Dangerous? Yes, but don't try to change South-East Asia

Geez. This time last year, barely anyone even knew what "tubing" was. The backpacking community did, thanks to the usual Chinese whispers, but the media didn't – the serious commentariat probably thought it was a way to get more toothpaste out.

Now, of course, everyone knows. Thanks to the tragic deaths of two Australians on the river in Vang Vieng, Laos, last month, tubing has gone mainstream. It's another thing for parents to worry about their travelling kids doing; another thing for those travelling kids to plan to do.

There's no publicity like bad publicity.

Suddenly, everyone knows about tubing. It's another one of those crazy things that Western backpackers get up to in cheap South-East Asian countries. Chuck it in there with Full Moon Parties and shooting ranges, happy pizzas and dodgy strip clubs.

Tubing, it's clear, is dangerous. Pretty dumb, when you think about it. But what I've found concerning in all the post-accident hand-wringing is the calls for Asian governments to start regulating these activities. The reasoning being, I guess, that if our kids can't control themselves, it should be up to someone else to control them.

I'd just say: please don't let that happen.

Say what you want about tubing; I know the first thing I thought when I heard about those two guys last month was, "It could have been me." That's every traveller's - and every traveller's parents' - worst nightmare.

Say what you want about Full Moon Parties, too. They're certainly not Thai cultural institutions, and they've pretty much ruined one side of a very beautiful island.

But don't start calling for regulations.

See, in Australia we have regulations. We have loads of regulations. So much so that when something dangerous is found to be happening, the immediate reaction is to put up some signs, throw a fence around it, run an ad campaign, bring in the cops, or just ban the thing altogether.

In South-East Asia, that's not how it works. There's much more reliance on personal responsibility – much more freedom to take matters into your own hands, to make your own decisions about what's smart and what's not.

Crazy enough to ride a motorbike without a helmet? Go for it. And bring your whole family along for the ride? Fine. Want to eat from an unlicensed street-food stall? Go ahead.

It means you have to exercise your personal judgment a bit more – something Australians probably aren't used to. That much is evident in the way they usually go a bit off the rails when presented with all of these choices that are usually denied back home.

Sniffer dogs turn up to music festivals here. Bouncers won't let you into bars with the wrong shoes. You basically have to sign a waiver to leave the house.

It's different in South-East Asia, but that's one of the things that makes it so attractive, particularly to younger travellers, or those who feel stifled by all the rules of an orderly Western society.

I don't imagine that any calls for crackdowns over here are going to spur the Lao or Thai governments to make any huge changes. There aren't going to be sniffer dogs on Koh Pha-Ngan, or breathalysers in Vang Vieng. They've got bigger things to worry about.

But this isn't about young people having a good time. It's more about Western attitudes to the way things are done in South-East Asia. We love talking about our freedom over here – heck, we go to war in its name – but when real freedom presents itself, it's suddenly way too scary.

The truth is, you can do some fun things in South-East Asia that you can't do at home. You can also do some dangerous things that maybe aren't so advisable.

The trick is being able to pick the difference, and that's a personal responsibility. Don't try to change that.

Do you enjoy the relative freedom of choice in South-East Asia, or would you rather it was more heavily regulated? Do you think tubing should be policed? Or banned?

Follow Ben Groundwater on Twitter @bengroundwater

Email: bengroundwater@gmail.com