Looking back on Laos

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A design in concrete made of Beerlao bottlecaps

Compare and contrast

We’ve been in Cambodia for nearly two weeks now. There’s still lots to see and absorb in this country and we’re still getting a feel for the culture, food, people etc. Coming from Laos, comparisons and analysis of this “new” country gives us lots of food for thought. Roman and I spend time chatting about it pretty much every day.

The backdrop of Cambodia throws into relief not only many of the experiences we had in Laos but the overall energy and atmosphere of that gentle country.

It may not have the obvious wow factor of its neighbors – no coastline to speak of, unlike Thailand with it’s idyllic beaches, no ruins as world-renowned as Cambodia’s, few pagodas as ancient and spectacular as Myanmar’s.

Wholehearted

For Roman and I, the great treasure of Laos is its people. The genuine welcome we received there as well as the laid back, easy-going vibe made our time there so special.

This is going to sound cheesy but I’ll write it anyhow. The slogan of the country’s infamous Beerlao (quite possibly the country’s second national treasure!! 😉 None of the Cambodian beer I’ve tried so far can compete.) is “Beer of the wholehearted people”. I don’t know if all Laotians consider the nation’s beer to be their drink of choice, but certainly most of the people we met in Laos were whole, warm and open-hearted.

Having the opportunity to compare and contrast our experiences there and in Cambodia so far only further strengthens those impressions. Laos is not much better off than Cambodia in many ways. The villages and even many of the cities we saw there made it clear that most of the people are living pretty simple lives, as is the case in Cambodia.

Hearing people in Laos talk about some of the issues in the country – limited opportunities (and limited perspective too, as described by Sone the monk) and corruption (the first week we were staying in Pakse, Mama Tan had to pay bribes on three different occasions!) just for starters and seeing clear evidence of poverty, one could expect the atmosphere to be much more negative.

Instead, what stands out in my memory are things like:

  • How the villages we passed felt simple instead of poor. Houses were basic but well cared for and clean.
  • How much adults seemed to cherish the young children
  • How people went out of their way to help us or welcome us and make us feel at home
  • The laughter-filled conversations groups of friends would have as they rode in a pack of mopeds down the street
  • How straight forward things felt – like using someone’s porch as a place to wait out the rain or getting help starting our bike – without feeling invasive or obliged
  • The tons of “Saibadees”, smiles and waves we exchanged with people in passing (interestingly, since in Cambodia, we’ve rarely been greeted with the Khmer greeting “Sua s’die” – pretty much everyone just says “Hello”)

Here is the overview of where I was during our visit to Laos. For me, it was only eight different locations through only one half of the country (Roman did the North without me while I was home having a love fest with my new nephew. 🙂 ), but we managed to pack a lot in and have some really magical experiences, and all I can say is “khawp jai” Laos!!

May 22 Vientiane Vayakorn Inn
May 28 Savannakhet Phonevilay Hotel
May 31 Ban Phon Sim Home stay
June 1 Savannakhet Phonevilay Hotel
June 2 Pakse Sang Aroun Hotel
June 11 Tat Lo Siphaseth Guesthouse
June 12 Attapeu Dokchampa Hotel
June 14 Paksong Paksong Phuthavada
June 15 Pakse Sang Aroun Hotel
June 17 Muang Khong Phoukhong Guesthouse
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