Laos is reportedly clamping down on illegal drugs and dangerous watersports in Vang Vieng, a popular tourist destination on the Xong River.
In their efforts to promote the tourist spot, 100km north of Vientiane, as a safe, ecotourism destination, authorities closed seven bars on the river “after finding they were serving tourists alcoholic drinks laced with opium and hallucinogenic mushrooms,” the Vientiane Times and press agency DPA reports.
Vang Vieng is popular among backpackers for its limestone cliffs, waterfall and watersports – chiefly floating down the river in inner tubes while drinking Beer Lao.
But the explosion in popularity of tubing has brought a degree of notoriety, with several deaths from accidents on the river in the past year attracting media attention.
At least six foreign tourists died in the resort between January and August, including three Australians, one French, one Irish and one American, according to Lao Tourist Police Chief Bounleut Khounphol.
Reports in the Western media quoted a tourist and the local hospital as putting the tourist death toll for 2011 at more than 20.
Sources agreed that the majority of the fatal accidents, mostly drownings and head injuries, involved alcohol.
The Vang Vieng tourism office head Phouvieng Sikaisone confirmed several tourists had died or were injured on the Xong River last year while engaging in “dangerous water activities,” the Vientiane Times said.
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.
An estimated 100 resorts, restaurants and bars line the Xong River in Vang Vieng.