The Guardian has a tragic story of a tourist dying while tubing in Vang Vieng in Laos. As has been mentioned on Travelfsih, one should exercise care and stay in control while tubing on the river -- especially in the wet season.
You can read the full story here
It would be interesting to know why the insurer failed to pay up for the costs of the rescue effort.
Just a followup on this, SkyNews also has a story on this and quotes the deceased brother as saying:
"His brother said: "It's a well established activity, the locals say it has been going on for donkeys years and there has never been an accident.""
Is that is what he is being told, he is being lied to -- there have been a number of fatalities on this river related to tubing and the locals should full well know that.
The Independent has more.
I just read the first link... did you see this bit?!?!?
After being pulled from the river herself, his wife drove up and down the river bank with the tour operator, stopping at bridges in the hope of throwing a rope to rescue her husband, but had to give up when it became too dark. On the way back to her hotel, she was mugged and her passport stolen by a man on a motorbike.
Vang Vieng's reputation for hedonistic fun seems to be attracting the same kind of pondlife as you get on Ko Phangan and Khao San Road.
Getting drunk and swimming... that's risky behavior. If you are not a risk taker, you shouldn't be doing it.
#4 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Just to clarify, there has been no suggestion that this particular fatality was related to alcohol, rather I understand it was a flash flood situation.
I saw this earlier. So very sad. My trip starts next April, and tubing was one of the things I was planning on doing. Not so sure now.
#6 appro has been a member since 9/5/2009. Posts: 32
Unfortunately, this poor man was not wearing a lifejacket and they are available.Any sport in a river or the sea is dangerous if you don't wear one.
RIP Michael O'Sullivan
#8 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
It is a sad story. Is it a tragedy? No. This sounds harsh, but people need top take responsibility for their own actions. Tubing without a life jacket is stupid. Tubing in the wet season without a life jacket is idiotic. It is not as if people are not warned in advance about this. Dare I say it, this guy is a candidate for the Darwin awards.
I don't think I've every seen a picture of people wearing life jackets in Vang Vieng. The people tubing in the TF picture certainly aren't.
I suspect wearing a life jacket is totally uncool, a big fashion faux pas...
Here's a blog entry I saw about tubing in Vang Vieng. He seems to be talking about fatalities when he says "a dozen of casualties each year".
So I thought I’d give it a go: the INfamous tubing – more out of participative social research reasons, than because I wanted to actually go tubing. I had seen the evening before quite some drunk people coming back from the tubing, half naked, completely wasted (either alcohol or other mind-expanding stuff), some couldn’t even walk – and many injured (limping, cuts, bruises,…).
So I was just going to have a look what it is like and probably be back after an hour or so, leaving the drunks to the drunks. Been there, done that, off my list, never again. But then it turned out to be great experience after all – even though surreal.
So basically you arrive at the centralized tubing office (just to keep the prices high? 55000 Kip = 5,50€). You have to sign a paper on which you indicate if you want a life jacket or not, on which you take all responsibility for your actions whether it be in sober or not-so-sober state, and the 20000 Kip fine clause if you arrive back after 18h. And then you get a number marked on your hand in big fat indelible marker – in case they find your body floating down the river… There are a dozen of casualties each year apparently – and many get injured (especially the drunk ones).
If you can't get killed doing it, it ain't worth doing.
#11 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Thanks for posting that blog entry. I really want to go tubing next week when I am in VV but I admit I am a little scared of the combination of a strong river & drunk/high "kids". That blog entry is quite positive and I suspect it is possible to have a good time without having to get involved in all the craziness. Oh and I'll be wearing a life jacket, however uncool (I'm quite a strong swimmer, but it just isn't worth the risk!)
All depends on how the weather and river is of course... will probably chicken out if the conditions aren't calm.
Let us know how it was.
#13 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Hey, so the actual tubing was quite fun after all! Personally I would have liked more time in the water and less in the bars but I might be in the minority with that opinion!
I was one of only 3 people with life jackets. The weather was lovely but the river really is quite strong in parts and it gets dark early. We left one of the last bars much earlier than the rest of the folk tubing and it was very dark for the last 15 minutes of the river. How the others managed to get back in the dark and a very drunk I don't know.
Unfortunately I had a not so good experience in VV whilst walking home one night (which I am not really quite ready to discuss here) but I would just urge people to take care when walking through the town late at night. I may have been unlucky but I personally don't feel it is as safe as the rest of Laos.
Glad to hear you enjoyed it.
Let us know the rest of the story on this thread when you are ready.
#15 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
It depends a lot on the conditions, I think. When I was there, nobody had a lifejacket, but I would dare to say that none was needed at that time -assumed you can swim. The river was so low/slow, that the swings were far more dangerous, sometimes with single narrow spot to hit between the shallows.
We've seen one guy floating head down after a jump. The locals and some bystanders were real quick to pull him out, and he regained conscious shortly after. Quite scary moment though, does not really connect with the overall athmosphere... In one of the last bars, there is another tricky spot: I've seen two people crash in mid air, when the one jumping from the swing literally got shot by another coming out of the slide thing.
I would second the advise to get home in time: some friends wanted to continue tubing to the guest houses, but it got real dark in between and they had quite an odyssey involving lots of spiky stuff to get back. This can get extremely dangerous, since you can not see the river anymore and there are not much people around to help you out.
#17 hokasch has been a member since 24/12/2008. Posts: 45
I had been to Vang Vieng 3 times and another 2 times ever since i started working in Luang Prabang last year.
There used to be less of a crowd until recent years when river pubs started springing up. I guess this is one of the critical factors that has caused an increase in drunken and rowdy crowds.
If you want to play safe, i would suggest avoid periods between june and august when water levels are really high. During my 3rd trip with my friends from Singapore, i had 2 of them almost drowning until a local threw down a rope for them to grab on. Both claimed that there was an under current which was dragging their heavy waterproof bags filled with equipment. The rest in the group hadn't really felt that.
Other than that, i must say the overall experience is really great and i wouldn't mind going back there again, and tubing down the river while drunk. oops. The greatest draw is probably the opportunity to meet more travelers alike. If you still might have your worries, stick to exploring the caves. There's a really nice clear lagoon at Golden Crab Cave, but the journey by bicycle is gonna crack your butt. :)
I was on the river three days before this happened and the river wasn't unusually high for September. Not saying the accident was alcohol-related but the bars so thoroughly enourage alcoholic consumption (and give it away free) it's not hard to see why the majority of tubing folks are at least slightly buzzed if not off their heads drunk. There's been this Canadian guy named Trent tubing every single day for months and is "employed" by the bars to follow the crowd downstream and pour free shots of Tiger wiskey down everyone's throats. It's the responsibility of every participant to take care of their safety but a lot of the blame IMO falls on the tubing guys and the bars who thoroughly advocate getting blitzed. There are even some big swings and ziplines that have signs reading to the effect of "you must buy a bucket before you can use this". There's also the killer slide that has caused injuries and I was told one fatality earlier this year. Sorry for the family and friends of another tubing "victim".
I'm planning to go there in October but the more I read more I get worried about the whole experience. In spite of risking being unfashionable, I will definitely use a life jacket. BTW, are there life jackets available for rental? And one more thing I wonder about is where and how this tubing trip ends? From all the post I understand that you must just go out of water before the dark. But what then? Where to go? How to get back to the guesthouse? Thanks!
#20 EugeneS has been a member since 8/7/2012. Posts: 3
Catching a tube down a river is something that should interest a 15yo. It's amazing that adults line up to do this childish activity.
#21 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148
Leaonard - being grown up is highly over-rated. If people enjoy it, then whether others approve or not just doesn't matter. That is what freedom is all about. You don't like, fine. Don't do it. But why piss in their cornflakes? One day you'll learn that.
#22 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
To be honest most people go to Vang Vieng don't bother renting tubes and floating down the river; the fun they pursue with scantily clad and very drunk members of the opposite sex is definitely of an adult nature. If people came only to enjoy the simple pleasure of floating down a river it would be a much nicer place
As for the questions above:
I imagine you can rent a lifejacket, but people die because they knock themselves out on rocks, or are too drunk to stand up in the shallow water, not because they can't swim. The water is very shallow except where they've dredged rocks out from the bottom to encourage people to jump. If you're unfashionable enough to stay away from the ziplines/slide and not go in the water when too drunk you should be fine.
The tubing trip for most people ends at the last bar they choose to stop in about 200m from the start, where you can catch a ride back in a songthaew. In theory, at least, it's possible to tube all the way down to the town (or get off at any point in between when bumping your bottom on underwater rocks becomes uncomfortable - the river isn't very wide and the bank isn't very far from the main road)
If you decide to to that, its best attempted before 4pm if you want to avoid the fading light being an issue.
#23 enigmatic has been a member since 14/4/2011. Posts: 84
EugeneS - I can't answer about the lifejackets as I don't know, but if you just want to float down the river on a tube, enjoying the scenery, and not engage in the drinking and partying, then it's pretty safe. The route ends up within walking distance of the town.
If you want to join in with the party, then you won't get to the end of the route and you'll need to jump in a truck to get back. They'll be around the bars.
When I was there, you got charged extra if you didn't get your tube back before 6pm. I wouldn't recommend being on the water after dark, but if you're having fun in a bar you might lose track of the time. Then it becomes a costly exercise not just because of the fine but because of getting back into town - the drivers like to hike the prices up. Yes, I do have experience of that scenario!
Just out of curiosity, do any Laos (or even Thais) take part in the party scene or tubing in VV - or is it all western kids?
#25 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
They don't tube, Mac. You will see lao families splash about in the Nam Song; some even have rubber tubes, however to call this "tubing" is drawing a long bow.
By the way, the authorities have closed down all the flying foxes over the river. They have also closed down some bars and fined the owners for serving hallucinogenic concoctions.
Sounds like a "crackdown". I hope they don't crackdown on public nuditity though. That sounds like the best part.
#27 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
There used to be a lot of Lao (or perhaps more likely Thai) teen-twentysomething males working there that used to have a lot of fun showing off their acrobatic skills on the swings.
How real and recent is the "crackdown"? The swings were closed but visible May last year days after a river death but I've heard plenty of people claiming to have been on them since then.
I also have a tough job believing the police are serious about fining the bar owners when every tourist that gets "fined" earns them more than six months salary, and the bar owners know which tourists are carrying drugs. Maybe some of them weren't cooperating with the racket enough.
#28 enigmatic has been a member since 14/4/2011. Posts: 84
The videos I've look at look like it's a good time though. Here in Muk we have something on the Mekong that's a bit milder, and no white people, but still got some action and drunk Thai girls doing their thing... For anyone who wants to give it a whirl. It's a bit more family friendly. But only a bit.
#29 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957