Lifestyle & Belief

Laos: shaping up a disaster-prone tubing mecca


Vang Vieng, Laos. This photo was taken from flickr legally via attribution license.


Nick Hewson

There is nothing inherently unsafe about Vang Vieng, a central Lao province blessed with a sleepy river and lovely limestone peaks.

But Vang Vieng is certainly a place where dangerous thrills are aided and abetted. Want to pound booze, smoke ganja and then leap from a rickety platform into a river? The whiskey vendor and his platform await.

More from Vang Vieng: Backpacker mecca turned disaster magnet

A Deutsche Presse-Agentur report suggests that officials might be ready to tone down Vang Vieng's reputation for unfettered revelry.

Police have shut down multiple bars accused of selling drinks spiked with opium and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Authorities are also contending with the deaths this year of at least six foreigners in the area. Accidents are largely connected to Vang Vieng's swirl of booze, drugs, tubing and makeshift, high-rise diving boards.

Vang Vieng's lax oversight — and its far-flung, lawless-but-friendly vibe — is its selling point. Most backpackers leave with nothing worse than a hangover.

It will be interesting to see if these deaths and arrests ever swell into a larger state-led movement to rid the area of drugs and drunken diving mishaps. If the tubing mecca comes under heavy enforcement (a prospect I find doubtful) then the party-seeking backpackers will lose their incentive to venture into remote, central Laos.

More from Vang Vieng: Sex, drugs and inner tubes

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