We stayed in Lao for about 4 weeks and we traveled the country from north to south. We toured the Mekong by boat, we trekked in the jungle in the far north, we enjoyed the tranquil rhythms of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, we tried the best coffee in the Bolaven plateau, and we relaxed with a beerlao watching the sun set in the 4000 islands, all to discover the wonderful character of the Laotians. Funny that we didn’t get to see any elephants when Lao’s nick name is “the land of a million elephants” and elephants are present in 90% of the souvenirs that can be bought in any of the many markets.
Although Lao being within the poorest countries in the world, we didn’t get hit by the extreme poverty that we found in India and Nepal – people living on the streets, beggars everywhere… Moreover, and surprisingly, we didn’t get to see extreme contrasts between rich and poor. It feels like, unlike India, the poorness is equally distributed across most of the country.
The country has a turbulent past, first they struggled with the Siamese (old Thai kingdom), then the French came and they suffered trying to gain independence from them and after they were dragged into the Vietnam war. Now, officially named Lao People’s democratic republic, is ruled by the Pathet Lao with a single party communist government.
Without a doubt the best of Lao is its laid back lifestyle and the generosity of its people who are always smiling. They master the art of living for today and not worrying for tomorrow, we should learn from them! Laotians are definitely outdoors people, when they are not eating at one of the street food stalls they are playing petanque, playing footvolley or drinking a beerlao with ice (I still consider this a crime!).
Lao is still the forgotten country for most of the travelers visiting South East Asia. But the relaxed atmosphere of the country, its scenery and of course its authenticity of its people are slowly putting Lao in the list of places to visit for many people. And while this is bringing money to the country it is also changing the country, and slowly transforming it into another Cambodia or another Vietnam. It is so sad to realize what tourism can do to a country, westernizing it and making it lose its identity and roots… And not only the country, but also to its people. People who are used to living with little, enjoying life and sharing with others the few things that they may have, become greedy and corrupt as soon as they realize they can make money with tourism.
The untouched scenery, the ethnic diversity, the generosity and specially the smile of Lao people have deeply captivated us. We hope that Lao continues developing for the best and becomes the prosperous country it could be, but without loosing the local touch and the Asian genuineness it still conserves. Kob chai lai lai (thanks) Lao for this incredible month!
This is more or less the cost of living in Lao:
- Exchange rate: 1 € = 10,000 kips (approx.)
- Bottle of watter: 2,000 kips
- Beer (650ml): 10,000 kips
- In local restaurants: 15,000 – 35,000 kips per person
- Accommodation: 50,000 – 120,000 kips per double room
- From Vientiane to Savannakhet: 75,000 kips per person
- From Savannakhet to Pakse: 40,000 kips per person
- From Luang Prabang to Vientiane: 110,000 kips per person
- From Huay Xai to Luang Prabang: 220,000 kips per person
- From Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw: 110,000 kips per person
- Average expense per day: 21 € per person (including accommodation, food, transport, visa, laundry…)
We want to say goodbye to Lao with the song that accompanied us all the way in buses, boats, markets…