Saturday, March 27, 2010


Laos is known as the more traditional country in southeast asia. They are still playing catchup with Vietnam and Thailand. It is a very sleepy kind of country and the people hear are dubbed to be very laid back. For example, in Vietnam a tuk-tuk(3 wheeled taxi) driver will run you over to get your business and will suggest you stop at his brothers marble statue shop to buy something on the way to your hotel or restaurant. In Thailand, the driver will take you to your requested destination via silk shop or some other business route so you better damn well know where you are headed and how many kilometers it is to your destination before you get on the tuk tuk. In Laos, you have to go looking for a tuk tuk driver, wake him up once you find him and then persuade him to take you somewhere. That kinda sums it up for ya. No teeming, smoggy metropolis in sight, no aggressive entrepreneurialism and definitely no customer service offered at any level. Tourism in Laos seems to have skipped a beat here. Very different and hard to cope with. Restaurants and coffee shops will take there time in serving you once and will never come back to see if you want another beer,etc. unless you throw your empty bottle at them to get their attention. That's Loas!

In the north there is a rugged terrain of emerald mountains and dramatic limestone peaks crisscrossed with rivers which makes traveling very slow. The south is flat as a pancake and sprinkled with palm trees and various garden type areas. Laos is separated from Thailand by the mighty Mekong River. This river is huge. It cuts through northern Thailand and Laos and ends up in southern Vietnam.

Laos was taken over by communist regime in 1975. By the late 1980's the regime realized that further isolation would be its downfall and since then has gingerly opened it's doors to foreign investment and hence tourism. Major highways are now being built between China, Thailand and Vietnam as it has borders with each of these countries. Most of Loas is still dirt highways and hardly accessible but they are changing that on a daily basis. It is a difficult decision for them. The government is very, very conservative and is concerned about falling standards or morality as Thailand has shown to have experienced in it's rise to economic power. They don't want to lose ground on morals,values, etc. and they see opening up their doors as a gateway to deterioration of their value systems. In addition there are vast areas of forest and rivers that they do not want to see eventually go away as their sister countries have proven to have decimated much of their environment in their quest to gain international positioning and financial freedom. It's a catch 22 of sorts. The preservation of one of the world's richest ecosystems vs. the need to financially support itself and keep up with other Asian sister countries.

Before the French, British, Chinese and Siamese drew a line around Laos it was a collection of disparate principalities subject to an ever-revolving cycle of war, invasion, prosperity and decay. The earliest it became a nation was in the 14th century backed by none other than the, you guessed it, the Khmer regime. Ruled under a warlord named Fa Ngum. He name Loas Lan Xang(Land of a million elephants). He also made Theravada Buddism the state religion and adopted the symbol of Lao sovereignty that still remains in use today and the Pha Bang buddha image. Lan Xang reached its peak in the 17th century when it was the dominant force in southeast asia.

By the 18th century the nation crumbled and fell under the control of the Siamese who coveted Laos as a buffer zone against the expansion of those pesty French people. It was to no effect. Soon after taking over what is now Vietnam, the French negotiated with Siam(basically bullied them) into relinquishing their territory east of the Mekong and,voila, Laos was born! In 1953, the French granted full sovereignty to Laos but 20 years of chaos followed as Laos became a stage where clashes between communist ambition and US anxiety over the perceived Southeast Asian domino effect played itself out.

Laos is also known as the place where the so-called Secret War occurred. From 1965 to 1973, the US devastated eastern and northern Laos with nonstop carpet-bombing to counter the presence of North Vietnamese that were hiding in the country. The campaign intensified the war between the Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao armies and ultimately increased the domestic support for the communist party. Uh, need I say anymore? When the US withdrew in 1973, Laos became divided into 2 territories(Pathet Lao and non-Pathet Lao)just like Vietnam did before it became what it is today. Within 2 years to communist party took over and the Lao People's Democractic Republic(PDR) was created under,yes you guessed it again, the leadership of Vietnamese by a guy named Kaysone Phomviham. About 10% of the Laos population fled as a result, mostly to Thailand. The remaining anti-PDR types(mainly the hilltribes of the Hmong in Xieng Khuang and Luang Prabang) were persecuted and often beaten brutally sometimes to death. Fastforward to today. The government now sees the errors of its past and is now changing its ways for better or for worse as I described earlier.

We visited only two places in Laos. That being Vientienne(deep south) and Luang Prabang(far north). We wanted to see more places but we simply could not because we spent so much time in Vietnam. That being said, we still had a blast in Laos and saw plenty! Vientienne is a very small quaint town that doesn't have much to offer. The only reason we stopped there is because we had to catch a flight from Cambodia to get into Laos without spending 2 to 3 days going over hills and valleys via bus since Cambodia basically has no paved roads. It was a good stop over as we were both a bit tired of traveling the roads and needed a break. We had some good food and Katie took advantage of the downtime and got a massage and pampered a bit. After a bit of rest we got on a bus again and headed to the north to Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is the place to go if you go to Laos. Why? Because it is nestled in the most prestine of forests and it is the nerve center of the north as well. So you can raft, hike, see beautiful waterfalls, swim, shop, and eat great food all in the same place. We did all of the above, except for rafting because the water level was to low. As a bonus, Katie has a friend that has been living in Luang Prabang for around 5 or 6 months that we wanted to hang out with. Turns out he was in Thailand renewing his visa so we had to wait to hang with him later on. Didn't matter cause we faired just as well without him. As I mentioned earlier, Loas is a sleepy country. So during out downtime we basically spent all of our time hanging out at our favorite coffee shop skyping with friends and family and ofcourse updated our journeys on the blogsite. Joma was the name of the coffee shop and it served us very well. I must have dumped atleast $30-40 just having there mint freezes! yum!

Other activities included lots of shopping. The cool thing about Luang Prabang is that they have a night market every night that starts at 5:00pm. We already knew about this market before we arrived as it was supposed to have the best stuff in the area. We were not disappointed. We ended up buying lots of things like cool blankets, pillow cases, bed sheets, lamp shades... You name it we bought it. It got so bad that we left with the phrase stlll in our head: "You shop her, lucky price, lucky price." Translation:"You sucka round eye, you buy from me. Hehe" Quite a spectacle I must say.

That is Loas in a nutshell. On to Thailand next. See you there. :)


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