visitors, including 17 hotels, one ASEAN green-standardised hotel, 10 resorts, 116 guesthouses, and one home-stay which comprises eight houses. It offers around 2,700 rooms but the average occupancy is less than 50%.

There are more than 150 businesses involved in tourism-related services, such as catering, entertainment centres, massage parlours and souvenir shops, along with 16 tour companies, 21 kayaking service units, one river tubing service group and one long-tail boat service group.

Vang Vieng authorities have been battling the resort’s negative image in the media that portrays it as a backpackers destinations. The media spotlight was on social ills associated with mass tourism such as drug abuse and culturally insensitive behavour.  Notices and guidebooks warn visitors not to wear  immodest clothing when walking along the town’s streets.

Vang Vieng became infamous for its tourist ghetto packed with bars that attracted hordes of backpacking tourists. They drank heavily and partied late into the night. There were some serious drink-related accidents on roads and also drownings and drug related incidents.

Vang Vieng stands the banks of the Nam Song River, 166 km north of the Lao capital served by air-conditioned buses that take four hours to complete the journey. The most notable feature of the area is the karst hill landscape surrounding the town and its picturesque river.