The lucky escape of a Melbourne woman who could have died tubing in Laos this week has prompted a warning to young travellers to beware the risks of drinking unknown alcohol.
Susie Morris says her daughter, Annika, 19, needed to be pulled to the side of a river in Vang Vieng on Monday after falling desperately unwell. She had previously taken a shot of locally-made whisky before getting in a tractor tyre tube and riding it down the river.
Dr Morris told Fairfax Media that Annika became so unwell she lost sight and nearly fell unconscious while on the river, and later stopped breathing after her travel companion had taken her to town.
Dr Morris said if it wasn't for the quick thinking of Annika's friend, Melba Blyth-Elvin, her daughter could have drowned. Ms Blyth-Elvin also helped save her friend's life by finding help in the town and performing CPR when Annika stopped breathing.
The chain of events was relayed to Annika's parents in hourly updates by phone from northern Laos.
"The whole thing was very traumatic. We are very lucky to still have Annika ... I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about that because I don't want to," Dr Morris said.
The teenager's ordeal follows the death of two Australian men on the Laotian tubing scene in January.
Sydney man Lee Hudswell, 26, died on January 10 when he landed badly after jumping from a tower into a river while riding an inner tube. The body of Melbourne man Daniel Eimutis, 19, was found in a river on January 26, three days after he disappeared while tubing.
Dr Morris said her daughter became unwell soon after drinking a free shot of locally-made whisky at a bar beside the river on Monday afternoon. After getting out of the water, Ms Blyth-Elvin took her friend to hospital in a tuk-tuk, and later ran into the street to find help when she became concerned that hospital staff did not understand her friend's medical allergies.
Dr Morris said a German medical student and an English backpacker heeded Ms Blyth-Elvin's call for help, and at one stage the group — back at the women's room — resuscitated Annika when she stopped breathing. By about midnight local time she had recovered sufficiently to call her parents.
Lao-Lao whisky is usually made from fermented rice and can be notoriously potent. It is also unregulated and can contain additives such as macerated scorpions and snakes. Dr Morris said the medical student who helped her daughter suspected the drink had been drug-tainted.
She urged travellers to be wary of drinking something they were unsure of.
"They may pour it out of a Johnnie Walker bottle, but it's not Johnnie Walker whisky," she said.
"It's just a home-brew concoction that they produce themselves and this is just the danger. The drink wasn't necessarily spiked by a bartender, but the alcohol has been tainted — it's like a meth lab in Australia ... they're very unsafe."
Dr Morris said Laotian people were entitled to make a living from adventure-seeking tourists, but feared for the safety of others unless someone was made accountable.
She said her daughter had been aware of the recent tubing deaths before her own ordeal.
"You tell them things but they think they're indestructible. They were aware and I'm sure she'll look at it very differently now," she said.
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