Why I don’t like Laos

Your Guide to Slow Boats in Laos
July 13, 2011
Lao Herbal Sauna and Traditional Massage
July 25, 2011

Why I don’t like Laos

Beer Lao.

The Lack of Culture

What I mean by lack of culture is the outside, in-your-face culture. If you’re a traveler it’s hard to find. Lao food, for example, is not readily available. The majority of cafes have one thing on the menu: sub-standard imitation Vietnamese noodle soup pumped up with MSG. I didn’t see any real Lao food until I went to the Vientiane night market (which I was very impressed with).

 

The Thais and Vietnamese have things that make them distinct, and the Laotians really don’t. A reason for that may be their small population of 7 million, compared to 64 m in Thailand and 90 m in Vietnam, and because of the 61 years of recent French colonial rule.

 

Being an optimist, I’m thinking perhaps there is more Lao culture inside the home.  My travels have taught me that there are outside cultures and inside cultures. Unfortunately I was unable visit inside the home of a Laotian family, so I can’t comment.

 

The People

Every traveler had told me, Lao people will be the friendliest, most laid back people you will meet.  And I agree with that statement for the most part. I did meet many friendly people and Laotians are so laid back almost to a fault.

 

I would even go so far as to say the majority of the population are friendly and decent. However, I would add that the majority of people in the tourism industry (or those who deal with foreigners) are unfriendly and dishonest. Countless times my bill after eating included items I had not consumed and in most towns I walked three km or more from the bus station into town with my pack instead of paying an inflated price to a tuk-tuk driver.

 

Furthermore, Laotians are at times the laziest people I’ve ever met. So it’s hard sometimes to get things done that a traveler might need.

 

In addition to this, I was treated much differently while traveling with my Asian friend compared to when I was alone. I was left wondering whether racism played a role in this.

 

Two Economies

Most frustrating for me while traveling is not being able to operate on the local economy. Prices in Laos were inflated for foreigners, and we are not given the chance for any other option. Well, I thought, maybe that is the price we pay being “rich” visitors in one of the “poorest” countries on earth. Well, bordering Cambodia is also near the bottom of that “poor country” list and travelers are able to operate on the local economy there.

 

I think one of the main differences with Laos is the fact that most locals can’t even afford to travel around their own country or eat outside of their home. This is just one example of what keeps prices for two of traveler’s necessities higher.

 

The rest of the time I was quoted higher prices because I’m a foreigner and many travelers just pay higher prices without thinking too much about it and locals know they are “rich” because of several reasons I don’t need to mention.

 

I still like to be treated equally and I like to be given a fair price in the local economy.  I like to bargain in a friendly way with vendors at the market or with guesthouse owners. Getting an honest price makes me feel like everybody else; makes me feels accepted by the people of the country in which I’m traveling.

 

The Rise of Tourism

Part of the development of two economies may be due to such a rapid rise in tourism. In the past 20 years, international tourists have gone from 80,000 to 1.8 million. That is a huge increase: difficult for a sleepy landlocked country to digest. One in every 11 jobs is in the tourism sector.

 

Tourism is affecting Laos and its people in a tremendous way. The Lao people are either changing due to their constant contact with westerners or else they have simply adjusted by treating foreigners in a different manner.

 

The Value

Most travelers coming either to or from Thailand will notice a huge drop in quality from everything Thai to that of Laos. In Laos, you’ll pay more for pretty much everything and it will be of much lesser quality. One reason for that is because almost nothing is made in Laos, and therefore imported goods are more expensive. For other things, like accommodation and local food, I don’t have an explanation.

 

The one exception is Beer Lao, the ubiquitous national beverage. It is cheaper than any Thai beer and is actually better quality too. However, every ingredient except the rice is imported.

 

The Final Word

I traveled in Laos for almost a month to nearly every part of the country. I very rarely speak negatively of a destination, and had I visited Laos 10 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have had the opinion I do today.

 

I wouldn’t even say that I would not re-visit Laos. I might (certain places, like Champusak, Muang Ngoi, and Si Phan Don were among my favorite in all of southeast Asia). And I certainly wouldn’t recommend that you skip Laos on your tour of southeast Asia.

 

All I’m saying is that Laos wasn’t the county that people described to me. It is a changed place, affected by tourism, and a difficult place to travel within the local economy.

 

Go to Laos; check it out for yourself. There are still great places for independent travelers to visit, lots of friendly people, and plenty of adventures to be had.

 

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

73 Comments

  1. Bou says:

    What an honest article, I am half Lao and still get treated the same like you. Laos has changed for the worst, I have family here and even they can testify to this. Corruption and dishonesty is what the government do best here and it is affecting the people. Lazy people trying to make as much money with little effort.

    You’re not the only one who feels this way, even my oldman who was born in Laos but lives in the uk gets treated like a foreigner. They have lost their ways and have adapted this dishonest system of living.t

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Desmond McKeown says:

    Good advice regarding travel to Laos here ….

    https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/laos/safety-and-security

  3. soulivanh says:

    How dare you making making fun of MY COUNTRY!!!!!!!!

  4. Viji says:

    Very well explained, I wish I had read your article before going there. Most local are alright, but the hospitality people are rude and trying to rip you off at any opportunity. And it degrades the traveling experience a lot

  5. Ink says:

    Make me laugh a lot reading what Seeker and others said. Just some example.

    …Yellow curry? Sorry, that’s Indian and it’s eaten all over Southeast Asia…Red curry? Sorry, that is also Indian-inspired but first made popular in Laos, and then introduced to Thailand from Laos. Green curry? Sorry, that is eaten all over Southeast Asia, but mainly in Laos and Cambodia… >>> Suppose you are an Indien merchants in the ancient world, how do you travel to SE Asian? Mostly by ships or by a foot right? Now let see ther map. Is there any sea in Laos? And if you travel by foot, would you go to Laos and pass over Thailand? How can you do that? Flying? Not to talk that since 13th century, Thailand and Myanmar were the biggest ports for SE Asian trades. Actually that what the reason histrian said why these two kingdom dominated the area for century: Economics.

    All curry are from India, that’s right, but it’s not regionally spread from Laos. The Tamil who were merchants at that time would sail to the south of Thailand and the north of Malaysia/Indonesia. That’s where teh curry spread across the regional. Look at the recipe: almost every curry has coconut milk. ThAT’S what they use to subsitute for Khee or indian butter. Now think about this: Has Loas got lots of coconut? Not much compare to any country near the sea, where it’s plenty of coconut.

    You can even search the acheological artifacts/ruins to see if Indian culture spread to Laos before other kingdoms I’ve mention. Look for yourself.

    Thai and Laos are both “Tai” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_peoples ) But that’s does not mean the majority of thai is Laos. Those who say that truly know nothing about history. I bet that they don’t know “Tai Ahom” in India or “Tai Dam” In Vietnam. In fact Thai in Thailand at this time are mixed blood, same like the States except the States is mixed with people from COUNTRIES but thai is mixed with tribal groups for centuries. Long before the countries around here establish. For example: See the guy who played guitar in this clip https://youtu.be/l0pprMTeb6w . You think he is pure Thai? No. His gradparent was a Dansish worked under king Rama V who married to “Sawas-Chuto” clan, which is Mon (a minority in the West of Myanmar) while his mother is the daughter of Thai and Chinese businessman. I myself is not true Siam thai but mixed with Chinese and Indian. My girl is a 3 generation from a Chinese doctor who came here long ago.

    those who said that the majority of Thai is Laos don’t know that “Thai” is a citizenship, not a race. they don’t know about Lau (a local tribe in the north), Guy (A local tribe in the east), etc.

    Don’t know if Mr. Seeker is Westerner or some SE Asian people. Anyway as an outsider it seems what Jeez said is right. Quote it here. “…In ASEAN culture page. No one see any evidences from Laos. But for Vietnamese or Thais, they chat with evidence such as antiques book, portrait, etc…”

  6. Have some gouda says:

    What a negative approach to everything.

  7. Desmond McKeown says:

    I have pictures of the thieves who stole my bumbag in Vientiane. They used my stolen phone and tablet to take selfies which were uploaded to my Google mail account. They also uploaded pornographic videos to the site as well and used my email address to set up a Facebook account which has since been deleted.

  8. Tom says:

    OK, lazy??? Get yourself up those mountains on foot and dig the dirt, then carry the rice down on your back..!
    Tourist areas are not the place to see the true culture. Clearly that’s where you were attracted to..!
    I’m happy that you don’t like Laos, hopefully you can avoid it next time and keep the tourist numbers down!

  9. Kimberly says:

    I am well traveled and I was not too crazy about it either. Locals are rude, they abuse the animals and are dishonest. The food sucks and they can’t even build proper roads. They know nothing of customer service yet want tips. Oh and they litter. Why is everything imported? Where are their factories?

  10. marcus says:

    im an expat which had the misfortune of being posted here for work and i have to agree with everything you say.

    ive never dislike a location as much as laos. there is just nothing happening here thats interesting.

    i do appreciate the fact that some people like laos for its quiet laidback nature and peace but everyday i wake up hoping i get out of here sooner.

  11. Thipmanee says:

    I am Laotian. Here to give a few opinions. You can be tricked in any country not just in Laos. Yes! Laos is poor on infrastructure and high corruption are agreeable. But I bet you who agree with Laos is the poorest country in the world, it’s so untrue. But you can agree with Laos is the poorest country in South Asia. I can say Developing countries or underdeveloped countries are lack of infrastructure and transportation. These things make you are tricked by Tuk Tuk driver. Especially at the tourist places. And you can be tricked any where that you are traveling. The things are expensive in Laos such as food, because of the high import from outsid. if you understand the economics You will know why!
    And the racism can happened any country as my traveling experience. when you go with local people and you go alone You might get treated differently sometimes happen. I have no such a big problem on this topic but your writing is too much attitude than the truths. I hope that you can get a chance to do a new experiment again in Laos.

  12. Toukta says:

    High food prices. And it has nothing to do with imports. Lao people aren’t polite. They hardly ever say sabaidee. Thai are so polite. Students are lazy and think they all deserve a scholarship. Yet no one is willing to do check out the options there are for studying abroad. Students that study at English language centers never practice and are frequently absent. They’re always “busy” which usually means they went to a party. Then when they finish the course they complain that they still can’t speak English. Well, it’s no use telling them that there’s no gain without practice. Then there’s the drinking culture. Laos is a nation of alcoholics and that goes for men and women. Then there’s the constant bribing. Instead of standing up against it, they actually praise it. They think it’s funny. Okay, they do complain but happily pay the bribe. As long as you pay you agree with bribes.

  13. euge says:

    Is it a crime to criticise Laos ? Lao paradise on earth .I do not think so . I prefer Thailand .

  14. Scott Williamson says:

    Completely agree with this opinion, even in 2020, things haven’t improved.

    From landing and being over charged, or short changed at visa on arrival to be precise, to buying a taxi ticket, then being put in a minivan with others, who had all paid for a car each, and thats from the official taxi desk, to two separate hotels pulling the same scam. Sadly things never got any better, and my opinion of Laos is rock bottom.

    Contrast this to Cambodia, what a staggering difference, from one of the nicest most welcoming countries in the world, to one of the worst.

  15. Teriya says:

    First of all, in Laos you have to ask to lower the price of what your buying because the price written on the object is not the real price. Second of all, why do Americans prefer Thai people? Thai people stole Lao culture and its riches. Third of all, it’s not our fault that laos is poor. Thai people stole recipes and burned down everything. Luckily, the Laos people buried the most important riches in the ground.

  16. Teriya says:

    Lazy? My mom was born to a poor family and she had to work at the age of 4. She sewed clothes to earn a living. She had to work day in and day out, I don’t know about you, but you visited the wrong place in Laos. Now, never trust a Tuk tuk driver. Is it my fault that your used to Clean America. Well, you shouldn’t have visited a place of poverty if your going to compare it to Thai. People who just said they hate it are wrong. Don’t visit tourist areas, instead visit places where people make rice where you can see nobody is lazy. I mean, Americans are lazier. I just don’t get why someone would say that Laos is horrible. And Laos people are respectful. When elders tell them bad things or habits they do, they don’t talk back. They don’t have that confidence that an American would have. Next time, dont even think of going to Laos if your going to make fun of it

  17. Toukta says:

    Not every Lao carries bags of rice. People in the cities are lazy, that’s a given fact. They drink like there’s no tomorrow, have noisy parties through the night ignoring those that wish to sleep, try to rip you off, etc. Basically they want everything for free without even trying to earn it.

    This is not about insulting Laos. This is about facts.

    You want something done, you have to pay a bribe. And people laugh about it.

    Driving while under the influence is rampant as are accidents. The death rate is staggering. They laugh about it. Until it’s their turn to bite the dust, then all of a sudden is not that funny anymore.

    Students are lazy. People want to speak English without even trying to speak or studying.

    Thai people are much nicer and way more polite.

    Laos doesn’t have many people but they sure pollute their own country without giving it a second thought. Why is it so hard to keep Laos clean?

    Being drunk is a badge of honor and that goes for men and women. It’s pathetic.

    They want scholarships but aren’t willing to study. And instead of saving money from the scholarship, they spend it.

    Phones are more important than spending money on necessary things.

    If you don’t drink, you’re not considered Lao.

    Well, I don’t want to be Lao if things go on like this.

    My freedom of having a good night’s sleep is taken away by ignorant neighbors. My freedom of commuting has been taken away by drunks and reckless drivers. It’s even too much for them to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle.

  18. Noy says:

    I’m Lao, and would love to visit my homeland. Your experience seemed very biased as it was being compared to other countries. I’m sure you’ve read a lot of comments about Thai cuisine actually having a lot of influence from Lao cuisine, and it’s true. Most of the food you ate in Thailand is a Thai version of Lao cuisine. In the west, most Thai restaurants are Lao owned but labeled “Thai cuisine” only to attract westerners that don’t even know what Laos is. This is due to Thaification in Thailand erasing/defining Lao culture so they can get accustomed to the Thai ways. Kinda like gentrifying something.. yknow?

    Northeastern Thailand (Isaan) was once apart of Laos. Many “kon Thai” are probably Lao without knowing it. Surprisingly, more than half of Thailand has more Lao living there than native Thais.

    The US also dumped their “leftover” bombs into our country thinking it was just a huge piece of land with nobody living in it. Pretty ignorant right? Probably why it doesn’t have anything that stands out like Thailand or Vietnam, because most of our land has been wiped out.

    As for our people, I agree that we can be way too laid back sometimes. Lazy, as you say.

    I love being Lao and I love our culture. It’s very simple, but who doesn’t like simplicity? Simple with some bomb ass food. Lol. I hope your next experience in Laos will be better, and hopefully you picked up some great tips/info for the next trip!

    And as always, please keep an open mind.

  19. anonymous says:

    i just have one thing to say, do not put everything in the same boat because it’s they all have the same origin. the comments on here are obviously biased and many are actually untrue. it’s logic that you obviously have to be careful of thieves no matter in the world, and just because some people do not greet you or isn’t your version of “nice” doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re mean. there’s a lot of people who are anti-social and don’t feel comfortable greeting people, especially if they’re foreigners. the “lack of culture” that you are claiming is hard to believe. if you go out in the morning at dawn, you can see monks come by and people do the morning “thak bhat.” and personally thinking, but don’t all foreigners get ripped off while traveling?? since y’all don’t know the currency ?? just because one bad thing or a few things terrible happen to you, doesn’t mean the whole country or the people of laos are terrible. it’s just hard to open to foreigners, especially the lack of communication. i also read that someone said laos students are lazy ?? the education is actually pretty similar to america’s. except that you have to pass a test to go to the next grade level. and to another person, NEVER compare laos and thailand. we are the same people and we consider each other as like brother and sister countries. but we are still different. thais are assumingly more “nicer” to foreigners bc of the large population of mixed thais. many thais look more foreign but are actually only half thai and half other country. many people can’t tell the difference between mixed thais and foreigners since the facial features are so strong, but of course i’m not trying to make an excuse for laos’ “impoliteness.” laos is actually not a bad country, just give it some time and you’ll actually see that laos has a lot of culture. i wouldn’t say one month is too little but one month isn’t actually enough time to get that real lao experience.

  20. Do Us a Favor says:

    Do some research you colonizer. There are about 30 million Lao people in Northeast Thailand due to French colonization. YES! Northeastern Thai culture and food are all LAO! That som tam you like? That larb you like? That grilled chicken that is sold virtually everywhere in Bangkok? All are of LAO ORIGIN. Northeastern Thai people are ethnically Lao and practically speak Lao but use Thai script. The Thai food that is so commonly sold in America – many of those popular food items are Lao because GUESS WHAT? A majority of Thai restaurants in America are Lao-owned. The influence Laos has on the neighboring countries is astronomical and to think that you did absolutely zero research before trying to look down on a third country is so disgusting. Educate yourself.

  21. MJ says:

    I went to Laos from Thailand, Thailand is not perfect.
    However Laos ppl are morons!

    They’ve got a law that is illegal for forefingers to sleep with Laos ppl. You take away s3x away from a country from men. You’ve pretty much got rid of 90% of reasons why men would wanna stay or travel to that location.

    Laos has nothing!!
    Its a tumbleweed, YES! no malls, No supermarkets no Nothing!

    I went to a sh*ty bar and started talking to a normal girl and the guy all started acting like a hero trying to protect they all spoke English I say F you and F her and your sh*tty country. And left the bar.
    That was the draw for me, I took my stuff and left that B.S country.
    And I’ll never go there again.

    yah they’re extremely lazy and they want the best of everything without wanting to anything to get it.

  22. Joe Ballsack says:

    Laos Chauvinist are some of the worst people you’ll come across, making bold claims about a lot of stuff; inventions, culinary, Laotian being the center hub for all E/SE Asian culture, and have a 2000 years of continuous “Lao” country. When we all know that historically there was never a country call “Laos” or LA-O until 1953 (Thank you France).

    Anyways today Laos is basically China and Vietnam’s little girlfriend. At best with their corrupt government (selling off land, precious resource etc.) and a desperate to be rich populace (good image), whilst crossing their fingers they may have a city equivalent of an late 90’s Hanoi; that is if China builds it for them, I highly doubt Lao can do it themselves.

    I’m not talking down on the country, just that as a country I see them in stagnation and not going anywhere, relying heavily on tourist and neighboring nation for wealth and direction. All in which is going to involve in a crime rate increase (drug trade, sex trafficking etc), not to say how all this will also have an affect, on ethnic minority group, which whom for decades have been living below poverty level.

    And yes I’m aware such attention and talk is already known and is discuss and argue already amongst Lao who lives in Western nation. But I highly doubt anything is gonna change.

  23. MKS says:

    Wow – the amount of ignorance from some of these comments is disheartening – let alone the writer of this article is just as ignorant. For someone to group a whole country & it’s people into a distasteful article is more so a reflection of you.
    Hopefully you can find peace within yourself someday, instead of demeaning others.

    Now that I got the “nice” part out of the way – a big fuck you to the POS individuals hopping on here with their ignorant as fuck comments. I see that some Thai individuals hopped on here & continued with their built in ignorance towards Laos. You know damn well if you look into the history that you took our culture, westernized the fuck out of it to satisfy the outside world & ran with it.
    Also, lazy? Bitch, you clearly don’t see how hard lao people actually work. You’re NOT there living their day-to-day life. If you had a broken system to work with, & you’re constantly being tricked & bought out by larger countries, you’d be trying your hardest to make ends meat too.
    By the way, I love seeing some IGNORANT fucks come onto a site a talk their shit (like joe-schmoe above me from 12/2021), but would never have the balls to say that to a Lao in-person.
    In any case, rant over. Come see me & say this shit in person. I’d love that.

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