Ben’s top 10(ish) Laos tips

Being mostly a list of petty annoyances that have festered inside me on account of the general non-confrontational nature of New Zealanders.

1. Dark Beer Lao is better than normal Beer Lao (which is still pretty good). It is also stronger (6.5%) beware.

2. If you are taking a local bus, you do not have an assigned seat. I don’t care what your ticket says or what long-faded number may once have been sharpied onto the vinyl of that seat. Your ‘reservation’ is your arse. Put it in a seat and wait til the bus leaves. We aren’t going anywhere until you sit down and complaining to the woman in the ticket booth isn’t going to get anyone anywhere so please just shut up. You know who you are.

2a. Your bag does not have a seat on the bus. If it’s bigger than a handbag, it goes on the roof. Don’t worry, they’ll cover it and tie it down. “But what about that spot in the aisle” you say? That isn’t an aisle. That is where another row of plastic stools will go. “How about under my feet?” Take a look. There are already three sacks of rice there. “But what about…” No. If there is a flat surface within the vehicle, 1 or more people will soon be sitting on it.

2b. None of the above applies on the significantly more expensive VIP busses. Get the hell out of my seat.

3. The bus timetable is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to bus services living or dead is entirely coincidental. The bus will go when the driver is good and ready. If at all. This is doubly true in the off-season.

4. There is no correlation between the distance of a journey and its duration. 100km can easily take 6 hours. Any estimate of time you are given should be taken with a 2 hour margin of error either way. This still applies to journeys of less than 2 hours.

4a. “Road quality” is strongly correlated to “distance from things the Chinese want”. This is why you can be cruising along a broad, smooth, well marked highway on your way to a village of 200 people one day, and having your internal organs rattled out on a muddy trail on your way between the two largest cities in the country the next.

5. Getting mad/frustrated at any of the above will get you nowhere, except maybe further from your goal. I watched a Lao official take a full 5 minutes to write the date onĀ  a form, I suspect just to see if he could make the increasingly frustrated falang he was dealing with actually explode. It was a close thing.

6. Where and whenever you can, hire a bike and peddle about.

7. The tubing scene in Vang Vieng is the domain of boorish, indecent, priviliged westerners; it is destroying the local way of life, the stunning beauty of the surrounds and encouraging petty thievery and drug use amongst local children. That said you’ll probably still do it and have a ball (and get pink-eye). We hired bikes and peddled about and got to enjoy feeling morally superior AND awed by the surrounds.

8. Not every attempt at salesmanship is a ‘scam’ or an attempt to rip you off. Feel free to bargain but you likely will be overcharged. You will pay ‘Tourist price’. YOU ARE A TOURIST. Bitch about the 75 cents that that guy ‘totally screwed you out of’ elsewhere please.*

9. Eat Street Meat. You won’t die.**

10. And please – do not pronounce the S. I will fight you.

* this one is controversial amongst my fellow travelling folk and may be expanded upon at a later date.
** well you might. But you’ll die happy and greasy.

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  1. #1 • The Mystro said on August 17 2012:

    All of the above is bang-on 100% true. Glad to see Laos has not changed in the 5 years since I went. Truely the greatest country on earth, oh how such truths make me yearn …
    Actually, not sure about the street meat