Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

“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)


Practicals

Transport

There are relatively few paved roads, and even those are in bad condition (heavy rice-transporting trucks ruin the pavement).  

Laos - long distance bus

Laos - bike - v.g. photo

Accomodation

x

Laos - Nong Kiaw - Mandala-Ou Resort - m.g. photo

Food

“FRUIT, VEGETABLES: This is paradise on earth! Hedonists can expect much sensual pleasure on their taste buds since everything is so beautiful and delicious! Don’t be afraid to eat fruit and vegetables – just remember to wash them first. They’re full of vitamins!!

FRUIT DRINKS: On the street, you can buy drinks from vendors in different forms: coconut milk mixed with a whole bunch of hocus-pocus, to use the technical term! They are not served in a glass, but in a thick plastic bag packed with ice, into which the thick concentrated gunk is poured, then diluted. They then stick in a straw and put it all in a small bag with handles! It turned out not to be really to my taste, but there are plenty of varieties on offer!
Then came the trauma – if I think back to it, I can still feel nausea! Specifically, I’m talking about the meat market, where the lady sat by her table barefoot, while next to her feet the meat she was selling positively crawled with flies! It stank so badly I had to get away! If a health inspector from home had been there, he would probably have had a heart attack if he’d seen it! The truth is, though, the supermarkets here aren’t much better – they take the same rotten stuff, but dress it up nicer and sell it that way!

Laos - food

Laos -chicken dish and Beerlao, a local beer

Laos - fish

Shopping

x

Laos - Luang Prabang - ray for sale - m.g. photo

Fun

Lao-Lao, a local rice whiskey, is insanely strong, and if you are unused to such, it may give you a burnt throat for a day or so.


Public safety


In Laos, drug-related crimes have severe consequences and can result in the death penalty for the perpetrator.

--------------------------

“Some acquaintances of mine were wandering the streets of a town in a picturesque location when a couple of guys came up to them and offered to sell them some weed. These friends of mine bought a small bag, but before they had gone more than a few paces they were stopped by a whole team of police officers, who showed them their badges and insisted on searching them. Of course they found the grass, and the whole group was taken to a nearby police station. They were only released after paying $300, and the weed was presumably returned to the gang who practiced this trick of entrapment.” (H. R., 2017)

Lao police

Lao police 2

Health

Tap water is not drinkable. Don't get ice in your drink.

Avoid livestock markets, poultry farms, and any place where you may get close to free-range or caged birds. (The WHO reported that there had been infections caused by the bird flu virus in Laos, with human victims in close contact with sick birds).

Eat only well-cooked, fried meat dishes.

---------------------

“You really have to watch out for the tap water! It absolutely isn’t suitable for drinking. If you have a kettle, though, you can boil it, and then it’s completely safe. We were travelling with children, and we did this every evening when they had to brush their teeth. We also bought bottled water, but you have to check the integrity of the seal! In the 40° heat even the water from the cold tap is almost hot, which greatly speeds the multiplication of bacteria. If you want to spend your holiday in your hotel room, with most of your time spent on the toilet seat, then by all means gamble! For me, it’s once bitten, twice shy!

Don’t ask for ice, and read the warnings!!! If you don’t tell them not to, they’ll put it in! Some waiters have brains like a sieve!  They also serve beer with ice in Laos.

Something else I saw was: “don’t buy raw fruit or vegetables from street vendors, even if they’ve been washed.” But if you take it back to your hotel and wash it yourself, it’s alright, isn’t it? Anyway, what kind of idiot goes to a tropical country and doesn’t at least try the special, never-before-seen delights on sale there?

From my own experience: you don’t have to set off already convinced you’re going to get some deadly virus, or otherwise overly anxious about possible dangers. After all, you could be hit by a bus outside your own front door. Once here, be brave, try new things, and visit, taste and experience everything you can! ENJOY YOURSELF!!!!!

Bring antipyretics, analgesics, antispasmodics, some charcoal tablets, antibiotics or other anti-inflammatories, wound powder, bandages, and possibly iodine! In addition to this, you should have some hand disinfectant alcohol gel, wet wipes and talcum powder. Teas: chamomile tea and nettle tea have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects, as does linden tea. Otherwise, you can always buy ginger tea there, which is good for colds and sore throats.
Talcum powder works miracles! My skin is unfortunately very sensitive, and if a dress isn’t 100% cotton it gets itchy and inflamed. It can develop acne, which drives me nuts and is genuinely painful – not great fun! Talcum powder is the best solution – especially in places where the clothes are in direct contact with the skin and there isn’t a lot of air circulation – around the bra, for instance. I’m serious when I say the heat can be literally unbearable! There were times when I took eight showers a day, especially near the beginning when I was still acclimatizing!

The body also needs to adapt!

What you really have to look out for is the CLIMATE!
 - It’s important to be aware that the climate can really hammer you in Thailand and Laos. For those with sensitive ears and a propensity to get migraines, it’s particularly bad. The week before we came home both I and the baby became so ill that when we got back we were in bed for about two weeks.

Others

•    NEON: The whole country is lit up in neon lights. Spectacular geckos hunt night beetles by the light of these twisted tubes, but I have to say, it’s a pretty unpleasant light.
•    LITTER: People have no qualms about chucking their garbage away: plastic bottles, plastic bags, and anything else they have no further need of is simply thrown out the window of the bus. It never seems to occur to anyone how much harm this behavior causes.
•    ROOSTERS: They all crow at 8 am, as though you’re in some remote corner of the savannah. (This is true even in the biggest cities). A few enthusiastic birds even start cock-a-doodle-dooing at about two in the morning and keep going until after dawn. How these noisy gentlemen aren’t too hoarse to call I’ll never know!
•    MEKONG: Three nations use this as a washing machine, highway, trash can, and bathtub.

-----------------------

“Due to some bizarre mutation, every cat in Laos has a broken, short or twisted tail. Another explanation someone gave us is that the locals break cats’ tails to bring good luck. I think that’s bullshit. Firstly because it’s impossible to break every cat’s tail, and secondly because this is a Buddhist country, where birds can be bought at temples just to release them – a good thing – they wouldn’t break cats’ tails.

Background

Laos -national flag - ທຸງຊາດລາວ

Destination in brief

Laos in brief

Laos is a country in the Indochina area of Southeast Asia.
Neighbors: China and Myanmar (north), Vietnam (east), Thailand (west), Cambodia (south).

Capital city: Vientiane – The strong French influence in Vientiane is unmistakable. Wide boulevards, colonial architecture, flaky baguettes, wine, and coffee, are just some French legacies ubiquitous in Vientiane.

Size: 236,800 km² (91,429 mi²) - Laos is the only landlocked country in the whole of Southeast Asia - one of the most incredible natural attractions en route of the powerful Mekong River lies in the south of the country: Si Phan Don, more commonly known as “The 4000 Islands”.

Population: 7,2 million (2020) - Laotians commonly refer to themselves as “luk khao niaow” which aptly translates to “children or descendants of sticky rice” – sticky rice is the national staple.

Religion: about 40-50% Buddhists, others (who belong to all kinds of different ethnic groups) mainly keep their own religious traditions. These tribal religions are referred to as Satsana Phi, or “religions of the gods.”

Language: Lao (or Laotian) – This serves as a lingua franca in a highly multilingual Laos where 86 different languages are spoken. The Thai and Lao languages are very closely related, so much so that Lao speakers can understand Thai and vice-versa.

Currency: lao kip (LAK)

Average monthly salary: 250 USD (2020)

Laos is a Communist country, a one-party system, a dictatorship, one of the poorest country in East Asia, although it is quickly developing.

Most frequent surname: Inthavong

Public safety: Laos is definitely a safe country for visitors

Optimal timing for a tourist visit: November-February (less rain, not too hot) – this is also the tourist high season.
Most important tourist attractions: Luang Prabang, Vat Phou and the ancient settlements nearby

Climate

From November to March, the climate is mild, between 20-30 C, with little rainfall, but the air in the mountains cools down sharply at night.

From April to May, unbearable heat prevails, with temperatures between 35-40 degrees.

The rainy season is between June and October,  with floods, traffic difficulties, roadblocks. However, sailing on the Mekong is optimal in this period.

History

Laos began to take shape in the middle of the 14th century during the reign of the Lan Xang kingdom. It was around this time that Buddhism became the primary religion.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the kingdom collapsed, and the Siamese took control of Laos. Then in the 19th century, the French came and colonized. In 1907, the present borders of Laos were enshrined in a treaty.

During World War II, the Japanese invaded Laos. After the defeat of the Japanese, in 1945, the French gave Laos independence, but their soldiers did not leave. Effective independence was not established until 1954 when internal fighting erupted between the U.S. and Soviet-backed local forces. The communists came to power and introduced a dictatorship. Many fled to the West.


Nowadays

“Can you imagine a country where the Secretary-General of the Communist Party regularly gives alms to monks? Or where the hammer-and-sickle flag flutters outside temples and monasteries? Well, Laos is such a place. Of course, it’s best we diligently learn that Buddha was in fact, in the dept of his soul, a communist. Capitalism is also booming in Laos, and – as far as the economy is concerned – Vientiane is open for business, and foreign capital is welcomed with smiles and open arms. Nobody is surprised by this – the system (economic liberalism without political freedoms) is quite familiar from nearby China and Vietnam. There are some major differences, though: in China, for instance, the Communist Party continues to treat religion as ‘the opium of the people’, though it’s true that they seem to have been somewhat more lenient towards traditional Chinese religions in recent years. Still, even they are in the ‘tolerated’ rather than ‘encouraged’ category. In Laos, on the other hand, the government and the Buddhist establishment work in close harmony.

-------------------

“In countries like Nepal and Laos, it is absolutely not a surprise these days to see a monk chatting on his mobile phone, with no concern for who might see him. A huge satellite dish in the courtyard of a Laotian Buddhist monastery indicated that the monks like to keep in touch, if not with heavenly divinity, at least with the outside world.

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with a monk. It was during my 1995 trip to Thailand that a young man approached me in the courtyard of a wat in Bangkok, saying that he was studying English at a local Buddhist university, and was anxious to practice his language skills. For many young people from poor backgrounds, such universities offer a route to social betterment, since they are not bound to remain as monks when they complete their studies, and they can use what they learned there – for instance by working as a teacher – in civilian life.

In Laos, our tour guide was a man who spent seventeen years (!) in one of the monasteries of Luang Prabang. He had studied history and English and had been working in the tourism sector for many years. He also had a family to support. He encouraged us to get up early on the day of our departure: he wanted to show me how many monks – literally hundreds – came from the various monasteries to the city center, where the faithful were already waiting to supply them with food. I also noticed that almost every monk was accompanied by at least one stumbling boy, and I, at last, asked what they were doing there. Our guide said that these were the children of poor families and that if the monks received more than was strictly necessary, they would give the excess to the children.”

------------------

“Among the Lao people, if there is some conflict or someone makes a mistake, they always smile and say “no problem!” If there is a car accident, the one who pays is not the one who made the mistake, but the one who has the most money. Somehow, the impression one gets is that it’s all the same to everyone, and nothing has any consequences! Perhaps the country is also a hotbed of corruption. Sure, they smile a lot, but somehow we missed the sense of responsibility and orderliness you get in many other countries. Or that every day has some goal, or purpose, which you strive to achieve – there was none of that concept here. They just sit around, contented with a kind of lukewarm existence. The fact is, though, the country could be a real tourist magnet if they just rolled their sleeves up and put a little effort into making it a bit more presentable!”

People

“For a long, long time we imagined that the people of Laos were very kind towards foreigners, though it’s true that we had a few encounters on local buses with people who weren’t so friendly. It was then that we realized that all the people who had been nice to us were people we were giving money to, such as hotel clerks, waiters, and so on. Still, we, at last, decided that on balance, Laotians are moderately friendly.

-----------------

“They are a very religious (Buddhist), family-oriented, warm-hearted, friendly people, and they also smoke weed regularly. They try to imitate Thai cuisine for tourists, with moderate success, but they themselves generally subsist on sticky rice. They are generally very tranquil, and know how to live happily in modest circumstances. They also believe in karma and spirits. Politics is of little interest to most people.



Laos - village kids - m.g. photo

Laos - village people - e.r. photo

Laos - fish man

Tourist etiquette

1. Laotian law prohibits their citizens from having sex with foreigners if they are not a married couple. This law is clearly aiming to repress prostitution.

Gastronomy

“The Laotians eat a primarily rice-based diet. We once saw a market where more than forty varieties of rice were on sale. They eat noodles, too, and have some local dishes, but on the whole Laotian cuisine is similar to that in Thailand. What’s interesting, however, is that even in little cafés in small villages you can get crispy, French-style baguettes and La Vache Qui Rit cheese triangles. That’s about as much trace as presently remains, that Laos was ever a French colony.

Attractions

Luang Prabang

Population (in 2020): 47,300

Laos - Luang Prabang - Wat Xieng Thong - Elter photo

Luang Prabang - standing Buddha on Mount Phousi - Elter photo

Vientiane

Laos - Vientiane - Patuxay Monument - a massive war monument and triumphal arch in the center of the capital - Elter photo

Laos - Vientiane - Pha That Luang, a Buddhist stupa - Elter photo

Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan), a sculpture park 25 km southeast from Vientiane

Laos - Buddha Park

Kuang Si Waterfall

Laos - Kuang Si Waterfall - Elter photo

Related posts

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *