1. January 2018 21:01
by Rene Pallesen

Returning to Laos

1. January 2018 21:01 by Rene Pallesen | 0 Comments

Returning to Laos
This year our holiday was going to a country in South East Asia called to the Laos with the boys and some close friends. I went there almost 20 years ago. I had just migrated to Australia and was going on my first holiday. Laos which had only just been opened up by the communist regime, was very much undeveloped after two decades of isolation and happened to be one of the first places I visited in Asia and it was a country that I immediately fell in love with.

It wasn’t the things to see and do in the country that I fell in love with - but the people. I loved the smiles, how welcoming everyone was, and I especially loved the joy of the dirty kids playing in the streets. Everyone was living at very simple lifestyle and yet everyone had what they needed and were happy.

Back then I had no firm plans, but made them up as I went along. I traveled light, caught local transport, I met locals and other travelers along the way on a budget of less than $10/day, and still remember the sticky rice sold to passengers when passing through towns.

I had some incredible experiences in an amazing country. I managed to have a full busload full of locals break down laughing from me trying to read up sentences from my little pocket Lao phrase book. Through this I was invited to visit families and join their local celebrations through festive events. The only local I met up in Northern Laos who could English was a girl working for an NGO. She invited me to join her visits to remote local villages where we had to cross the rivers on bamboo rafts to get to them and experienced the local dragon boat racing.

Since this distant time I had heard and lots about the country from other travelers including my Mum and Dad who visited the country ten years ago. I heard how the country had changed and how mass tourism had ruined the experience. I had heard about the young backpacker rave parties, the drugs and adrenaline junkies in Vang Vieng. I heard about the modernization, cars and traffic in Vientiane.

Going back with family and friends I was worried that they wouldn’t see the country that I saw so many years ago. There isn’t a lot of historical sites to see in Laos other than in Luang Prabang where there are lots of Temples due to many wars destroying major parts of the country. More worried was I that I would be disappointed by the country and the people I saw back then being no more.

When we got there it turned out that, yes, the country has changed a lot. Lots of roads have been paved, there are lots of cars everywhere, the old colonial buildings have been renovated and all the houses are now built in brick and mortar instead of being wooden bamboo shacks. People are on mobile phones, the kids are watching youtube videos, every hotel has wifi, you can buy everything, and major investments are flowing in from neighboring Thailand, China and Vietnam.

There are a lot more tourists in the country, especially in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, but they are a different type of tourists than the ones I was dreading.The backpackers have been replaced with mainly adrenalin loving Korean tourists or wealthier middle-aged Europeans and the era of party fueled backpacker tourism is largely gone.

And most importantly getting outside the towns, the Laos I loved back then still very much exists if you go look for it. The modern tourists are surprisingly easy to avoid. They all stay in the same places and visit the same top ten sites or visit the same restaurants that Tripadvisor recommended they go to. They go back home and tell everyone that they have experienced Laos, not knowing that their comfort has eluded them of the real magic of Laos.

The Lao people everywhere are still very loving, smiling and friendly, there are dirty kids, chickens, cows, dogs and cats roaming the streets everywhere and the remnants of the old tribes that I saw back then still exists through their ancient traditions although the traditional costumes and houses are largely gone now due to government policies.

Had we gone even further afield that we did on this trip, I’m convinced that little has changed in those villages I once visited two decades ago. Prior to going I was scared what I would find there, but now I feel blessed that my family and friends have experienced some of the glimpses of ‘my’ Laos together with me…Laos still has a big place in my heart.

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