When I first met Alex it was my first full day in Laos, and he kept telling me how he hat Lao (loves Laos) quite fervently. I didn’t quite get what he meant at first but now I understand completely, as I fall into the same hat Lao category. The combination of the people I met and a country unlike any I had been to before makes it an unforgettable place, to the point where I recommend it to people over Thailand!
In the coming years I’m sure Laos will become a much better known destination as it is now, to the point where I almost feel hesitant to mention it lest it become another Thailand. I wish the Lao people well as the rest of the world begins to pour into their borders- I hope you see what you like and dislike about your neighbors, and adopt the good things without losing your kindness and hospitality.
– Laos is, as I mentioned, different. While I was there I saw no Western chains, no four-wheeled vehicles carrying less than five people, no traffic lights outside the capital, and no airplanes save in the largest two cities. It was utterly not the same as where I am from to nearly every imaginable degree, which was amazing!
– The people of Laos, who would do everything from invite me to a wedding to feed me for free to going out of their way to be kind in every single way possible, despite having so little. Bless them all.
– Alex, who I knew for about half my time in Laos and made that time incredibly special. I spent a lot of the second half wishing he was around to have a grand adventure or never-ending conversation with.
– As close runners-up, the three older Brits I met traveling who were a hoot: Anne, Sue, and Frank (the latter two who were a couple, the first who was single). Sue and Frank are pretty much what I hope to be when I reach my fifties- still traveling to exotic lands and thinking nothing of it!- whereas Anne’s perspective on life was truly memorable. Who would have guessed that you could learn stuff from old(er) people?!
– Learning the language of Lao, both from Alex and from a few other sources later on. It got to the point at the end where I could do basic transactions almost exclusively in Lao, and children trying to sell me stuff in the street would exclaim “you speak Lao?!” when I politely told them to buzz off in their language. Which was a surefire way to make them not buzz off, but there we are.
-The scenery. You will never tire of the beautiful mountains in Laos.
– The cheapness factor, which made me feel like I was splurging when I spent $6 a night for a room. This was in part due to the exchange rate- it was about 10,000 kip to the US dollar, meaning just $100 made you a millionaire. And the biggest note they have is 50,000 kip, so you always looked like a high roller with the amount of currency one needed to walk around with!
– The Gibbon Experience. If you have any remote urge to fly through jungle canopies and live in treehouses all for the good cause of saving endangered animals, and find yourself in northern Laos, you should do it.
– Luang Nam Tha, for being off the tourist trail and for its Chinese influence.
– The waterfall outside Luang Prabang!
– Tubing in Vang Vieng, zoning out to Friends, and the nightlife…
– The French food in Vientiane. I am still not over that duck.
– Hurting my foot on the Gibbon Experience in a zipline accident. It still hurts and I begin limping after walking too much actually because I probably haven’t been resting as much as I should, but that is now top priority so hopefully it heals soon!
– The roads. Things are improving but outside the main tourist strip the roads are terrible, so traveling even a hundred kilometers can take several hours. Granted, I still think Romania has the worst roads I’ve ever encountered, but Laos is a close second!
– The “anti-materialist” crowd. I don’t know where these people were in Thailand, but Laos has a disproportionately large backpacker crowd all too happy to tell you how anti-materialist they are and how the US is terrible and driving more people into poverty, or whatever. These people inevitably have packs larger than mine and make me want to scream at them to observe the poverty on the sides of the roads and see how they like surviving on less than a dollar a day, but to no avail.
If that weren’t bad enough, this crowd did a huge number of cultural faux pas that pissed me off to no end. For example, at the end of the Gibbon Experience while waiting for our ride in the middle of a village, a girl was happily snapping pictures of the villagers with her camera. In villages in particular you never take pictures without asking permission first- beyond being rude some people don’t want you to for a myriad of reasons- but when we mentioned this to the girl she said “oh, I have a long zoom so they can’t tell I’m taking pictures of them.”
I was tempted to start taking pictures of her with my camera like she was in a zoo for my amusement, but my foot had been injured that morning and I couldn’t hobble to her.
– The midnight curfew. Everything in Laos closes at 11:30 at the latest officially because there is a government curfew whereby everyone needs to be in their registered residence by midnight. (Communist countries tend to want to restrict their charges’ movements after all.) They usually don’t hassle tourists but will Lao people if they’re about, but the end result is it’s always a minor challenge to find a guesthouse that won’t have an 11:30 curfew and a bar that’s open past midnight if you want the party to keep going. I confess I got locked out of my guesthouse once and needed to scale a fence, which wasn’t really much fun in a skirt.
– Roosters. Good God, they are my nemesis- no matter where you go in Laos, about an hour before sunrise the roosters start crowing loudly. And there are a lot of them, as evidenced by all the baby chicks you see everywhere, and they never shut up. So far as I can tell their morning conversation goes something on the lines of “Hey, I’m a rooster!” “Dude, you are?! That is so awesome, I’m a rooster too! Hey, did I tell you I banged that nice-looking chick last night?” “Man, that is sweet! HEY EVERYONE, GUESS WHAT ROY DID LAST NIGHT? IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, HE F-”
Clearly it was time for me to leave Laos if I was making up what the roosters were saying at 5am. And exacting my revenge by eating copious amounts of delicious, delicious chicken.
Anyway, that was Laos. You should go. Cheers!