In August 2012, the Lao government shut down more than 20 bars along the Nam Song River, sending the message to thrill-seeking tourists that the party may be ending soon in Vang Vieng. An investigation led by health and safetly officials found the culprit establishments were serving alcoholic drinks laced with hallucinogenic drugs to tourists participating in inner-tube float trips. The investigation was prompted by a growing number of alcohol and drug-related tourist deaths, which reached over 20 this past year.
Tubing began as an activity for local farm employees in the late 90s, but soon exploded in popularity with backpackers passing through the village, as enterprising business owners began marketing it with buckets of whiskey drinks and a never-ending flow of Beer Lao. Now, Vang Vieng is one of the most visited destinations in Laos with over 100 resorts, bars, and restaurants lining the shores of the Nam Song River.
Not only is the combination of drugs, alcohol, and water sports proving to be deadly for young backpackers, it is also having a deleterious effect on the local population and their community. In an interview with the Financial Times, Vang Vieng farmer Thanongsi Soluangkoun gives his account of how tubing has changed his village:
While the long-term fate of Vang Vieng as a tourist destination is still unknown, local authorities have launched a safety campaign intended to discourage behavior that could lead to fatal injuries.
Check out what it's like to be "in the tubing" in Vang Vieng:
Despite the reputation of Vang Vieng, Laos has much to offer travelers interested in exploring the local culture, religion, and natural landscapes. For more information about visiting Laos, visit the Lao National Tourism Administration website.
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