This idyllic small town has been a goto destination of mine since I first came here five years ago. The reason is simple, it is a cool, friendly, comfortable, and fairly happy town. It is also dedicated to travellers, backpackers, and similar people. In short, a place to relax and have a little fun.
After five years I still enjoy a visit, and I plan to return in the future, but the town is changing. The demographic is now fewer younger people, though they still predominate, and more older folk, families and such. Tubing and beer bars are now in decline, good and bad to that, but there are lots of other nature oriented activities to do. The big change to come is the rail link with China, due in five or so years. When this occurs hordes (pardon me) of Chinese tourists will flood across the border , heading south to merriment and enjoyable times, turning what is a now trickle into an avalanche.
A sign of this coming change are the new and rather stodgy looking hotels recently built and under construction—heavily contrasting with the traditional and original hotel and guesthouse buildings that are constructed from wood and bamboo. Still, times change. The annoying aspect of this is the lack—the complete absence—of any form of city planning. Is this a Libertarian paradise? If you own the land you can build whatever you want on the land. Great fun. This means that the town centre retains its small-sized charm, for the moment, but around the town, trampling over rice paddies and homes are new hotels leaping skyward.
The coming of the Chinese has mixed reactions in the town, even from those who will stand to make sizeable profits. Many local business owners are anticipating making a lot of money by selling their existing businesses in the next five years. The expectation is that as soon as tourism numbers soar due to the train, Chinese investors will snap up whatever they can, paying astronomical prices (by local standards), for what they want. This will drive out most Laos business folk and create a sizeable inflationary effect on local prices. On the other hand, more jobs, certainly service jobs.
This influx of people will also demand a marked improvement in infrastructure. Quaint Vang Vieng has potholes on its major roads, poor sewage, a shortage of drinkable water (bottled only), and a general air of neglect. Understandable, but not conducive to large scale business growth, and something that must be remedied before a solution is needed, not after.
What is required in the town and province is a plan, a workable plan to cater to the expected growth in tourist numbers, to build a city that is liveable for both tourists and citizens, and to plan for a beneficial future.