…a remarkable backdrop of karst scenery, limestone cliffs, caves and caverns…Bob Marley’s music invariably wails across the water and a procession of backpackers in boardshorts and bikinis sun themselves as they drift by on oversized inner tubes. Upriver, barmen use bamboo poles to pull tube riders out of the current and into their shacks for shots of fiery lao-lao whisky and a free flying-fox ride with every beer. Love it or leave it, this is Vang Vieng. In Laos, fun or “muan” is the national creed, and Vang Vieng is a town devoted to giving tourists their fill.
I have never been to Vang Vieng but, to my mind, this is an important type of article. This type of report can clarify some of the ways that the tourist scene inevitably lurks in the background of almost all academic research projects now claiming to provide understanding of mainland Southeast Asia. In my view, the tourist industry can’t be avoided or ignored. At the same time, the force of tourist activity should ensure that the pristine and untrammelled Southeast Asia of some imaginations can be vanquished once and for all.
One reason that tourism needs to be given its due is that “fun spots”, like Vang Vieng and many others, are a surprisingly important part of the wider regional economy. Just how important is a real question. I don’t know if there is a good answer. Tourism is also, of course, probably the key frame through which the world views mainland Southeast Asia. The social and political ramifications of tourism’s global smorgasbord demand attention beyond the limited scope of “tourism studies”.
There is much to commend more critical and informed discussion of this topic.