When Travel Destinations gets Trashed and People Die

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The headline distressed me.

“22 year old Australian man dies on flying fox in Laos”

I didn’t have to read any more of the article to know what had happened.

Copious amounts of alcohol in Vang Vieng and common sense lost.


Confirmed, and I was also shocked to read that 22 people died on this famous river tube pub crawl last year.

river tube swing Vang Vieng Laos
River tube swing Vang Vieng Laos

This should not happen. Travel should not be about going so crazy that you trash a beautiful small river town with Western excess and debauchery, and people die.

I think back to other places I know that have been trashed in the same way. Full Moon parties in Thailand, check- Australian died last year; Muscle Bar at the Running of the Bulls in Pampalona; Kuta Bali;

The Hofbrauhaus Beerfest tent.

Walk into that tent during Beerfest, and then walk into another tent that is mostly filled with Germans and Europeans, and you’ll know what I am talking about.

A lot of my horror comes from the fact that I know a large proportion of the people who trash these places are Australians.

What is wrong with us?

I’ve been to all these places, and I try to cast my mind back to see if I behaved in these appalling ways. I wonder if my horror is merely a result of me being much older and wiser now, a mother with two children, who I like to think has a bit more decorum and respect.

I did get really drunk at Beerfest… I was on a tour group with a bunch of Aussies. I ran into a lot of friends from home. I spent most of my time in the feral beer tent.

Fun at Beerfest
Fun at Munich Beer Fest 1997

We stood around laughing, drinking, dancing on tables and chatting with people from all over the world. Not too bad.

Previous to going, I had heard of the 100 club, a disgusting Beerfest rite of passage for Aussies and Kiwis. You stand around, take a shot of beer every minute for a 100 of them, and if you need to throw up or go to the toilet then you are out.

The problem is that when you are out, you have to lie in the middle of the circle where the judges can serve up punishment. Punishment which usually results in them throwing up on you, pissing on you, or even worse (yes it involves other bodily waste and fluid.)

But don’t worry if you make it through the 100 minutes you can do the same back to the judges.

Are we a nation that is mad?

“There is no way I am going to watch that or participate.” I told my friends. ” I came here to enjoy myself and experience the culture.”

Running of the Bulls, Pampalona

Before going to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, we heard that the Muscle Bar was the place for Aussies and Kiwis to hang out. We had a big party in the campsite the evening before and meet some cool people who we were going to hang out with for the day.

First stop Muscle Bar.

We grabbed our sangrias and headed out to the square in front of the statue. The place where drunken idiots would climb to the top of the 3 metre high statue. They would point to their equally drunk friends below to catch them as they dived head first into the crowd, hoping they would stop them from falling on the concrete and chards of broken glass.

“You know the Spaniards hate the Aussies here?” a spectator beside me spoke. “They come here and trash their celebration and create accidents and deaths where there should be just dancing and having fun.”

I wanted to be swallowed up by the broken glass.

A young girl climbed up the statue, fist pumping the air with her bravery and pointing to her friends below. Who knows what happened to them when she jumped, because none of them caught her.

A silence transcended over the crowd, as the paramedics, waiting in the wings, pushed their way through. I almost threw up.

“I’m sorry guys, but I can’t stay here. I came here to have fun not to watch people die.”

My friends’ solemn faces spoke their reply as they spun on their heels.

We spent the rest of the day dancing and singing in the back streets with the local Spaniards. It is the best festival I have ever attended.

San Fermin Pampalona
The Running of the Bulls Begins!

Throughout the day, the sirens could be heard racing back and forth from that Muscle Bar and I shrank in shame a little each time at the appalling and disrespectful behaviour of my fellow countrymen.

Full Moon Party, Thailand

I went to the Full Moon party in 99. We danced and drank and had so much fun. It wasn’t as crazy, I don’t believe, as it is now. But the party sure went for a few days.

For some reason it just never entered my head that a sane thing to do would be to go swimming in the ocean or jump off the rocks when I was wasted. Why do some people have these common sense things missing from their brains? People should not be dying in these ways.

From what I’ve heard of Full Moon now I wouldn’t go back again. It sounds like another place that has just been ruined by drunken idiots where too many people die.

Kuta, Bali

I can’t even put into words how I feel about that place now after reading about it on Wandering Earl’s site, “When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong.”

It was my first overseas holiday; it created an intense desire in me to make travel my lifestyle forever.

And now that feeling has been replaced with horror and the sadness that comes with knowing that we travellers think we own the world and don’t need to respect the culture of the people whose homes we are visiting.

It seems like a lot of Australians have died in Bali lately or been in trouble. Can we please get it into our heads, that taking drugs, buying them or trying to traffic them will land you in a prison in these countries and possibly graciously give you a noose for your neck?

Vang Vieng, Laos

And now Vang Vieng. We loved this place when we first visited in 2006. We spent a lazy day floating down the river on tubes, popping in for a few beers here and there. It seemed pretty sedate and casual.

river tubing vang vieng
River tubing Vang Vieng- Laos

I swung out on a rope, sober, and as soon as I hit the water decided that it probably was not a good idea anymore and would rather sit, relax and enjoy myself.

My life is too precious to cut it short on stupid risks.

I’ve seen recent pictures of the partying in Laos, of people with words like “c**t” and such and such “is gay” and “takes it up the arse,” and “slut” written on their backs. This is not cool or funny or honouring the beauty that lives inside each of us. It’s trash in its purest form.

I value the culture of the land I am visiting, and the beauty of the landscape to trash it with irresponsible, outrageous behaviour. I want to give my country a good name.

It doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. But why do people have to die as a result of fun gone wrong?

All I could think about was that young man’s mother. Now that I am a mother I understand.

being a new mother

To hear that your son’s life was taken while he was out on a river pub crawl having fun and probably not making smart choices. Or, maybe he was, but the area he was in has been so trashed now by travellers that the local people have lost their senses are they are trying to cater to the demand in order to make a living.

It’s not until you create a life that you realize the devastation that can only come when that life you created, the greatest love of your life, is gone. I couldn’t imagine the pain of it. I couldn’t imagine how I could ever survive it.

Sometimes parents have to face the loss of their child overseas while travelling. We lost a friend in a tragic accident in Africa (Strangely enough it was Waz who first told us of Vang Vieng.). His mother took some comfort in knowing that her child was doing what he loved and it was just a tragic accident. Imagine knowing that it was a result of something so avoidable and a result of behaviour spun out of control.

Respect and Have Fun at the Same Time

I don’t think my disgust comes from me just being older and out of touch, I think it comes from me just wanting our society to be better than for a change.

To respect our own lives and that of others around us. We don’t have to trash things to have a good time. We can still get drunk and party and have fun without losing so much control.

To all the young travellers, I say go out and have a ball. Go to festivals, go to parties, drink and be merry. But please be culturally sensitive and make smart choices.

Think of your mothers, who are at home, worried about their babies. Please make choices that don’t risk you losing your own life and destroying that of your parents, who love you more than anything.

You’re too young and life is too beautiful for it to be cut short just in the name of drunken fun.

Have you experienced places that have been trashed in this way before by bad foreigner behaviour?


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