‘Tipsy tubing’ on Pai River hit by alcohol ban
The sudden surge in the popularity of “tipsy tubing” down the Pai River in Mae Hong Son province has prompted the provincial office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to enforce safety regulations drafted last year and also protect visitors from price gouging and shoddy services.
Operators are now required to prohibit tubers from drinking alcohol while tubing down the river, said Phanuwat Khatnak, director of TAT's Mae Hong Son office.
The prohibition against drinking while tubing was made last year, but enforcement will become strict due to the surging number of tubers, officials said.
Operators are also required to provide at least one life guard for every 10 tubers, Phanuwat said.
Only five river-tubing operators are registered with the Mae Hong Son Tourist Police, he said. They are Pai Authentic Travel, Magic Tubing, Duanden Travel, Revolution Pai, and Back Trax Tour. All five are based in the northern province’s Pai district.
“Tipsy tubing”, the leisure activity of floating down the river in an inner tube, is described by some travel websites as “the ultimate backpacker attraction in Pai”. Many advertise it as an afternoon activity that mixes tubing and drinking.
A recent viral video shows hundreds of backpackers tubing down the shallow waterway and many of them were drinking.
Tubing on Pai River is not new, but its popularity surged among backpackers after Thailand reopened its borders last year, Phanuwat said.
Tubing is only permitted from November to May when the river’s level is low – about waist level – and safe for tubing. Tubing is banned on the river during the rainy season, when the water level can reach three metres.
TAT’s Mae Hong Son office is in talks with local tourism operators and relevant state agencies about ways to attract tourists to the province year round, Phanuwat said.
A campaign for the summer will promote local cuisine, festivals, and wellness destinations like hot springs, he said.
Pai has been designated as the hub for tourism in Mae Hong Son because most tourists exploring the province start in the district.
“We have a variety of destinations, including waterfalls, hot springs, and [mountain] viewpoints. There are also many activities for digital nomads, workation travellers, and hybrid workers,” Phanuwat said.