Vang Vieng goes down the tube

Backpacking Mecca in Laos faces new safety measures

The once-quiet mountain town of Vang Vieng used to be a tranquil paradise for backpackers. Now, it's a hit for a very different reason - Tubing. Every year, thousands of backpackers in South East Asia travel to Vang Vieng for the party of a lifetime. Much like the Full Moon Party has put Thailand on the map, Tubing has done the same for Laos. However, as its grown more and more popular, so have the dangers involved, and as with any mass alcohol-fuelled party, there are deaths, and those numbers have been increasing each year.

Tubing is floating down the Nam Song River in an inner-tube, stopping off at river side bars, getting progressively drunk as the day wears on. Lao whiskey flows like the river and you can go on rope swings and zip-lines. The party continues long into the evening and anything goes. Backpackers describe the town as "Disneyland for adults" and if you've been there you'd understand why. In 2009, a reporter from the New Zealand Herald described as; "if teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng in northern Laos".

However, Laos is looking at clamping down on illegal drugs and dangerous watersports in their efforts to promote Vang Vieng as a safe destination. Apparently seven bars have already been closed "after finding they were serving tourists alcoholic drinks laced with opium and hallucinogenic mushrooms," the Vientiane Times reported.

At least six foreign tourists have died Tubing since the start of the year, including three Australians, one French, one Irish and one US citizen, according to Lao Tourist Police Chief Bounleut Khounphol.

Sources agreed that the majority of the fatal accidents, mostly drowning and head injuries, involved alcohol.

But Lao authorities have launched a safety campaign with restaurants on the river to inform tourists of what "they should and shouldn't do," Phouvieng was quoted as saying. Some restaurant staff have also been taught first aid to deal with accidents on the river.

Backpackers have already said they're worried that the town will change, that it will become less appealing, but what do you think? Jump on the message boards and discuss it.

Also, we wrote about the 'Dangers of Tubing' last year, so if you want a more in-depth view then you know what to do...

Photo by Sebastian Werner (via Creative Commons)