FEATURE: Ticket prices can spoil a holiday in Vangvieng

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Vangvieng is a relatively small town with a host of enjoyable activities and places of interest for the visitor, but many people are deterred by the entrance fees they are required to pay at almost every turn.

It seems there’s almost no one in Laos who doesn’t know how beautiful Vangvieng is and for many people it’s their first choice when considering a trip somewhere. It’s a particular favourite with residents of Vientiane when they fancy a short break, but nearly everyone complains about the costs involved.

I’ve been to Vangvieng more times than I can remember but I always welcome another visit because it’s so beautiful and I always find somewhere new to explore and enjoy, but it’s expensive and I always come back with an empty wallet.

My experience last weekend reinforced this unfortunate aspect of Vangvieng, when I made another visit there with four members of my family to show them the best places in this wonderfully scenic spot.

To begin with, things went very well and we walked around the town and along the Nam Song river after booking into a reasonably priced hotel.

Everywhere we went was enjoyable and my family marvelled at the picturesque environment, enjoy the novelty of everything around them. But we didn’t realise that we would have to pay an entrance fee at all the places we wanted to see, which was set too high for ordinary Lao people.

For example, at Jung Cave we had to make two payments – the first of 5,000 kip each at the entrance gate to the area and then another 10,000 kip each to enter the cave.

But we felt this was money well spent because the site was well organised and the cave itself was stunning.

However, at Lom Cave we had to pay a parking fee of 20,000 kip and then another 10,000 kip each to go inside the cave, but it was very dark and we didn’t feel safe.

Out next stop was the Blue Lagoon and we passed several interesting places en route but had to skip most of them because again the entrance fee was 10,000 kip, which was just too much for our pockets.

As we made our way to the Elephant and Water Cave, we met a group of Europeans who were having an argument about having to pay to walk across a bridge to get to the caves and then paying again to enter them.

They said they liked Vangvieng a lot because of the wonderful scenery and there were lots of interesting places to visit but they felt it was expensive compared to other places and they resented having to pay 10,000 kip after almost every 100 metres.

Maybe officials think the prices charged are not too high for foreign visitors but it’s annoying to have to keep handing over kip notes for this and that. The group I met asked me if the low incomes earned by Lao people enabled them to do much around the town.

At the Blue Lagoon I asked some of the people working there about the excessive number of fees charged. They said they had to sell tickets to cover the investment cost and they also had to pay a concession fee to the government. If they didn’t sell any tickets they wouldn’t make any money because some people just went there to swim and didn’t buy anything.

I and my family didn’t get to some of the places we wanted to see because we kept having to buy tickets. Even though we wanted to go somewhere to eat lunch we still had to pay 10,000 kip each to get in. And the price of food everywhere was expensive too.

Business operators are concerned that visitors will just go somewhere but not buy anything, so they won’t make any money. I think it’s acceptable to sell an entrance ticket but the ticket price should include the cost of a drink or some food.

However, the Visit Laos-China Year 2019 tourism promotion has proved successful in driving up visitor numbers, according to officials, and more and more people are coming to Laos to sample its special delights.

More than 2.2 million people visited the country in the first six months of this year, up about 5 percent compared to last year, according to the Tourism Development Department, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

Officials say Vangvieng has improved the quality of services and made changes to the price of food, accommodation and the fees charged at tourist attractions.

Of course, visitor numbers might have risen this year because Laos and China have been running promotion campaigns but if consideration is not given to the prices charged, people may not want to return.

I would like to explain to tourism officials that if they want more Lao people to explore their country they should set price controls or give special rates for Lao people.