I really wish I could tell you that all the places I go to are places I would revisit, but that would have been a big fat lie. I wonder what makes us dislike some places when there are so many different aspects to one single place. I don’t think it is possible to love everything about a country, and at the same time I don’t think it is possible to dislike everything either. So what aspects of a place makes up whether we develop positive or negative associations to it? Despite the fact that I would probably be blinded by several biases and heavily generalising I’ll attempt to pin point what factors are important in order for me to thrive in a place.
Before continuing reading it is worth keeping in mind a few things:
This post was written after my 2 weeks stay in Laos was completed, which hopefully has made it possible for me to be more reflective. However, the fact that we visited Laos straight after a superb visit in Cambodia might have set the expectations too high. As a very keen traveler I am naturally open minded, and I also find it relatively easy to adapt to new situations. The reason why I am pointing out this is because I think it is important to understand the difference between tolerating and understanding a place to purely liking the place. I believe that every single tiny dot on the map has something special to it, and this dot should be respected for its uniqueness. In other words; me respecting something does not mean I necessarily like it. Laos has taught me a lot about my preference for places, which will be very useful knowledge when choosing our next destinations.
I’ll be straight with you… I did not like Laos. Why? Good question. Maybe we were just unlucky, however, strangely other travellers we spoke to shared most of our viewpoints on this country. So here is my list of the most important ‘quality’ aspects of a place, and I have used Laos as an example to illustrate my points:
This is why you should go to Laos! I love nature, and when I look for a place to visit this is the first thing I research. The less human touched it is, the better.
Laos has truly some of the most stunning surroundings I have ever seen, and I hope to be able to portray some of its beauty in the end of this post.
Traveling hungry is never a good idea, and food is a great way to get literally a proper taste for the culture. You can find exceptional pearls hidden away in Laos, which has all kind of prices. Laos has also inherent some really good French bakery recipes, though, coffee with milk bases and ice cream are normally not worth the price.
Their general attitude towards others, especially to foreigners, is essential because when I’m traveling I of course want to interact with the locals. This is probably the main reason for why I didn’t like Laos. Despite the fact that they depend so much on tourism I did not feel welcome at all and there were never really any helpfulness unless we were willing to pay a lot for it. Their English was perfectly fine, but their willingness to understand unless there was money involved was minimal. Here is my uncensored opinion; Most service providers will try to rip you off, and with a combination of being rude, arrogant and sneaky it’s easy to dislike them. I know this is very much generalisation and of course it does not apply to everyone, as we met some truly loving people. For example when we was stranded in the middle of nowhere and there were absolutely no buses or taxis around, this super nice Lao couple had two extra seats in their jeep. Not only did they drive us all the way to our ridiculously hidden away accommodation, but they did this completely free of charge. However, the overall experience of people in Laos is unfortunately not as great as I was hoping. My theory is that ‘tourists’ for them is still a very new concept and that my expectations of how to be treated like a foreigner is very different to their understanding.
The past of a place can often help explain the reason for its present. Surviving the peace is very much a current problem in Laos. The people of Laos were the innocent victims of someone else’s war. American land mines are still spread all over the country, and locals are risking their lives every single day by just stepping outside of their house. Their history is so dark and seem just unreal to someone from the outside. There are so much more to Laos’s history than just the secret war, but this is unfortunately what people tend to associate with Laos.
Have tourists taken over the place or have locals managed to keep its pure culture? Like its neighbour countries, Laos has recently started depending on tourism for its economy. My worst travel nightmare is to be surrounded by drunk, annoying, load tourists. I really feel sorry for locals who have to deal with this every day. Traveling in the low-season is therefore a great time to visit Laos, as there are not really that many tourists, yeah! In the bigger cities you will always find the typical tourists traps where people are extremely pushy and you are nothing more than a wallet to them. However, tourism comes in many shapes and does have its benefits too. More demand means normally more supply, which is linked to competition, and this again create incentives for quality. So does that mean the more tourists the better experience? No, not after a certain amount. I guess if you are just traveling to a place to party cheaply, then by all means, but that is not ‘traveling’ for me. Tourists that act like travellers and not like stupid teenager is the kind of tourists I wish to be around. I have been to places where there are probably more tourists than locals, and what makes these places so amazing is that the locals really don’t care. The real culture is still deeply part of who they are and strangers are welcome to enjoy it with them, but don’t you dare trying to change it! Except for the big cities, Laos is still Laos, and I really hope the future gives Laos time to learn how to keep its culture at the same time strengthening their national economy.
How easy is it to get around, can be the difference between a successful stay or a painful stay. Inside the main cities of Laos there are always someone who can bring you from A to B, however, for longer distances, things do not go smoothly. Nothing follows the planned schedule. If your bus breaks down, which is very likely, you can forget about any refund or substitute. Hopefully you have enough cash on you to buy a new ticket for another type of transportation that hopefully will pass you in the middle of nowhere. I wander how many hours in total was wasted on just sitting along the road, waiting for our transportation to be fixed. Outside the big cities, there were very little public transportation and the locals didn’t seem to be willing to earn some extra cash either, which meant that we were left with walking or hitch hiking. I guess this is a great example of how a low scale of tourism can actually be a negative thing. With a burning sun over your head you will waste a lot of time and energy on being frustrated if you are planning to travel around Laos.
With a strict budget it is important to find good value for your money. What money can get you in terms of transportation, accommodation, food or other shopping alternatives are important to consider when traveling. Laos was surprisingly expensive! Well, maybe not expensive compared to Norway or England, but still. You will have to bargain on everything, and try to get a rough idea of what the ‘local price’ is before you agree on anything. Again, going in the low season definitely makes most things cheaper.
Maybe I am being unfair to Laos, after all, 2 weeks are probably not enough time to make up your mind about a whole country. It’s strange how the people around you can make such a big difference. I did meet some really lovely people in Laos, though, I wish that I had managed to get a deeper understanding of the real local culture. Maybe this is the main reason for why I didn’t like Laos: my lack of understanding. Their ways of doing things were so foreign from what I ignorantly saw as “the right way”. Laos is different and I am so happy I got the chance to visit this beautiful country, but would I go back? No.
Here are a few of my highlights from my adventurous journey through Laos:
What can I say?… I dance when I am happy, and waterfalls just make me happy!
Vientiane taught me a new thing about Toby… He is a bloody bad loser! Haha, but I am an even worse winner.
How can you not fall for that smile!?
Toby getting a lovely fish spa therapy
On our way to the stunning Kuang Si Falls
Our view from the Yoga class
This phenomenon is just too amazing. Apparently it is called a 22° halo
Quote Of The Day:
“If you learn from every mistake, you never fail at anything.”
― Donald L. Hicks