Excursions - Venues

Vang Vieng’ River Of Booze And Tubes May Be River Of No Return

The search for missing Melbourne teenager Daniel Eimutis has come to a tragic end after his body was found on the side of a river in Laos.

The man who started the tubing craze in Laos where two Australian tourists have died in a matter of weeks says local people are very sorry for the deaths, but nothing will change unless someone takes responsibility.

Yesterday the body of Melbourne student Daniel Eimutis, 19, was found in a river in Vang Vieng, three days after he went missing while tubing with friends. Family said he had drowned.

Vang Vieng' River Of Booze And Tubes May Be River Of No Return
Dangerous pursuit ... Crowds of tourists wait to go tubing in Vang Vieng. Photo: Larissa Ham

The tragedy comes less than a fortnight after Sydney traveller Lee Hudswell, 26, was killed after jumping from a tower while tubing in the same area. Reports at the time said at least 22 people had died in the river last year.

Thanongsi Sorangkoun, an organic farmer, yesterday said tubing was dangerous ”because everyone goes there and they are drunk”.

”Local people, they are very sorry for that, and they expect it will harm the future of tourism in Vang Vieng. But they do not take action, because everything still depends on the one government.”

Tempting ... A sign hangs above the river in Vang Vieng, where fatal tubing accidents have occurred. Photo: Larissa Ham

I met Mr Sorangkoun last March during a three-week holiday to lovely Laos. He told me tubing began there in 1999, when he organised a few tubes for his volunteers. Then, more locals got on board, hiring tubes and opening bars.

Last year, Mr Sorangkoun was clearly disturbed, saying the unregulated bars were ”very bad” – a disaster waiting to happen.

The disrespect shown by some tourists has prompted other locals to complain about “the noise, the people naked, alcohol, people vomiting all over the place, sex”.

Vang Vieng' River Of Booze And Tubes May Be River Of No Return
Found dead ... Daniel Eimutis had been missing since Monday. Photo: 3AW

“They don’t respect any law, regulations. There’s no inspections, no control,” Mr Sorangkoun says. “Two years ago it was paradise.”

Before I headed to Laos, I was told repeatedly, ”you have to go tubing”. Yes, there were mountains and friendly people, but it seemed the highlight would be floating down the Nam Song River on a tractor tyre inner tube.

Plus, the real kicker – the riverside bars serving whatever you pleased.

Vang Vieng' River Of Booze And Tubes May Be River Of No Return
Party's over ... Thanongsi Sorangkoun is dismayed by tourist behaviour in Vang Vieng. Photo: Larissa Ham

It all sounded fairly appealing from a distance – and parts were – but some was harder to stomach than the methylated spirit-style drinks.

Laos is a relaxed, innocent country, where animals are still used to plough fields, and freshly slaughtered chickens sold at roadside stalls. Holding hands is a no-no.

But parts of Vang Vieng, an unspoilt rural town only a few years ago, have been tarnished by the tubing and recent deaths.

Backpackers, plenty on their first grand adventure, arrive wearing short shorts and singlets adorned with Beer Lao or tubing logos.

Vang Vieng' River Of Booze And Tubes May Be River Of No Return
Victim ... Lee Hudswell, 26, was killed on January 12.

Tubes are strapped to tuk-tuk roofs, and backpackers, many already clutching beers, squeeze in for the short drive to the river. A young local in a fluorescent green wig plies tubers with a welcome shot of alcohol. The first bar looks like it might collapse under the weight of sozzled travellers.

My initial thought, as my ears were assaulted by tinny music, was that it was pretty gross – something akin to the tackiest parts of Kuta, Bali. But at 33, I was seeing it through older, more sober, eyes than many.

Swinging off a wooden structure high above the river was fun, if pretty stupid in hindsight. However it’s easy to cut loose while travelling, and part of Asia’s attraction is its lack of rules.

One of Mr Sorangkoun’s volunteers told me yesterday he had heard conflicting figures of the numbers of tourists who died last year, ranging from six to 17.

The exact numbers are hard to prove. What is clear is the river of booze might have to dry up a bit before tubing gets any safer

Source: The Age