we heart lao

Travellers joke that the “PDR” in Lao’s official title stands not for “People’s Democratic Republic” but for “People Don’t Run”. If Thailand is laid-back, then Lao is entirely horizontal.

For the most part, this quality is included in the “pro” column (world’s softest touts)  – except when it comes to bus travel. Shocking roads + PDR = very, very long days of travel. This equation already has journeys of a mere 120km taking about four hours and that doesn’t even make allowance for various statistical outliers, the value of which is X (unknown): waiting for enough passengers to accumulate so bus is filled to bursting point (they even carry plastic stools so that aisle space can be converted to seating space); waiting while driver jumps out and delivers bags of cucumbers/wads of cash to people he doesn’t know and therefore has to locate; waiting while bus is refuelled and tyres are changed; general waiting for reasons which are not at all apparent; and – our favourite – waiting while driver disappears for a rather lengthy “number two” stop. Even the Lao passengers got antsy at that delay.

That aside, there is a lot to love about Lao. Beautiful countryside, friendly people, tasty food. And the unit of currency is the cute-sounding and sleep-related “kip”.

Lots of photos in this post; we’ve been going snap-crazy.

Luang Nam Tha: Stifling heat and humidity confine us to being bantam-weight hikers these days, so we hired a guide for a very manageable one-day trek through the surrounding countryside. Leech count: 3; all on me. A really big one nestled happily in my boot and the sight of its engorged body even drew a small gasp from our guide, Pongse. Hard core. In addition to learning about the culture of local ethnic groups, we were also educated in one of the finer points of modern Laotian society: wrong number love. Nothing to do with numerology; rather, it is common and perfectly legitimate to strike up a courtship with someone when they accidentally call you after dialling a wrong number. There you go.


Nong Khiaw: Despite having already sacrificed many days on the altar of waterside lounging, we couldn’t help but kill a few more here.


Luang Prabang: Or “the town that could do no wrong”. There’s a lot of hype about this place but it doesn’t disappoint – we adored it so much, it ached. Lots of nooks to explore and beautifully restored colonial architecture on every corner. Indulged ourselves daily with treats both local (BBQ chicken on a stick! fish in banana leaf!) and colonial (wine! rillettes! baguettes!) and thanks to the Stay Another Day organisation, we were able to ferret out some unique sights, including the wonderful Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre, My Library and a great photographic exhibition. Stay Another Day promotes “destination-friendly tourism” and we have been quite impressed with careful and genuine efforts throughout Lao to encourage fair trade, cultural preservation and sustainability in tourism, particularly in such a poor country where one might expect there to be an all-out, free-for-all grab for tourist dollars.

Notable mention has to be made of the Royal Palace Museum which proudly exhibits official and personal belongings of the royal family… who the State exiled to caves in the north where they starved to death in the early 80s. A little awkward, but no matter – perhaps easier to gloss over this minor indiscretion by simply stating that the palace (miraculously!) became a museum in 1975. Ah, that’s better.

On the upside, the museum does contain an eclectic collection of 1950s and 60s diplomatic gifts. Personal favourites include a to-scale model of Apollo 11 and a few crumbs of “moon rock” from President Nixon and what appears to be a set of hideous, opal-encrusted sardine tins presented by our very own Prime Minister Harold Holt. Hmmm… his future was about as bleak as the royal family’s.

Phonsavan: Ah, scenic Phonsavan. Home to the Plain of Jars – Lao’s answer to Stonehenge. No one knows what they are or where they came from. Cue Linds confusing amusing the other tour participants with jokes about Spinal Tap. And he wonders why we don’t make any buddies on the road. Thank God Kieran and Jane are meeting us in Saigon next week to deliver us from our social isolation.


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5 Responses to “we heart lao”

  1. Kiz Says:

    I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.

    See you soon.

  2. Naomi Says:

    the G10’s looking good!

  3. Sandsy Says:

    Looking good guys….i just stuffed myself with a milky way bar at work…its not the same…


  4. leavinglansdowne Says:

    Thanks for the bday wishes gang! Hope you’re having a wild time. I’m about to leave Cologne for a couple of weeks in Berlin. Prost!

  5. the shock of the not-so-new « beyond bagot Says:

    […] rush to flee the country – the same sort of awkward voyeurism we felt at the royal palace in Luang Prabang. The Pippy Longstocking decals in the princess’ pink bathroom sent us both over the edge and […]

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