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.
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.
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.