The Laos Goverment shuts down all 'Tubing' in Vang Vieng
23.08.2012 - 01.09.2012 -30 °C
(Note to fellow Travellerspoint.com users: please excuse disruption to my blogging order, but this may impact your travels)
As of the last week, the Communist administration of LAO P.D.R have been closing down the popular 'Tubing' town of Vang Vieng. This would explain why my sleeper-bus avoided my stop there and instead took me to the murky capital of Vientiane. Fantastic.
In search of answers, I have been asking around for information. Yesterday I was having a chat with a Kiwi lad I'd met at our guesthouse in Vientiane. He was on the river last week when Communist police and army elements arrived at Vang Vieng. According to him and a few other, separate eye-witnesses I spoke to (all sober and English-speaking), the following details have emerged:
- Rumours began to circulate last week of a new Tubing-related death. This apparently gave the recently bolstered police presence in Vang Vieng a mandate to close down the area.
- Whilst many zipwires and jumping platforms have been closed down in the last year, the final few remaining attractions were shut down last week by the Laotian Tourist Police.
- Police forced all the bars to switch their music off; many raids on 'Happy' restaurants resulted in the arrests of tourists for eating there ($600USD fine or no passport back).
- Following this, the old ex-Soviet helicopters of the Lao P.D.R army were hanging over the Tubing spots of the river screaming through megaphones at the tourists to get out.
- The inner tube rental syndicates were shut down.
- Most of the restaurants and guesthouses were ordered to close.
- Expat staff were told they could no longer live or work in V.Vieng; tourists were heavily encouraged to leave the town ASAP.
For the confused: In the last decade, Vang Vieng has become an infamous backpacker party destination, drawing hundreds of thousands of travelers each year. The 'Tubing' itself involves renting an inner tube and drifting down the Xong (Nam Song) River, stopping at the many riverside bar shacks throughout the day. Bracelets, bodypaint slogans and tequila shots are all offered at these stop-offs, with some boasting 'flying fox'-style zipwires or huge wooden platforms to jump into the rapids below. Many cafés and restaurants offer 'Happy' items on the menu containing opiates, pills or weed.
Heavy investment by developers from China and Korea have led to many (officially denied) reports that the government of Laos is being persuaded (¥¥¥¥) to clamp down on the area's most lucrative side-business. New hotels, such as the Riverside Boutique Resort, are intended to modernise the river for a wealthier type of tourist, usually from China/Korea/Thailand; does this latest move by the police and military signal yet another temporary stop to the backpacker haven, or that tubing is no longer welcome in Laos at all?
As far as fatalities are concerned, this has never moved the Laotian government before. On average, one 'Tuber' dies a month: in 2011, there were over 22 fatalities and many more serious injuries as a result of revelrous activities on the river. The danger of 'Tubing' is well-known, with some suggesting that it adds an extra level to the excitement of the area.
Those most immediately hit by the closure will no doubt be the Laotian businesses themselves. A local co-operative of 1500 families owns and runs the rental of the inner tubes on a quarterly rotation; guesthouses catering to backpackers employ (mostly) local staff.
Lately, it is also industrial activities by Laos' new best mate that have caused widespread alarm in the area. A common story by visitors to the river is the heavy and very distinct smell of sulphur drifting across the banks of the river every day in the late afternoon from the new cement factory the Chinese have built with the government here. If the factory is dumping industrial waste in the river, then surely this is of greater concern to the safety of the local community and eco-system?
In any case, here are some links to keep you informed:
- The standard first port of call.
- This is one of the 'official' info sites. Official being used in the loosest of terms, as there are few P.D.R emblems or Hammer/Sickle sigils to be seen (if at all).
- This Seems to give the most information. In the article, it suggests that an Irish man was the most recent casualty. The Kiwi who wrote this clearly had his sensibilities ruffled by the hardcore party atmosphere. Lock up your backpacking daughters, New Zealand, lest they go to this terrible place.
- A bit general, looks like it most of the news is second-hand, despite claims.
- scrapbook of earlier articles, with an update on the crackdown.
- Is a good all-rounder with 'action' shots, and the journalist (Matt Bennett) writes engagingly. I think it covers the different points of opinion well.
The new resort on the river
- A Thai-Ezine welcoming the development. Then again, it would, being supported by Thailand's hotel operators and department of Tourism. Make of it what you will....
A Chill-out Heaven or Backpacker Babylon?
- Global post has done several articles on Tubing: this is the latest one to 'piggy-back' off the previous reports. Written earlier on in the crack-down
- Naughty, but it puts the more unchained side of things into perspective along with other infamous 'bad boy' locations.