A Vietnamese-run night club featuring scantily-clothed pole dancers in the historic Viengxay caves in northeastern Laos has closed down a few days after its opening after it received a barrage of criticism on social media, a provincial official said.
The nightclub had a soft opening on Aug. 21 in Houaphanh province, but quickly came under fire from Lao residents who blasted it on Facebook, and was closed by local authorities a few days later, said the director general of the province’s information, culture and tourism department who gave only his surname, Khemphone.
“We have suspended the nightclub’s operation for inspection to determine whether we will let the operator continue or stop,” he told RFA’s Lao Service.
“When there is a problem, we will talk to try to reach a resolution” with the owner, he added. “[But] if the restaurant owner would like to continue operating, there must not be any showgirls in bikinis.”
An official from the country’s Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, who declined to be named, said the young women wearing bikinis and Lao dresses, which are only worn on special occasions and at traditional events, at the club were Vietnamese, because the owner is a Vietnamese investor who has been granted a 50-year concession to operate the business in the cave.
The ministry has not yet made public any action it has taken regarding the matter.
Many Laotians in the area have aired their disagreement with provincial authorities who have allowed the club’s operator to feature scantily-clothed pole dancers because they say it is destroying the image of the sleepy, ethnically diverse province in the conservative country.
Who's behind the concession?
A Lao community and development expert, who did not want to be named, said the authorities gave in to the Vietnamese investor despite opposition by locals for whom the cave is a symbol of the country and historical site linked to the 1953-75 Laotian civil war.
“If we know that the nightclub is operated by a Vietnamese investor, then we are going to search for who was behind the concession approval,’ he said. “So the answer is that the provincial authorities gave the investor permission to do that.”
He questioned why an investor would want to set up such a business in the province, which used to be a strategic base during the civil war, but was largely forgotten afterwards.
Furthermore, he pointed out that most investors in Laos have opted for other provinces because Houaphanh province is a mountainous region with poor infrastructure.
“No one among high-ranking officials would like to be governor of Houaphanh province because they know they will never get rich,” he said.
“In addition, development funds from the central government cannot respond to the needs of the province, so the provincial government must look for more funds, which is why there is that nightclub,” he added.
During the past decade, some high-ranking provincial officials have gone against the central government in part because they have not received the same interest from it that other provinces do, he said.
The families of current national leaders who used to reap some benefits from using the province as a revolutionary base in the past, have now gotten rich and never helped develop the area, he said.
The Viengxay district of Houanphan province was a military-strategic base for the Free Lao Front (Neo Lao Issara), the political arm of the communist Pathet Lao (Lao Nation) political movement which engaged in a civil war with royal Lao government.
During wartime, the Pathet Lao used the extensive network of caves to shelter up to 23,000 people. The caves also contained a hospital, school, the political movement's offices, shops and a theater.
The Pathet Lao, which was closely associated with Vietnamese communists, eventually became the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, which has ruled the country since 1975.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.