“If my understanding of the fluctuating trends in international tourism is correct, the attraction of Laos in the 1990s was that, while there was nothing particularly interesting here, the decades of isolation meant that there were far fewer tourists than in the surrounding countries. We sincerely envy those who visited Laos during these pioneering years, because while there’s still nothing particularly interesting to see, the crowds have nonetheless become damned big. I can’t think of many reasons to recommend Laos as a destination.
The lack of attractions and the crowds of tourists could be forgiven if the quality of service had at least risen in the meantime. Tourists in Thailand do not expect to have the place to themselves, but in return things at least work tolerably well, and you generally get something in exchange for your money. Laos has not managed to remotely approach this level, which can result in some funny situations: I’ve seen rusty, thousand-year-old local buses carrying more tourists than locals. Either it should be like Thailand, where the bus is modern and reliable, or like Myanmar, where the bus is equally decrepit, but there are no more than ten foreigners within fifty kilometers. In Laos, you get the worst of both worlds.
It should be noted, by the way, that the breakneck development of tourism has not only been disadvantageous to the tourists, but to the locals as well. We don’t have any data to hand, but there can’t be many countries with so many tourists and such impoverished locals. In Thailand, at least people make some money from selling their country, but here the villages are barely better off than in Myanmar, which sees far fewer foreign visitors.
I’ll try to be as succinct as possible: of the ten Asian countries which we have visited over the past seven months, Laos is by far the least interesting, and we can only recommend visiting it after all other possibilities have been exhausted.
“When we were preparing for our trip to Southeast Asia and I told one of our friends our planned route, he looked at me in surprise: “Aren’t you going to Laos as well?” “Why, what’s in Laos?” It was strange, we could never quite answer this question: with every other country there were things we wanted to see, but nothing ever came to mind when it came to Laos. Even after three weeks in the country, I’m not sure I could respond much better, because in a certain sense there isn’t much to see. There is, however, an all-pervading, infinite sense of serenity (broken only by the occasional crowing of a rooster) and perhaps the symbol of the country could be a hammock. Well, and the majestic Mekong, the gorgeous natural landscapes (caves, waterfalls), Buddhist temples, and, last but not least, the hospitality of the Lao people themselves.”
“Laos is an infinitely peaceful country. I have to admit that after Vietnam, I was in dire need of just such serenity. Compared to Vietnam, every day here felt like living in a fairy tale.
Aside from that, there was one very simple reason why I loved being there so much: everyone lives at a much slower pace. And that was exactly what I needed. When I say everyone, I mean travelers and tourists as well as locals.
Imagine having nothing better to do than sit on a bench and chat with the person next to you. As at home, the best experiences are to be had in villages. The fact is, I don’t know exactly how or why, but you have the feeling you’re welcome to sit down and chat, too. And you do. You don’t even think about doing otherwise. It’s all so natural, and if we’ve joined the conversation, then we’re welcome to partake of the food and drink on the table too.
They were sitting by the road, and we nodded and said hello as we passed them. They called out to us, and in the end, there were five of us sharing one bowl of soup. Why not? 😉 Then out came the rice brandy. Oh well. Even though we had no common language, we could speak and understand one another easily. As always.
Another occasion: A family celebration was being held, and they called out to us to join them – there was plenty to eat, they said. I think this is the sort of thing that only happens in Laos.
Somehow the whole field of energy is more open, and it inspires more quality time. I can’t explain it any better than that, but it’s that sort of thing.” (2015)