Just got back last Wednesday from an awesome Laos trip.
It was great — despite receiving a handful of calls from work, Laos was as far away from Taipei as possible. It was indeed a world of its own, living on its own bubble.
Unfortunately, when I share with friends here where I’ve been, I’ve only been met with blank stares.
“Laos?” they asked. “Sounds good…”
“But where is it?”
And then I move to a tirade of its geographical location (right smack in the middle of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar), its Chinese translation (“Liau-Guo” if you’re curious though most still have no clue where that is) and all the fun activities you can do there.
It’s a bit frustrating when few people have little clue on where you spent your vacation. Not only do you have to explain harder, but you also sadly realize that they cannot imagine the fun you’ve had at the place where you spent the holidays.
But then, that’s what vacations are for anyway, right? To escape from it all…
And I did.
For the last 11 days, I was in for a rare treat, spending one of my better vacations as of yet. And since I am unsure how much people know about Laos, let me share with you some brief tidbits of Mekong’s Jewel that may tickle your fancy, hopefully encouraging you to add in this forgotten country into your travel plans sometime in the future.
A Secret Battlefield
Few people know that this indescript country is the most bombed country in the world (Blame the Americans). From 1964 to 1973, Laos was a battlefield most of the Western countries are unaware about.
Both USA and North Vietnam disobeyed the agreements of the Geneva Convention in 1962 which recognized Laos’ neutrality, forbidding the presence of military personnel in the country. Hence, in secret, the US placed their soldiers and agents in foreign aid posts and civilian pilots. Actually, after the mission was over, an estimated 400 Americans died in combat, while another 400 was missing in action.
Who were they fighting?
The Vietnamese, who then occuped Laos, fielding 34,000 combat troops, 18,000 support troops, 13 army engineers and 6000 advisors! This is in comparison of the 9,000 troops the Americans had in mid-1961!
Despite their superior firearms, the Americans were outnumbered. Too bad they didn’t play nice; in Laos, they conveniently forgot all rules of engagement and were free to bomb any building in sight, including the all-so-precious wats and temples.
By 1973, the US secret air force of around 580,944 sorties dropped one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24/7 for nine freaking years! This cost US taxpayers around USD 2 million a day! By the end of the war, the bombing amounted to approx 1.9 million metric tonnes in all, over half-tonne for every man, woman and child living in Laos!
This makes Laos the most heavily bombed nation, on a per capital basis of all history!
What’s more, Laos was also the victim of “Agent Orange” and “Yellow Rain” fiasco, where from 1965-1966, 200,000 gallons of herbicides were depocited along the Ho Chih Minh Trail, laying bare all vegetation, poisioning all crops and rendering the water undrinkable.
Isn’t this reminiscent of the recent wars we’ve been hearing of the news? It does make my tummy curl and my blood boil…
Lao, their Culture, and their Men
Especially when the Lao are one of the sweetest people around. Unlike other cultures, they are free to bring out that smile and greet you a gay, “Sabaidee” or Hello when they meet you.
They’re also one of the most laid-back cultures I’ve ever met, even worse than the Thai and Pinoys.
The French actually coined the saying, “The Vietnamese plant rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Lao listen to it grow.”
For Lao, too much work is bad for the brain and feel sorry for people who think too much. Avoiding any undue psychological stress however remains a cultural norm. For them, no fun = stress — a lesson we can learn from these lovely people!
One thing for sure, if I ever do move to Laos, I am definitely welcome.
Though I am considered just average in terms of physical attractiveness in the Philippines and Taiwan, I was hugely popular in Laos. “Waaaw, you are beautiful,” various admiring men have commented during the trip. I even had an offer to consider moving to Laos and “he’ll take care of me.”
“Life is good here,” he said. “Here, you don’t have to work hard. I can work for you and you can relax at home and just have fun. You can stay in my house and I’ll take you around.”
Ha, this guy doesn’t understand me at all. I would consider moving to Laos for reasons almost opposite to what he gave me! The prospect of not working and simply being taken care of don’t really appeal to me.
A handful of guys have tried picking me up during my trip, three of which were monks (novices)!
I couldn’t understand their fascination… is it my pug nose or huge penguin lips? Or my meaty thighs or disheveled hair?
“It’s your shorts,” my traveling companion opines. “I’ve seen another monk check you out. “
Well, I wore jogging pants most of the time, and a conservative skirt on occasion. The shorts I wore were one of my longer ones, a far cry from being sexy.
I think it’s because I’ve been mistaken as Lao.
With my fair skin now tanned and my unusual non-Chinese features, everyone took me as someone from Thailand or Lao. A tall Lao for that matter, but Lao. What’s more, given my slightly foreign clothes, my accent or just an air of being different. a lot of Lao men were drawn like bees to honey, sort of how Taiwanese women are drawn to ABCs here in Taipei.
And despite Laos being a Buddhist country where society is ultra-conservative (women aren’t allowed to touch monks, and PDA is frowned upon, I found Lao men to be surprisingly fresh. They totally beat the Americans in attempting to get more from a woman!
Case in point, the son of our interested Lao landlord invited us to go to the disco when we were in Luang Prabang. Curious on how Lao people party, my traveling partner and I agreed.
We each rode at the back of the scooter to the sole two discos the entire town has. Here’s a scene from a Laos disco, the Daofa:
Sak, my driver and the landlady’s son, grabbed my hand and placed it around his waist. He then repeatedly tried to hold my hand the whole night, even attempting a kiss at the end of the evening (which lasted till midnight as everything in Laos closes around that time), all of which I’ve successfully demurred from.
Who would’ve known…?
As for the monks, I usually encounter them when going sight-seeing.
The novices have an SOP: they first strike up a conversation with you, and then within 2 minutes, ask for your mobile number and email address so you can keep in touch. Half will ask for your Skype number!
Wow, they’re way much faster than the Taiwanese, who take up the entire night to ask for your number, or the Americans who don’t even ask. And when rejected, they smile and shrug their shoulders, happy that at the very least, they trip… and wait for the next opportunity to try again!
Not that it was all that bad, because I looked like Lao, I was constantly given discounts and concessions. Ladies from the Luang Prabang night market give me a better price (“Okay, will add light for you because you look like Lao,”) or we get a better deal from our tours (“Will slash USD 2 because you look like Lao”) followed and similar responses followed us this trip.
“Ha, aren’t you lucky you brought me this trip?” I jokingly teased my traveling companion. “You get a lot of discounts!”
Some were a bit scary though.
I came across one in Vang Vieng. He was another group’s rock climbing guide, but I felt he was doing a terrific job that I encouraged him to start up his own business because I felt he had the competency, social skills and ambition to do it.
I gave him a generous trip through one of the people in his group and secretly stole away, happy enough to do a good deed.
But he managed to find me around the small town while my friends and I were having dinner. He then proceeded to invite me to a party his friend was having in a nearby lodge, asking for my mobile number. As I was still enjoying my meal and the funny episode of friends, I told him I could probably drop by at around 9:00 pm.
He called over 7 times that night.
All of which I didn’t answer because Lao aren’t rich and that would such be a costly long distance call.
At around 9:00 pm, we did drop by, but only to say goodbye because I was already tired after a full day packed schedule. He implored I stay and have a drink at least, but I was really tired and went straight to bed.
When I woke up, I found out he drunk dialed me at 2:30 am!
Thank God I am a heavy sleeper so didn’t really wake up to hear it, unlike my traveling companion who gets disturbed easily.
He also called the following morning…
Ah… the adventures we encounter when traveling to another country! It’s good to get it off my chest now considering am hours away from Laos, but I really felt bad for some of these guys. I wouldn’t say they are desperate, but was strangely surprised on how fast they got smitten.
I know some of you may fault me for leading these guys on. “Raven, it’s the shorts la,” you’d insist. “Or maybe because you’re overly friendly to them…”
I still stick to my stance that the Lao are the sweetest people around.
Despite their aggressive women hunting ways, the guys are equally innocent. I remember when Sak took us to the disco, my friend commented on how un-smoky the place is.
Do you know what we did before entering the disco?
Before that, my tummy’s complaining, but more on Laos and how they party when we get back.
To be continued…
2 thoughts on “Laos: Jewel of the Mekong (Part I)”
I really enjoy reading your story. I am Lao, and I used to have the same experience, where many of my foreign friends don’t know where is Laos on this earth.
Looking forward to reading your next story about Laos. (More photos please 🙂
How did you come across my blog? Great to know there are people who are from Lao visiting! There’s so many things I want to share about Lao and photos as well. Hope I have enough time to post them all!
Just updated and there should be more about Vientiane tomorrow. 🙂