We western people are so attracted to indigenous and exotic cultures, that when we face them in reality, we are often shocked, disappointed or even disgusted by what we experience. This is not because we are spoiled and cannot stand dirty streets, smelly food and “strange” rules where we are not allowed to wear whatever we want or speak whenever we wish. We are, however, more surprised to realise, that the “west” has an incredible impact on the “east”…and not always in the positive way.
After we started to have itchy feet in Chiang Mai and all seemed to us a bit easy in terms of travelling, we decided to go to Laos and to explore this “forgotten country”, as they call it. Maybe is forgotten in the worldwide terms of tourism, but for us it will remain a country that we will remember for a long time.
Here are some notes, tips and our experiences from Laos that made our trip exciting and terrific at the same time.
You can find them everywhere. In Luang Prabang, the most well-known place to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with a sandwich is the main road where the Night Market takes place. There are about ten stalls with almost the same menu and all of them make Laotian coffee, very good fruit shakes and some of them even offer crepes. Price: from 10,000 kips to 20,000 kips (1.20-2.50 USD) for a fresh sandwich, about 1.20 USD for a shake. Be ready for pushy vendors who constantly compete against each other as they wave their menu just in front of you, shouting out, “Sandwich, sir? Coffee, madam?”
In Vang Vieng you’ll find dozens of small shops and street stalls selling them. Prices are more or less the same as in Luang Prabang.
In Vientiane you will not feel the lack of the sandwiches at all. They serve them in many cafes, too, although there are much fewer street vendors.
Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang “stopped in time”
Here there are fewer cars, more motorbikes and bikes, smaller buildings and a noticeable impact of the French colonial style, especially in Luang Prabang. The towns “wake up” very slowly, as you can see just a few people on the street in the early morning. There are almost no advertisements on the streets, which gives these places definitely a relaxing and laid-back quality. On the other hand, if you are an active person who needs a lot of stimulation, you probably want to limit your stay to no more than two days.
Vang Vieng is perfect for chilling out, and being there allows you not to have any big plans ahead of time as you can do many outdoor activities.
Big Brother Mouse Project
Laotians do not speak as much English compared to Thais in bigger towns. But they want to learn and some of them put in hard effort to do so. If you wish to support them in “conquering the world” and helping them to improve their English, go for a two-hour chat in Luang Prabang at the Big Brother Mouse Project. You will have a unique chance to learn more about their culture too, since it is more a conversation than a grammar lesson.
The students come to chat with foreigners either randomly or on a regular basis, mostly to practice what they have learned at schools. The majority of them are young students and Buddhist novices (monks do not visit these kinds of social gatherings). We have done it once and we loved it
What we learned about their culture was a bit shocking for us, however. We don’t want to generalise the statement of one novice, but he tried to explain us the attitude of Laotians towards tourists in their homeland. He said, “You are all very rich because you are very smart, so we need to learn from you so that we are rich too.” Well, the only thing we were able to convince the novice about was that learning a language can make him rich easily as well.