Drug Trade Booms in Vang Vieng

Police in Laos turn a blind eye to the roaring narcotics trade in the tourist-oriented town despite drug-linked deaths.

Undated photo of tourists enjoying tubing along the Nam Song river in Lao town Vang Vieng.
Photo courtesy of citizen journalist.

The illegal drug trade is booming in Vang Vieng, a top tourist destination in Laos, even though several drug-linked deaths involving foreigners have been reported there, according to tourists.

Drugs were found to be easily available even after a crackdown by authorities on establishments such as bars, restaurants, and other entertainment outlets suspected of being involved in the illicit trade, the tourists said.      

Tourists flock to Vang Vieng for "tubing," an activity in which they float on inflated inner tubes of huge tires down the Nam Song River, hopping from bar to bar which serve alcoholic beverages and, in some outlets, drugs.

Four deaths

Some of the 'bars' along the river.

At least four foreigners have died in Laos this year amid reports linking a couple of the deaths to drugs. Two of them were Australians and died in Vang Vieng in what reports called tubing accidents.

"In Vang Vieng, they are still selling illegal drugs even though police had ordered the closure of many places where drugs were used," a tourist told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Before they sold [marijuana and other drugs] in entertainment centers, now they sell them outside."

Tourists also said that police in Laos have turned a blind eye to the booming drug trade.

"Vang Vieng police pretend there is no problem," one tourist said. "They don't do anything if nobody reports about a problem."

Local addicts


The drug problem in the tourist town is made worse by robberies and theft by local addicts.

"They rob people of money or they break into people's homes and steal valuables which they exchange for drugs," the tourist said. "The police can't do much about it."

The border of Laos together with those of Burma and Thailand make up the Golden Triangle, a relatively lawless territory controlled by ethnic armies, opium warlords, and drug cartels.

An upsurge in drug trafficking in Laos is fuelling the potential for drug abuse among the country's youth, the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC) warned in a report last year.

Record increase

U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Country Representative to Laos, Leik Boonwaat, was quoted saying that the country is facing "an unprecedented increase in trafficking of methamphetamine," with rising use of the highly addictive drug.

Methamphetamine seizures in the country soared from one million tablets in 2008 to more than 24 million in 2010, according to UNODC. The agency's June 2011 World Drugs Report said 95 percent of those seeking drug treatment in Laos in 2009 had methamphetamine problems.  

Reported by RFA's Lao service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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Feb 25, 2012 05:46 AM

It is even worse than this because the police make huge money arresting drug users and only releasing them after payments in excess of $1000

Feb 27, 2012 04:08 AM

Local police in Vang Vieng turned blind eye to this drug issues, buecause they don't get paid enough from the government of Laos. The drug dealers make a better living than the police. So once the police was paid a big amount of money from the drug dearlers, of course they willl pretend there's no drugs business in the area. Police's salary in Vang Vieng probably $100.00/month. Drug dealers probably make about $10,000.00/month, imagined that...

Feb 25, 2012 08:09 AM

China Communist dopesn't want to decrease the production of opuin. They wanted to make Opuin as a trategic weapon to be powerful in all over the world. Which counter ever ery to suspress the opuin is his enemy like Burma, Laos, even Thailand but no border with him and American Military Base made Thailand be relax.
No strange about this new , it was like tridition.