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The World's Most Unlikely Party Town
April 8, 2012 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Welcome to Vang Vieng Vang Vieng, deep in the jungle of Laos, is a backpacker paradise where there are no rules. Last year at least 27 travellers died there, and countless more were injured.

It's midday on the banks of the Nam Song. Adam Axford, who's a part-time magician back in Ilford, is spending his last day organising drinking games. "Lime in the eye!" he shouts, inviting the crowd to join a contest involving downing a shot, snorting salt and squeezing lime juice into their eyeballs. "It doesn't get any more stupid than this!" he enthuses.
posted by modernnomad (105 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
There certainly are rules. The problem is that the type of tourists visiting have no interest in abiding by the very rules they learned growing up back home: don't expose your genitals in public; don't jump into bodies of water without knowing the depth and terrain; don't mix unknown drugs with vast quantities of booze. These rules are the same whether you're in Vang Vieng or Ilford.

There are traveller accidents that are tragic; these do not number among them. These number among the traveller accidents that are just stupid.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:00 AM on April 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


And that, right there, encapsulates why I hate feeling like a tourist in developing countries. Ick!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:02 AM on April 8, 2012


feeling like a tourist in developing countries

There really is no other way to feel if you're going to visit them. You're not going to become a local whether you're there for two weeks or two years, regardless of the level of tourism you practice. You're either exploiting or exploited, mostly both and there's no other way around it. That's the nature of tourism.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:10 AM on April 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


"...is a backpacker paradise where there are no rules. Last year at least 27 travellers died there, and countless more were injured."

♪♪One of these things is not like the other ♪♪
posted by Blasdelb at 7:16 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Indeed. But I do everything I can to avoid being that kind of tourist.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:28 AM on April 8, 2012


I would have enjoyed that place when I was about 22, but now I'd be the crotchety old guy complaining about the noise and kids on my lawn.
posted by Forktine at 7:29 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nosing around, there's lots about Vang Vieng on the Lonely Planet forums: Vang Vieng deaths, corrupt police, etc.
posted by mediareport at 7:36 AM on April 8, 2012


--You're either exploiting or exploited, mostly both and there's no other way around it. That's the nature of tourism.--

Unless this is said metaphorically or is confined to specific scenarios or is restricted in some other contextual way I'm not seeing, then I'd say that such a blanket black & white statement is complete horseshit.
posted by peacay at 7:36 AM on April 8, 2012 [24 favorites]


I'm sure Vang Vieng is a totally shitshow - we ended up not going on this trip (went to Japan instead) - but within the first 5 minutes of cracking open the first guidebook to Laos I knew exactly what the deal was with Vang Vieng and my wife and I easily made the decision not to go there. It seems silly to me to let a bunch of idiot 20 year-olds who haven't thought through their actions deter people who can act like grown ups from visiting developing countries. As long as you are respectful and understanding of what is going on around you I think its a good thing.

The only sort of moral ambiguity I get is when you go to markets in cultures that are predicated on bargaining. Sort of a "If I bargain for something that is already woefully underpriced by the standards I am used to am I bad person? If I willfully pay over the odds for something am I coming across as a patronizing westerner?"
posted by JPD at 7:44 AM on April 8, 2012


But why wait to reach Laos, when you drown by silly drunken tricks right here in the heart of Singapore?
posted by infini at 7:46 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Lao People's Revolutionary Party cunning allow this as a way of putting the locals off a western-style development trajectory.
posted by Abiezer at 7:50 AM on April 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


First, Lee Hudswell, 26, somersaulted into the river from an area marked with a "Do Not Jump" sign and fatally cracked his skull on a large rock. (The sign, hastily rewritten by hand, now reads, "Do Not Jump or You Will Die".)

Wrong trajectory huh?
posted by infini at 7:56 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've been there. There are rules, especially those of common sense. If you die there, it's *your* fault. Australians have decided to make it their own personal hedonistic paradise with complete disregard to the community and culture.
posted by secondhand pho at 8:04 AM on April 8, 2012


"Dude, hold my Lao-Lao and watch this....."
posted by thelonius at 8:08 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think there are any bright lines between responsible tourism and what's going on here - it's all on a continuum. The defining characteristics are the distance from the tourist's home culture norms and the disparity between the tourist income and the local income.

I went to Norway about 10 years ago on a longish holiday, and had a realisation that I felt so much more at ease there because I didn't have to concern myself with my relationship with Norwegian culture - there's no real risk of cultural imperialism when you're in a country much richer and more developed than your own (even though I'm fully aware of my privilege).

This isn't to say that there's anything wrong with tourism to less developed countries, but there's quite a high level of risk assessment to what distortions you impose on a society that has to be made so you can feel you're doing it responsibly.

If you're not coming across many domestic tourists doing what you're doing, then you may want to evaluate your impact on the community. If you're much more of a target for shakedowns than local people, then you might want to travel more lightly.

That comes across as pretty prescriptive, but I think it's an ethic that I could stand behind.
posted by ambrosen at 8:14 AM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Then came "tubing".

God, these same puke-stained nincompoops arrive every year on the Cowichan River, causing fights, blasting music into the woods, and littering the riverbed with beer cans and used condoms. Where do these people come from? Why are they such idiots? Why don't go fuck off and die?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:47 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


...and this post reminds me of why I steer clear of drugs and only drink in moderation.
posted by Canageek at 9:00 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've said it before and I'll say it again... what's the deal with traveling Australians? I know it's purely based on my own encounters (and everything I've read too), but every single Australian I've met while traveling is a total Frat boy loser. Please, Australia, I know you have great people there, why do you only let the douchebags visit developing nations?
posted by cloeburner at 9:21 AM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


When I visited Vang Vieng nine years ago (a chance to be reunited with a friend half-way around the world in a remote mountain town) I described it as a land-locked Club Med in the mountains. Everything described in the article existed then, but on a different scale. There was only one bar on the river, there were only five or six spots where Lao teens would try to fish you with a bamboo pole so that you could buy one of the beers in the crate they had hauled to the shore, Lao Lao was consumed but usually a bottle was shared with locals, certainly not in beach buckets.

The locals still fished by net when the sun started to dip behind the karst mountains, and would do their laundry in the river (a fascinating process where clothing was dunked, wrung, then thrown upstream to float back as successive articles were juggled in an aquatic manner). It seemed like a mix of tradition and modern, a sharing of the river. I did sprain my finger swinging from a tree into the Nam Song river, I remember the disgusted looks of tourists taking anthropological boat rides while we waded by in our tubes, and I knew that once the planned tourist market 2km outside of town was built that things wouldn't be the same were I to return the next year.


At the time the local tourist serving adult population had broken English at best, but the 11 year old kid that rented us our inner tubes, he was fluent in English, knew how to bargain, and we knew one day he'd be running the show.
posted by furtive at 9:25 AM on April 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, had I known I'd have to take the 4 hour potholed mountain road back to Ventienne to mend a broken bone, then I never would have done half the things I did on the Nam Song, and I didn't do much.
posted by furtive at 9:27 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Where do these people come from? Why are they such idiots? Why don't go fuck off and die?
posted by 445supermag at 9:42 AM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why don't go fuck off and die?

Sounds like they're working on that part.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:45 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a shame. For me, it's especially annoying in that I'd actually like to check out Laos one day, but odds are I'd just run into flotillas of these morons.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:47 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, ain't that fuckin' depressing. I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I was a major factor in Vang Vieng becoming exactly the kind of place I despise. We arrived there sometime in the fall of 2000, with the intention of waiting out the horrible monsoons in the south that year, until we could head back to the Four Thousand Islands. Vang Vieng was a fairly sleepy village twelve years ago, and although it was getting its fair share of backpackers, we kinda liked the vibe. It was a good mix of local culture, stunning scenery, and enough amenities for a prolonged stay. And that's exactly what we decided to do. First we took a 99 year lease on a piece of land right across the river from Vang Vieng in Ban Hun Yea. We liked the idea of having access to electricity, internet, and other "luxuries" nearby, but also wanted to be able to escape tourists. Next we had to figure out how to make this work; how we could earn enough money to stay in what we saw as a fairly perfect spot for us.

When we were there, there were two main dirt roads that intersected one another, and we noticed a half built massive structure that hadn't seen any construction in a while. Through local friends, we got ahold of the owner, and long story short, took a ten year lease at a rate of $1900 USD/year (yes, year). I remember the man; his name was Van Leng, and although something about him seemed off, his cousin and half owner, had worked for the UN for three decades, and I trusted him. We took on a (mandatory) Lao partner who we'd known for quite a while, and decided that he really couldn't fuck us based on how I'd set things up - I owned the lease, all the furniture and appliances, and I'd take all the money we'd made that evening, home every night. It was an amazing opportunity for a couple of 23 year olds to test their entrepreneurial ability without much risk. We didn't expect to do as well as we did, and in the end, that's what led to our downfall.

We spent the next three months having our restaurant and bar built. It was by far the largest establishment in Vang Vieng. I decided to name it after my girlfriend and partner at the time, and called it "Hope's Oasis". We hired all Lao workers, tons of them, to finish the project as quickly as possible so we could be open for the major tourist season that started in December. On our opening night, we had over two hundred people in there. Back then, this would have been about half the entire tourist population. The place was fuckin' awesome, and the crowds never let up. It had a massive patio that could hold about a hundred people very comfortably, as well as a great inside that held an equal number of people. We put in a fantastic sound system, as well as great lighting, and there were three full size palm trees whose tops were on the other side of the roof (with fuckin' spot lights on them). We would open between 6pm and the village curfew of midnight every evening, seven days a week. I basically took something that had been going on in Thailand for years and deposited it in Lao, only more refined. We prided ourselves on a quality product - great, cheap food and booze, the best music in town, and an all round good vibe. My girlfriend was a chef, so she planned the menu, and we steered clear of serving any Lao dishes because we didn't wanna compete with all the other local restaurants. An entire table's meals were always served at the same time. We offered to levels of booze. One option was as much lao-lao as you wanted with any mix for about 60 cents US, and the other option was more premium booze like Stolichnaya, Jose Cuervo, and a bunch of other products we were allowed to purchase at the "Duty Free" shop in the middle of the capital, Vientiane, for $10 USD/40 oz. bottle. I think we sold a shot of any of those with mix for about three bucks. We also had access to very cheap good French wine, due to Lao's colonial past.

The crowds never relented, and we soon realized what kind of a monster we had created. Our patrons fancied themselves as backpackers, but in reality, had never done anything adventurous in their lives. They'd just chill out in Vang Vieng for a month or more, eating banana pancakes for breakfast every morning, going tubing every day, frequented my establishment, and then finishing the night off at any number of local opium dens.

We had a staff of eight Laotians, as well as a rotating crew of backpackers, working for us. The locals would receive about 1.5 times the normal salary for whatever their job happened to be, as well as tips. Since we weren't open until the evening, they could also keep a second job. We'd take on foreigners as servers or bartenders, and in exchange they'd receive room and board, and have all their food, booze, and visa costs covered. They were just good people that wanted to be able to stay away from home longer.

Every day around 4pm, all available staff sat down for a large meal with us that we provided. Then prep began in the kitchen, and we'd open the doors around 6. At first things were great; everybody was having a good time and we were making really great money; much more than I expected. This was due, not in small part, to the government allowing me to choose a tax rate of 15% on all sales or a flat tax of $50USD/month - I shit you not. I guess you can imagine which one I chose.

Business was booming, which meant trouble for us. Every night, plain clothes cops would come in with their AK-47s and sit down for a free meal. When they began demanding kickbacks, I went to see the village chief to put an end to their extortion. Every day I'd go visit the chief at his house, we'd have a short chat about business and what I wanted to see implemented. He'd get up to go to the bathroom, and I'd slip a ridiculously small amount of money under the glass I'd been drinking from, only to be gone when he returned to the room. The nightly visits did stop, but that meant the police were looking for anything to incriminate me. They were hoping to find people smoking ganja on my patio, but they never did, as I had a strict policy about it. The police would turn a blind eye to all other local establishments, but I knew they wanted to fuck me.

After a few months of running Hope's Oasis, I loathed my clientele so much, that I was barred by my girlfriend from being there at night. I was a ball of negative energy. These people couldn't act responsibly with the gift I'd given them - there'd be fights every other night, drunks breaking bottles, yelling, hiding in my freezers, etc. And what the fuck did I expect, I'd made it so all the backpacker assholes now had a spot that made it comfortable to hang out for months at a time.

This is getting long, but... I ended up selling the place to my Canadian bartender, who loved the life of getting wasted every night and having a rotating menu of girls to fuck. Not long after I completed the transaction, he gave an interview to Time, and the resulting article had all expats kicked out of the town and their establishments taken away. See, the US has recently given the Laotian government $18 million to fight opium, and this article embarrassed the shit out of them.

There's a lot more to the story of how I ruined Vang Vieng, but I need some lunch. I'll leave you with this video of what the place is like these days. I queued it up for at the 2:40 mark, and that part goes for under five minutes. There are some other shots of Vang Vieng closer to the beginning as well. More VV/Lao starting around the 21:10 mark, with the hell beginning again at 26 minutes in. The Yaba starts at 35:30. 38:50 offers another glimpse into the shit that is Vang Vieng today
posted by gman at 9:53 AM on April 8, 2012 [351 favorites]


Granpa Darwin is softly smiling at us from heaven.
posted by egor83 at 9:53 AM on April 8, 2012


KokuRyu: "God, these same puke-stained nincompoops arrive every year on the Cowichan River, causing fights, blasting music into the woods, and littering the riverbed with beer cans and used condoms. Where do these people come from? Why are they such idiots? Why don't go fuck off and die?"

Dude, those are the locals.
posted by klanawa at 10:06 AM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow, gman. Thanks for the story!
posted by painquale at 10:15 AM on April 8, 2012


I didn't realize that SE Asia backpacker equalled drunken asshole until I saw it myself in Saigon. I always thought they were travellers, absorbing new cultures and having adventures while on break from school. Instead they concentrate in colonies drinking in Irish pubs and eating terrible food. At least they tend to stay in clots of yobs and leave areas outside their sphere of stupidity unexplored.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:25 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gap Yah
Granpa Darwin is softly smiling at us from heaven.
I... think you may need to re-read Origin of Species, you may be remembering it wrong.
posted by delmoi at 10:25 AM on April 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


To paraphrase a former President ... "We party hard over there so we don't have to party hard here".
posted by Xoebe at 10:29 AM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


As a white guy, because of places like this, I experience latent embarrassment being anywhere outside Europe.

Sorry, uh, we, uh, you know, it was really cold there, and um, there was the Pope, and, sorry, I know some of us are kinda jerks, and um, we kinda took over your land, but, uh, hey, we have some books you can read, we'll teach you how, and uh, beer, and, uh ... sorry I guess.

Hey um I'm gonna go squirt lime juice in my eye, you should try it, it's a good laugh, in case you didn't do that in your culture already.

posted by edguardo at 10:38 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, let's say I have this friend, yeah, that's the ticket, this, friend, who's a sedate, nerdly American approaching middle age, who likes to travel around places like rural Laos without getting wasted or otherwise offending the locals, who is perfectly fine "going native", as in accepting some of the local privations, paying well to avoid others (no TB, please, we're Americans...), showing some respectful curiosity about local religious practices but no interest in adopting them as a New Age affectation...

where does, uh, my friend find like minded people?

BTW, if you're like my friend, Tamil Nadu is paradise.
posted by ocschwar at 10:39 AM on April 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


what's the deal with traveling Australians? I know it's purely based on my own encounters (and everything I've read too), but every single Australian I've met while traveling is a total Frat boy loser.

Met loads of pleasant ones on my travels. Only met one nice Israeli, though. What's the deal with them, eh?
posted by the cuban at 10:54 AM on April 8, 2012


Oh god. I loved Laos. Hated Vang Vieng - or rather, the backpacker culture that was already rising when I was there in 2001. gman, thanks for the amazing story!

oschwar: I was there a decade ago, but I imagine Phongsali is still as remote and untouched-by-wankers because it's pretty damn hard to get to. Luang Prabang is touristy but beautiful and peaceful.

The locals still fished by net when the sun started to dip behind the karst mountains, and would do their laundry in the river

I still have a picture of a bunch of little siblings brushing their teeth in the river.
posted by lunasol at 10:58 AM on April 8, 2012


Only met one nice Israeli, though. What's the deal with them, eh?

Israeli backpackers in India is already the topic of a PhD dissertation, while the rest simply try to figure it out. A relevant snippet :

Maoz has found that relations between the Israelis and the natives correspond to those anthropologists have found in other Third World countries subject to an influx of large groups of tourists from the West. In a recent lecture at Ben-Gurion University, Maoz defined these relations as "hierarchical, one-sided and depressing". In an interview with Haaretz she described the Israeli backpackers' relations with the native population as "neo-colonial."

According to Maoz, most Israeli backpackers treat the Indians as if their sole purpose in life was to serve them. They ignore the locals' needs and feelings, treat them and their traditions with contempt and regard the Israeli enclaves as playgrounds where they can do almost anything they desire. Uninhibited drug use is a prime example. "I don't think that the Indians will continue to put up with the situation for much longer," warns Maoz. "The hosts and the guests are sitting on a powder keg that could blow up at any moment."

posted by infini at 11:05 AM on April 8, 2012


Only met one nice Israeli, though. What's the deal with them, eh?

Usually working off the stress/boredom/rigour of 3 years in the IDF.
posted by PenDevil at 11:05 AM on April 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Business was booming, which meant trouble for us.

People. They'll make you and they'll break you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:18 AM on April 8, 2012


I was in Vang Vieng a few months ago, the one thing I'd say for anyone traveling in Laos is that you can go there and enjoy the surrounding countryside and not partake of the wankery mentioned here. Across the river there are some really nice quiet little places to stay that are well situated to head off cycling in the countryside exploring caves and hills etc so if you're in Luang Prabang and heading to Vientiane or vice versa don't rule out stopping off there for a few days on the basis of its reputation, I'm not saying the reputation isn't well deserved - the whole tubing thing is fucking obnoxious for the most part - just that it can be side-stepped.
posted by nfg at 11:54 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I passed through Vang Vieng in 2007 in a self-supported bike tour from Ventiane to Luang Prabang. It's in a beautiful part of the country, with the steep mountains surrounding and a lovely river alongside town. We splurged on some comfy (and quiet) bungalows, which was a respite from the bucket shower guesthouses that we had been staying in.

The most annoying part of that town, aside from the throngs of drunk idiots, was the endless rerun of "Friends" episodes in almost every restaurant. I can ignore a bunch of wasted Australians, but don't subject me to lame TV when I'm halfway around the world from home. My small group of friends and I stayed for two nights, avoided the idiot backpacker nonsense, and continued on to Luang Prabang.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:15 PM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Christ, what an...

oh, I give up.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:34 PM on April 8, 2012


Such a pity. Actually, hanging out in a beautiful place for a month eating banana pancakes and Laotian food and swimming and tubing sounds deliriously nice. Relaxing with the occasional drink or lightweight substance would also be nice. But apparently no one can do that kind of thing in moderation, with courtesy and paying a fair rate, so I will never get to because all the places are full of drunken imperialist assholes.

One has to wonder, too, how much sexual assault is going on.

When I was working in China, the Australians were the only people consistently louder than Americans, and the Israelis were the only ones consistently meaner. In a way, I appreciated having them around since the rest of the foreigners could blame them for ruining things instead of blaming the Americans.
posted by Frowner at 12:37 PM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Luang Prabang is really nice, as is The Gibbon Experience. Go to Laos.
posted by memebake at 1:09 PM on April 8, 2012


I'd agree the Australians I've met abroad were often quite loud, but whatever. All the Israelis I've met abroad were quite nice. Americans weren't so much loud or mean as simply stupid. meh

If local culture doesn't mesh well with youth tourism, then they should close down the "resorts". If otoh the issue is simply that too many people are dying doing dangerous things, then exactly this sort of article is how you inform people, great!
posted by jeffburdges at 1:26 PM on April 8, 2012


You have to go across the world for this to happen? Heck, this happens at my university every single weekend. Large concentration of young people and free time yields the same thing no matter where you are.
posted by Conspire at 1:44 PM on April 8, 2012


"...is a backpacker paradise where there are no rules. Last year at least 27 travellers died there..."
♪♪One of these things is not like the other ♪♪


Actually if you take the old school Our Town approach to the afterlife they're pretty close.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:01 PM on April 8, 2012


I wonder, do tourists ever try to avoid the "backpacker" stereotype by using some alternate form of luggage carrying? Are messenger bags usable? I can imagine it could help to blend in if you're in an East Asian city, perhaps.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:15 PM on April 8, 2012


The lesson, as always: gman ruins everything.

As for the drunken tourist thing, i love Bali, but avoid Kuta at all costs. It's the Aussie Tijuana, with all that it implies.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:08 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can imagine it could help to blend in if you're in an East Asian city, perhaps.

Traveller rule number one: no matter how hard you try you will always look like an idiot to the locals. This isn't even a "foreigner" thing: Anyone who's ever been a local in a tourist town knows what I'm talking about.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:00 PM on April 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


Our patrons fancied themselves as backpackers, but in reality, had never done anything adventurous in their lives. They'd just chill out in Vang Vieng for a month or more, eating banana pancakes for breakfast every morning, going tubing every day, frequented my establishment, and then finishing the night off at any number of local opium dens.

This, and also what computech_apolloniajames said.

I had the misfortune to pass through Vang Vieng in I think 2002-03, and even though it was nowhere near the monstrosity it has become now, it was already a horrendous enclave for the softcore banana pancake brigade, who want nothing more than to eat ersatz pizza & hang out with their own kind, watching Friends & getting wasted.

I only spent one or two nights, en route from Vientiane to Luang Prabang - I think it was around 8 hours each leg in a sawngtheaw; a medium sized flatbed truck with a canvas over the back and two rows of low wooden benches to perch on.

Upon arriving in Vang Vieng, all I could find in terms of eating establishments were endless pizza & banana pancake restaurants. Asking "where do the Lao people eat here?" only got me bemused looks. Normally there would be at least a market where you could buy tasty takeaway curries & sticky rice etc for a song, but in Vang Vieng apparently there were no 'local' hole-in-the-wall restaurants or markets, because it's entirely an artificial town which exists only to serve soft-arsed idiots whose idea of travel is to find a comfort zone where they're entirely surrounded by their own kind. The fact that it was in no way a Lao town, but a cliche-ridden Doors & Bob Marley blasting shitfest made me want to get out as soon as I could.

I have no idea exactly how these gormless gits manage to infest this particular town, whereas in other Laotian towns like Pakse, Champasak or Muang Sing they were nowhere to be seen. I assume there's a line-of-least-resistance river route from NW Thailand to Vang Vieng, then down to Vientiane & back to the next Full Moon Party.

In conclusion, I am better than everybody, and their favourite travelling style sucks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:05 PM on April 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


One of my favorite treatments of this general topic is photographer Jörg Brüggemann's Same Same But Different.
posted by msbrauer at 5:14 PM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: a horrendous enclave for the softcore banana pancake brigade
posted by gen at 5:33 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: a cliche-ridden Doors & Bob Marley blasting shitfest

(too many to choose from!)
posted by gen at 5:37 PM on April 8, 2012


msbrauer - The beaches of Tel Aviv photos on that site are pretty good too.
posted by pmcp at 5:39 PM on April 8, 2012


Apocryphon: I wonder, do tourists ever try to avoid the "backpacker" stereotype by using some alternate form of luggage carrying? Are messenger bags usable? I can imagine it could help to blend in if you're in an East Asian city, perhaps.

Backpacks really are the best luggage to carry a load when you're walking around a lot. A backpack with a proper waist-belt lets you distribute the weight between your shoulders and hips.

A messenger bag concentrates the weight on just one of your shoulders. They work pretty well when you're on a bicycle or motorcycle because when you lean forward to grip the handlebars the load can rest flat on your back. And they're great for messengers because you can swing them around to the front and get something out of them without taking them off. But walking around a lot with a heavy load in a shoulder bag is a recipe for pain.

Most American/Australian/European tourists will never actually blend in in an East Asian city, no matter what luggage they're carrying, though.
posted by aneel at 5:54 PM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've said it before and I'll say it again... what's the deal with traveling Australians?

I'd like to apologise for my bogan countrymen, in general I would say that in my experience this phenomenon is far more pronounced in south-east/Asia due to cheap, cheap airfares from AU and the plethora of packing holidays. I think the analogy to Tijuana is a good one.

When we were in Japan about a year ago I was absolutely sickened by the behaviour of some of the Aussies I saw in Hakuba/Nagano area. Every terrible travel cliche you could imagine: boorish, racist, drunken, disrespectful. I felt terrible and could only hope the put-upon residents weren't judging every Australian by the idiots trying to hump a snow monkey. Sigh.
posted by smoke at 6:25 PM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


... what's the deal with traveling Australians?

Australians put up a front of loud and slightly aggressive bonhomie when they need to mask their anxiety. There I said it. Secret's out. The sheer theatricality of their displays should tip you off that it's all misdirection. Approach the Australian slowly, palms out. Speak in low, even tones. Reassure it that you mean no harm. It may offer beer: this is a defensive reflex. Continue to murmur soothingly. A pacified Australian may let you rub its belly or play with its ears. Once it has attached itself to you it will prove a loyal companion, although they are difficult to domesticate and should probably be left outdoors when you have people over.
posted by Ritchie at 6:51 PM on April 8, 2012 [54 favorites]


I passed through in 2003 as part of a year traveling. Even at that point Vang Vieng was something else and we'd been to Manali, Goa, and spent a month in Thailand by that point, so we'd seen some seriously bad traveller behavior. I kept a blog on that trip and my entry for VV notes that the first person we talked to while we were floating down the river had already been there a week and had made many tube trips. He was floating off to buy weed and helpfully told us that wet money was no problem.

Despite VV Laos is a beautiful country and it was a highlight of our trip.
posted by Cuke at 7:37 PM on April 8, 2012


God, this thread is rife with traveling hipsters. "Oh, I loved this small Cambodian village before it got popular." Shut the hell up. You haven't done anything more adventurous than thousands of people before you. Do you speak Cambodian/Lao/Vietmanese? Do you have any freaking clue what's happening around you other than what you can see on the surface? For all of your whining about how these cultures are being tainted by commerce, how exactly are you not contributing to this?
posted by alidarbac at 8:23 PM on April 8, 2012 [14 favorites]


"God, this thread is rife with traveling hipsters."

GET OFF OF MY TUK-TUK!!!
posted by bardic at 8:42 PM on April 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


Maybe not blending in, but I was thinking a messenger bag would bring up fewer "idiot tourist" labels than backpacks. I just assume that tourist backpacks are basically equivalent to fanny packs these days.
posted by Apocryphon at 8:42 PM on April 8, 2012


That said, Laos is great. Fly directly into Luang Prabang and enjoy the scenery. Yes it's touristy, but still rather amazing. Take some day trips. Rent a bike.

Then fly home. Or, fly to Vientiane (the capital). A lot of people think Vientiane is lame, but I really enjoyed spending a few days there.

A lot of my fellow expats in South Korea have visited Laos. (Visa on arrival, cheap, friendly.) It's pretty easy to tell which ones are going for drugs and which ones aren't.

I blame Thailand though. There's been a lot of cracking down on drugs there, and the Western backpackers have changed their travel habits accordingly.
posted by bardic at 8:46 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


God, this thread is rife with traveling hipsters

Backpackers were telling people they were into something before it was popular before hipsters were popular.
posted by pompomtom at 9:01 PM on April 8, 2012 [12 favorites]




God, this thread is rife with traveling hipsters. "Oh, I loved this small Cambodian village before it got popular." Shut the hell up. You haven't done anything more adventurous than thousands of people before you. Do you speak Cambodian/Lao/Vietmanese? Do you have any freaking clue what's happening around you other than what you can see on the surface? For all of your whining about how these cultures are being tainted by commerce, how exactly are you not contributing to this?


You know, you're right. I was not adventurous at all on my last trip. I rented a service apartment in a middle class section of Chennai/Madras for a week, and rented a driver every time I wanted to go somewhere further than a half hour on a tuktuk. This was after attending a friend's Hindu wedding. After attending this tee-total celebration, featuring Tamil music that the wedding guests treated as chamber music, rather than dancing to it, I seriously fell in love with the sedate pace of life in that city.

And I will happily taint some Cambodian village with my commerce if they have decent food and some places of natural beauty for me to visit, or ancient temples, or some unusual way to live that's adapted to local conditions. I might even cause market prices there to be distorted to the point that the local hostel decides to invest in modernized plumbing.

I just want to do it without running into shitfaced backpackers.

Why should Europe have a corner on the market for tourism by Rick Steves fans?
posted by ocschwar at 9:05 PM on April 8, 2012


I just want to do it without running into shitfaced backpackers.

That's really the thing that I was seeing in people's objections to Vang Vieng in this thread; not the bizarre strawman arguments put forth by alidarbac.

You don't need to speak Spanish to recognise that the party scenes in places like Ibiza or Cancun suck dogs' balls (unless you are specifically into dogball sucking party scenes) and you don't need a PhD depth of cultural understanding to realise that effectively naked public groping & drunkenness is deeply insensitive in a very sexually modest culture like Laos.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:28 PM on April 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I went through there in early 2009. Ran into Joron Van Der Sloot, got drunk, did shrooms, tried not to die on the zip lines, and did a day on scooters out of town. The surrounding area is very beautiful. It ceases to be a backpacker stop outside a very small space as a few other have noted.

Mostly I was fascinated by its very existence - it's a sloppy, charged scene in an otherwise tranquil, beautiful place. I think it sits in a narrow window of time and space, and I doubt it will be around for many more years as it is today.
posted by MillMan at 10:12 PM on April 8, 2012


You haven't done anything more adventurous than thousands of people before you.

And yet it is still an adventure. Beats the alternative.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:17 PM on April 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Although I've spent enough time, learned enough local language and probably done enough to help local Asian streetkids so as to meet the stringent anti-hipster commenting requirements of our self-styled Pope alidarbac, I don't actually believe a person needs to satisfy anyone else's patronising and dismissive hurdles in order to form and share opinions about their travel destinations. I love hearing reactions and stories about esoteric places in Asia from all types.

Also, I find there are bastards, saints and wankers of all nationalities wherever you go. The trick, for me, is to have more regard for the content of a person's character rather than the country name in the passport.
posted by peacay at 11:59 PM on April 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh I'm sure the massive influx of money is just making the locals totally miserable.

Maybe it's an unpleasant tourist trap but it's not like it's some burden being imposed from the outside.
posted by delmoi at 12:35 AM on April 9, 2012


"God, this thread is rife with traveling hipsters."

Metafilter: I was totally into Burning Man Vang Vieng before it jumped the shark and the masses started showing up.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:01 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


what's the deal with traveling Australians?

Yafugginwannagoyacahnt?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:36 AM on April 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


delmoi: Oh I'm sure the massive influx of money is just making the locals totally miserable.

I've experienced the transformation firsthand in quite a few places, and I can tell you that the majority of people were indeed happier before tourism came along. Yes, some locals got rich, but at what expense for the general population? See, because these booms happen rather quickly, the ethics lag far behind the growth. Making as much money today, without thinking about the consequences for tomorrow. No solutions for what to do about garbage, rising crime rates, increased meth addictions, etc. etc. etc. A once sleepy and very communal village with almost no competition among neighbours, turns into a loud, polluted, full of jealousy, culture crushing town of what they believe we want to have in order to spend more money.

Prices increase at a rate that makes many basic products in the market unaffordable for those who don't own businesses. I will tell you, without reservation, that the influx of tourists on small towns like Vang Vieng, has indeed ruined the way of life these people have known for centuries. It's a form of imperialism, and I wish I hadn't been such a major part of it.

alidarbac: God, this thread is rife with traveling hipsters. "Oh, I loved this small Cambodian village before it got popular." Shut the hell up. You haven't done anything more adventurous than thousands of people before you. Do you speak Cambodian/Lao/Vietmanese?

Yes, Vang Vieng was a much better place in the mid to late nineties. But even then, it wasn't exactly the epicentre of adventure as you define it. And yes, I did learn the language. I mean, I was going to be living there and doing business, so it was the responsible thing to do. Not to mention, it would be tough to get by in many of the countries I visit without being able to speak a basic amount of the language, or read numbers. As for not doing anything more adventurous than thousands before me, you're making a very sweeping statement here without knowing anything about me. I'm not saying that I'm Marco fuckin' Polo, but I do travel places with no tourists and absolutely no tourist infrastructure (Congo, Burundi, Afghanistan, Iraq, NE parts of Burma, etc.) I'll reside in these places for long periods of time, often staying with locals, eating only market food, using local hospitals, hitchhiking my way around. But you're right, at the end of the day, I know that if the going gets that tough, I can always leave, unlike the vast majority of locals. So yes, I will never truly know what it's like to be in their shoes, but I do try my best to get a basic feel for it.
posted by gman at 3:24 AM on April 9, 2012 [26 favorites]


Great personal history gman. Though not nearly to the same extent, Vang Vieng made a real impact on my life (hence the username). We went in early 2000, not long after y2k and just before the release of "The Beach". My experience there was idyllic. It makes me sad to hear of the changes. I'd say there were maybe 30 gringos in town when I was there. I remember the harrowing bus ride in and being absolutely amazed at the beauty. I remember saying to an Irish girl next to me on the bus "this is the promised land". The karst formations, the river glistening in the late afternoon sun. We found a guesthouse that backed up to the airstrip. It was wedding season while we were there and we were invited to local weddings almost daily. The riverfront and river were almost strictly local use, and tubing seemed like a nascent activity. We asked the local headmaster if we could use their athletic field by the river after school hours, and we had daily games of soccer. Inevitably the game ended up with dozens of local kids playing with/against us 'til sunset. We learned to play the sandal toss/Pokemon card game with the young ones, and we taught them to fly a frisbee. We explored the caves, we swung on the rope swings, we tubed, we did all the douchebag activities that have ruined the place. Sure, we weren't Peace Corps workers, but we certainly didn't feel like we were ruining the place. In the month we were there I spent $200. I've travelled essentially nonstop since then and I've never found a better place.

Before we cast too much blame on the Australians, though, don't forget America's role in VV's history. The airstrip, US built. The caves, they were hiding spots for VC troops. The caves were full of spent bullet casings, both AK and M-16. I worked with a guy who was based in VV during the Vietnam War. He said he watched Nixon on TV say that the US was not in Laos while sitting in a bar in VV. So the locals there didn't have their centuries old way of life disturbed by Opium smoking Aussies, or by frisbee throwing losers like me. The Americans had already taken a big stinking dump on the place long before I got there.

So...for my personal Shangri La...

.
posted by karst at 6:45 AM on April 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


I went through Vang Vieng 2 years ago and couldn't get out of there fast enough. We stayed across the road from the mulberry farm and were literally the only people at the hotel; all the partiers want to be in the centre of town at the goddamn Friends bars. Every morning at 11am you could hear the techno music start to blare from down the river. Seeing little Loas kids getting drawn into that lifestyle was easily the most ashamed I've ever felt to be a tourist.
posted by krunk at 6:54 AM on April 9, 2012


The thing is, travel is like gentrification: first come the people who travel lightly, eat local food, think they're not being jackasses (or who buy and repair the crumbling Victorian, or whatever); then come the slightly more jackass people who are concerned with acquiring an "authentic experience" and prices start going up; then come the boatloads of loud, racist tourists (or the yuppie wine bars) and the village or neighborhood is irretrievably changed, usually by making things harder for most of the original residents or driving them out altogether.

I don't think that there is a responsible way to travel in the developing world at the present, honestly. That's a provocative statement, yes, but it's absolutely true to what I've observed. I think that if people want to travel in the developing world, we need first to take political steps so that people aren't so desperate for cash that they'll do anything, ruin anything to lure in the westerners. That's the only solution to gentrification, too - the people in the neighborhood have to have enough to power and options so that it's not a bunch of rich people moving in on poor people's turf.

Upthread, someone mentions that if you're going to, like Helsinki or somewhere, the amount of harm you can do as a tourist is minimal - you're not a privileged person going to a poorer place, your interactions with the locals are likely to be much more equal, you don't have truly ridiculous amounts of cash just because of the rate of exchange. It's fair trade tourism because the buyer and the seller have comparatively equal power.
posted by Frowner at 7:18 AM on April 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


but I do travel places with no tourists and absolutely no tourist infrastructure (Congo, Burundi, Afghanistan, Iraq, NE parts of Burma, etc.) I'll reside in these places for long periods of time, often staying with locals, eating only market food, using local hospitals, hitchhiking my way around.

Are you... an arms trader out of a James Bond film?
posted by Apocryphon at 9:34 AM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've got to ask about the hipster thing... Does being old automatically make you a hipster?

I mean, I have currency exchange stories from Europe before the Euro arrived. Am I a hipster now?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:24 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do I need a clearly defined waist to hip ratio to understand this?
posted by infini at 11:19 AM on April 9, 2012


The thing is, travel is like gentrification

And at the same time, it's also increasingly a hoi polloi-ification, as technology has massively lowered the barriers to entry, and made it easier for anybody & everybody to travel to places that a couple of decades ago would have been thought very difficult, if not impossible.

Without claiming to be Amundsen or anything, when I started travelling in developing countries, communication was restricted to Poste Restante (a few months turnaround, if lucky) or ISD phone calls (prohibitively expensive, and generally unavailable outside of larger cities). No skype, no email, no TripAdvisor, no internet booking of hotel rooms, no airline reservations or changes online, no ATMs & certainly none set up to interface with your bank back home, no simple access to information on where or how to manage visas & extensions, little or no credit card acceptance, no cellphone roaming & indeed no cellphones at all, no smartphones, iPads or netbooks, no wireless hotspots, no realistic way of managing your funds other than carrying physical cash & travellers cheques (with Western Union as a difficult fallback option if you somehow lost everything), and so on. It required a whole heap more forethought & planning, and once you took off you'd effectively be on your own with whatever was in your backpack & your head, with only an "emergency use only" fallback of an international phone call if everything went to shit (and if it did go to shit, there was no guarantee that even this option would be easily available to you).

These days, you can throw your passport, credit card & smartphone into a bag & a couple of days later you're tubing in rural Laos without a second of thought, research or planning, even if you've never left your home town or state in your life, and the results speak for themselves.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:09 PM on April 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


These days, you can throw your passport, credit card & smartphone into a bag & a couple of days later you're tubing in rural Laos without a second of thought, research or planning, even if you've never left your home town or state in your life, and the results speak for themselves.

Are you kidding me? What would someone like Magellan, for example, say about your version of "roughing it?"
posted by MillMan at 2:46 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm very much in awe of explorers who were truly heading off into the unknown. I'd also love to be bankrolled by royalty, and supplied with ships & a small army, but there's certainly no denying their courage.

There's also no denying the way that communication technologies have lowered the barriers to entry, globally. Over a couple of decades of travel, I've seen it with my own eyes, both in the numbers & the types of people travelling - it's simple economics, where the 'cost' of travel is measured not only in dollars, but in the difficulty & perceived risk involved. Lower the cost & the demand will rise. Nothing surprising in that.

Customs & immigration departments should have some useful stats on the demographics & destinations of travellers, but since we were talking a lot about Australians in this thread, a generation ago the de rigeur thing was to spend a gap year or two in London, and maybe see some of continental Europe, usually on a boozy Kon-Tiki bus tour. Now, the people who would've been the Kon-Tiki customers have spread out to Vang Vieng, Ko Phan Gan & adventure truck tours across Africa. Again, it's just economics - it's easier to do, so more people do it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:05 PM on April 9, 2012


So what's the issue with increased access? The associated problems I can think of were there before travel became more accessible in a networked world.
posted by MillMan at 3:35 PM on April 9, 2012


Sheer force of numbers, I'd say, along with a skewing of the travelling demographic in (some) developing countries to a younger, and therefore less educated and less experienced type of traveller?

I'd bet that there's an order of magnitude difference today in the number of people whose first independent overseas trip is to a completely culturally unfamiliar developing country, compared with a generation ago when Western Europe was the default choice (and where the economic & cultural impact is far smaller, as others have pointed out upthread).

You're right, though, that the impacts have been there at least since the overland hippie days (eg Goa, Manali, Bali, Kabul, parts of Morocco etc) but with increased ease of access & higher backpacker volumes the effects have become deeper & more widespread.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:59 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd bet that there's an order of magnitude difference today in the number of people whose first independent overseas trip is to a completely culturally unfamiliar developing country, compared with a generation ago when Western Europe was the default choice (and where the economic & cultural impact is far smaller, as others have pointed out upthread).

I wonder what the actual numbers are, because I was also thinking of an order of magnitude difference, just based on the places I've been. My guess is that at each phase of travel history there was probably an order of magnitude growth, actually, simply from economics and accessibility, but I'd happily defer to real data.
posted by Forktine at 6:05 PM on April 9, 2012


(Hit post too soon)

So what's the issue with increased access?

I wouldn't say there was a "problem" per se, just that a huge growth in the number of travelers will produce effects. Whether those effects are good, bad, or indifferent is a super complicated question that no one can reduce to a simple answer, and will play out over time in complicated ways that are hard to guess from a snapshot view like this article.
posted by Forktine at 6:11 PM on April 9, 2012


I wonder what the actual numbers are

Official Australian stats, to 2008.

1998-2003: just over 3M trips p.a of residents temporarily departing overseas, then a sharp upturn, growing annually to a record high of 5.8M by 2008 (that's about 25% of the population, although the stats are for individual trips, not discrete travellers). More recent figures show ~660,000 departures per month, quite stable, from June 2011-Feb 2012, so that's shooting for an annual figure just short of 8M for FY11/12

Since we were talking of Laos, Thailand is the entry point & regional hub (figures in thousands, 2004-2008): 188.0 202.9 288.0 374.4 404.1
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:41 PM on April 9, 2012


Generalisations are general.

I have been to quite a few places in South-east and East Asia. I have seen tourists from all countries behaving atrociously. Everyone does it. It's not an Australian thing, or a UK thing, or an American thing, or even a Chinese thing. People treat other people like shit as soon as they get a sense that they are in a position of power and status. Personally I find all this "Australians are like this, and Americans are like this" commentary really depressing, because as intelligent as we all are on Metafilter, we always seem to trot out generalisations based a few personal experiences. It's bogus, don't do it.

I actually came to this thread because of gman's comment on the sidebar.
posted by awfurby at 7:47 PM on April 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


finally found the longer term data...looking back to 1993-1994 as the time I'll arbitrarily use as when the WWW started to approach common adoption, there were only ~2.2M Aussies departing temporarily pa (compared with about 8M for this year), of which 50% were going on holiday. Europe attracted 600K, half of which was purely the UK. Southeast Asia was 300K, and of that Thailand was only 40K*.

So Thailand now sees 10x the annual volume of Aussie visitors, post-internet, which is an order of magnitude.

* In those days, bland old sterile anglophone ex-Brit colony Singapore (which is almost universally reviled in backpacker circles today) was the #1 destination with over 40% of the SEA tourist trade from down under.

posted by UbuRoivas at 8:27 PM on April 9, 2012


GRAR, wrong table. UK 240K out of 485K going to Europe, Thailand 73K out of 527K going to SEA. Singapore #2 after Indonesia, ie Bali. I shut up now.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:33 PM on April 9, 2012


ocschwar: "who is perfectly fine "going native", as in accepting some of the local privations, paying well to avoid others (no TB, please, we're Americans...), showing some respectful curiosity about local religious practices but no interest in adopting them as a New Age affectation..."

I'd definitely recommend staying with locals when you can and of course always being respectful of local cultures, but in my experience actually "going native" just doesn't happen to the normal traveler. The best you can hope for is being a inoffensive eyesore instead of an offensive one. Part of the problem is that travelers specifically target the unique, the different, the authentic, and thus stick out like a sore thumb because they are different. It's something I myself have had to come to terms with, over and over again. I want to not be an outsider, but I plainly am.

So, for example, as a foreigner I used to really hate paying way more than natives for things. But the truth is, I have way more money than they do. I can afford to pay more, and it doesn't make sense that I should get all the things for the same price.

I remember once going up to a kid selling sandwiches and buying some. I asked him how much they were and he gave a price (that was waaay over their normal cost). I paid it, mostly because I was in a distracted state (I think I was waiting to go see the visa office or something and I was having a bad day). He immediately ran over to his friend. I can still remember him saying "two!" (as in how much he'd managed to charge me), that "two" rippled throughout with laughter and incredulity. The equivalent of maybe 50 cents had given him something to laugh and feel good about all morning. Sure, I looked like a dumb foreigner, but let's face it -- I was a dumb foreigner and I always will be. I'm sure foreigners traveling to the States -- heck even Americans from out of town -- get hoodwinked all the time (although here it's more subtle, like going to a restaurant because it's close to all the sights and paying 2-3x more than you should for mediocre food just because of the location. (If any of you are ever in Philly MeMail me and I will send you to the best places to eat in town).

When I was young I was always seeking out "authentic" travel experiences but over time realized that there isn't really any such thing as "authenticity", just experiences that are closer or further away from really connecting with the place you're visiting. Like, most Americans spend a lot of time watching TV. So an authentic experience of what America is like could be to be in someone's home and watch TV for a couple of hours while eating food cooked in a microwave. I doubt most visitors would seek out that "authentic" experience. The turning point was definitely when I was reading a Lonely Planet that described one camel ride company in Cairo as being particularly "authentic". What the hell would that even mean? Since then I've been highly suspicious of the term altogether.

Ultimately, authenticity is a personal thing, so travel should be authentic to you. If you hate sleeping in huts, don't sleep in a hut just because you think that will be the more authentic experience.

I love and am obsessed with food, so if I'm reading a travel guide, I skip right over the history, the architecture, the walking tours, and skip straight to the restaurants and markets. For me, eating the food of a place is my authentic experience. For other people, it might be the music, the wildlife, the language, the people. Heck, for some people it might even be television.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:10 AM on April 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


Ultimately, authenticity is a personal thing, so travel should be authentic to you. If you hate sleeping in huts, don't sleep in a hut just because you think that will be the more authentic experience.

I wish this comment was at the beginning of every travel thread.
posted by MillMan at 10:15 AM on April 10, 2012


Well I was there in 2008 and had a great time altogether. Zip lines are fun.
posted by ironjelly at 1:49 PM on April 10, 2012


And authentic!
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:16 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love and am obsessed with food, so if I'm reading a travel guide, I skip right over the history, the architecture, the walking tours, and skip straight to the restaurants and markets.

I avoid Lonely Planet and its ilk like the plague, and when I run into tourists with a copy I'll read up on things to be sure of what to avoid. Sure, that might not apply for major sights, but it definitely applies to hotels and most of all it applies to restaurants. If you can't find local restaurants on your own, then ask a taxi driver or someone at a shop where to go.

My favourite guide book of all time, upon which I solely relied while in SE Asia, was Mark Elliot's now out of date South East Asia: The Graphic Guide, which consists solely of hand drawn and hand annotated maps. You want adventure, try finding your way in a foreign land with just this.
posted by furtive at 2:20 PM on April 10, 2012


This makes me wonder what native Europeans think of Asian backpackers like me traveling through their country.
posted by destrius at 9:17 PM on April 10, 2012


This makes me wonder what native Europeans think of Asian backpackers like me traveling through their country.

If you're in an obvious tourist center, then usually nothing but if you're 'going native' in remote arctic regions, they worry in case you're a refugee out to live off their state.

"Yes, I have a job and a master's degree, dear, no, I don't clean at that university"
posted by infini at 11:01 PM on April 10, 2012


Every single Australian I've met while traveling is a total Frat boy loser. Please, Australia, I know you have great people there, why do you only let the douchebags visit developing nations?

What gets me is that the Aussies on Mefi are probably the least likely to be the loud, annoying Australians that others notice in places like Vang Vieng, and yet we're the ones who have to listen to this complaint every time the subject of ugly travellers comes up.

I've travelled in South-East Asia and you almost certainly wouldn't have noticed me as an Aussie, because I don't often drink, never have much of a suntan, and am so softly spoken that I sometimes have to remind myself to speak up.

You notice loud Australian travellers because they're loud and noticeable. It won't tell you much about the rest. Or do you judge all British travellers on the basis of Torremolinos?
posted by rory at 5:06 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because Australians on MeFi never perpetuate stereotypes about Americans? And the MeFi American cohort is all about Apple Pie, Little Flags, and Speaking Loudly?

Glass houses and all that.
posted by JPD at 5:20 AM on April 11, 2012


Are you asking me to defend my own use of stereotypes, or would you like me to speak on behalf of all Australians on Mefi?
posted by rory at 5:39 AM on April 11, 2012


But hey, I'm easily trolled.* Here I am in 2009 "perpetuating stereotypes" about Americans in another discussion about ugly Australians.

*We Aussies are like that. All of us, without exception.
posted by rory at 5:59 AM on April 11, 2012


Gah. It would be so much easier if people remembered to use "some". Some Australians are loud and obnoxious travellers. Put it that way, and I'd be the first to agree. Some Australians vote for Tony Abbott, too. But never all, as long as I live and breathe.

(Feel free to substitute "Americans", "travelers" and "Rick Santorum" as appropriate.)
posted by rory at 6:34 AM on April 11, 2012


(Feel free to substitute "Americans", "travelers" and "Rick Santorum" as appropriate.)

In which order?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:26 AM on April 11, 2012


Gah. It would be so much easier if people remembered to use "some". Some Americans are loud and obnoxious travellers. Put it that way, and travelers'd be the first to agree. Some Australians vote for Tony Abbott, too. But never Rick Santorum, as long as I live and breathe.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:36 PM on April 11, 2012


Wow. Went through Van Vieng in '99 and had no idea it wasn't still a 3 or 4 guesthouse spot. Thought the tubing rides were the extent of the craziness! Great stories above!
posted by mtstover at 3:26 PM on April 11, 2012


This thread was an excellent read. Thanks all and especially gman - is there nothing he hasn't seen?
posted by Meatbomb at 6:53 AM on April 25, 2012


Oh, and it reminds me, I would like to dedicate this song to him.

Well I've seen all there is to see...
posted by Meatbomb at 7:01 AM on April 25, 2012


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