The Laos government crackdown on bars, swings, and drugs in Vangvieng has caused a dramatic drop in Western backpackers to the formerly popular town, affecting small businesses in the area, said a Vientiane Times report on Friday.
Prior to the 2012 closure of the bars and swings, Vangvieng was a hedonistic party town famous for making opium, marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms available for the mostly European tourists.
Vangvieng’s picturesque scenery by the river made it a popular stopping place on Road 13 between the old and new capitals of Vientiene and Luang Prabang.
The government says that the consumption of illegal drugs along the river led to the deaths of several visitors, and international news coverage of the incidents harmed the reputation of the town and country.
Authorities shut down several bars along the Xong River that were found to be selling illegal products.
Rebuilding the town’s image was not easy, said Tourism Office Head Bounpan Phomavong.
“We have to keep a close watch on local businesses to make sure they do not spoil tourists, and ensure that tourists do not violate rules like wearing revealing clothes while walking around town,” he said.
Since the change, the high number of Western tourists has been replaced by Asian visitors. About 60 percent of the town’s visitors now come from Japan, China, and South Korea, according to the Department of Information, Culture and Tourism.
Though some businesses were not happy with the stricter regulations and the impact on their business, authorities say the lives of tourists and the peace and safety of the town are more important.
However, the increase in the numbers of Asian tourists posed a new problem, as they tend to prefer high-end accommodation rather than the cheaper places frequented by Western backpackers, which left many small businesses out in the cold. Image/Celilia Cheah/trekearth.com