Vang Vieng, Laos – forget it

By Serge Kreutz

In the 90s and the first few years of the current millenium, Vang Vieng in Laos used to be a charming drug destination. If you search Google for Vang Vieng drugs, you will still be provided with links to outdated shit.

Fact is that the scene has become outright dangerous.

Sure, drugs ar still around quite openly, even after the August 2012 crack-down. And ordinary Laotian people in Vang Vieng are still quite accepting for the fact that Westerners do dope.

But in Laos, like everywhere in the world, you have the police. And as anywhere in the world, if you are involved with drugs, you have little recourse dealing with the police.

You can try your best to pay your way out. Now, in Laos, this indeed does often still work. But at a price.

But Laotian police are the most unfriendly anywhere in Southeast Asia.
Thai police are trained to smile when dealing with foreigners. Laotian police are trained to install fear, in Laotians and foreigners alike.
And the Laotian police are more expensive, much more expensive to bribe than the Cambodian police, for example.

For even the smallest drug offence, expect to pay no less than 1000 US dollars to get of the hook. But 5000 is more likely, and they take 10,000 if they think they can get it.

They do not mind to keep you in a police cell for a few days to wait for your wire.

The Laotian police, even in Vang Vieng, do not search foreigners for drugs unless they know already that you are in possession.

And how they know? The common pattern in Asia anywhere is that the person who sells drugs to you is also the one who sells you to the police. Be especially wary of foreigners who live there and make a meager income managing local bars.

Foreign visitors tend to trust countrymen living there much more than locals. The police in Vang Vieng also know this.

These local residenfs are often in the hands of the police. They have no money, are often addicted to hard drugs, have usually overstayed their visas, and work without permit.

In Vang Vieng, such characters tell you that it’s still ok with marijuana etc. They sell it to you, as happy pizza or joint, and they may claim that the owner of their venue has paid off the police.

Think of it yourself. A single drug-arrested foreigner is more money than such a bar or resraurant could earn in a month.

The foreign managers of “happy” venues are the ones selling you to the police.

But the Laotian police also go for smaller prey. Road traffic violations, for example. You can rent motorcycles in Vang Vieng. The rate is 30,000 Kip, if the bike is returned by 7 or 8 in the evening, or 60,000 Kip for 24 hours. The shop will keep your passport.

Of course, there are traffic rules in Laos. Drivers need a valid driving license. The motorcycle registration papers have to be with the driver. The vehicle needs to be insured. Side mirrors need to be present, and the lights working. And a helmet needs to be worn.

Practically no foreigner renting a bike in Vang Vieng conforms to all of this. And the police are there to shake you down.

The official ticket prices may not be as high as in the West. In Thailand, traffic tickets paid under the table typically cost half of the official price. In Thailand, most violations officially cost 400 baht, so with a quick 200 baht, you are through in 10 minutes, and it’s all smiles. The Thai police are always friendly. In Cambodia, even just a dollar or two will set you and your bike free. Cambodia is also the least efficiently policed country in Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, bribes are on par with official costs.

And in Laos? Police checkpoints are common. The police treat everybody as if they were drug trade big fish. And bribes, in comparison to official ticket prices, tend to cost double.

In Thailand, the police are wheels in the government apparatus. Police work has a lot to do with doing ones duty. But in Laos, the police are king. And Western girls running afoul with the law, especially on drug cases, better be willing to provide sexual services to police officers. Westerners are in Vang Vieng to be milked.