Lao Lao

Trip Start Apr 30, 2006
Trip End Mar 25, 2007

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Friday, January 12, 2007

Vientiane, Vang Viene, Luang Prabang, Muang Ngoi Neua, Udomxai, Pak Beng, Huay Xai... how's that for a tongue-twisting itinerary!

A few entries ago (the Cambodia travelpod) we commented on the term "scratching the surface" referring to the effort a visitor must make in order to uncover the religious, historical and social platforms that seem to mold one's experiences in a country.  Scratching the surface in Cambodia was easy.  People spoke freely of the 3 factors listed above.  Laos is a much different story.  We spoke with hundreds of locals during our 3 weeks in the land-locked country and didn't encounter ANYONE with strong, emotional feelings towards any of the atrocities that occurred over the last 40 years. 
Recent history: Laos seemed to follow the general path of Vietnam and Cambodia.  Communism began its popularity in 1950, the Viet Cong used Laos as a go-through country for the Ho Chi Minh trail years later and thus, the U.S. bombed the hell out of it.  Laotians were lucky enough to receive a half ton of bombs per person making it the most bombed country per capita in the history of war.  The communists throughout the region, of course, won the war and therefore Laos was another horizontal domino.  Similar to its neighboring countries, Laos' Chinese-style re-education camps took hold and collected anyone against the socialist regime (and anyone for capitalism) and like Vietnam and China, many were tortured and killed due to their higher education.  Now, like most other communist countries, capitalism is starting to take hold, the economy is beginning to open and life, for most, is getting better.

The Laos mentality is one of relaxation.  "No problem," "Water under the bridge," and similar phrases are commonplace.  They have a saying in the region that the Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Laotians listen to it grow.  This couldn't be more true.  And after 3 weeks in the country we finally realize that this mentality is why it seems so difficult to scratch the surface.  We expected to be able to meet people that would have built-up anger towards the communist regime or towards the U.S. for its carpet bombing campaigns.  We didn't encounter either because the feelings don't exist.  "No problem" with the current regime's occasional massacre, "water under the bridge" regarding what happened to Laos during the American-Vietnam war.  Laos is a Buddhist nation and Buddhism teaches to focus on the present.  Laotians take that notion to heart and are some of the nicest, laid back people you'll meet.  
We traveled around Laos for almost 3 weeks.  For 10 days we were with our friend John Goforth from S.F.  Laos is incredible.  The trekking is world-class, the villages are like going back in time 150-500 years and the activities are unique, relaxing and very fun.  Plus, its really really cheap :) Come to Laos. (Sponsored by the Laos Department of Tourism Inc.)  Kidding.  

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