Thursday, September 27, 2012

Paradise Laost



I've been trying to track down South East Asia's legendary lost kingdom of Laos, but I think I took a wrong turn. This place I'm in is called Laos all right, but there's nothing 'lost' about it, if the endless guest houses, karaoke bars and white people walking around distastefully topless are anything to go by. Are we talking about the same Laos here?

Laos doesn't come close to being a tourist-unfriendly country, especially compared to the likes of Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and China where I had to put in a lot more effort to find places than just hopping in a jumbo with seven other white people and a couple of Koreans and being escorted around the conveyor belt of popular sights. I got sick of this pretty soon and went back to using the local buses and hand-scrawled directions, but even these buses are air conditioned and have pedal bins in the centre of the aisle. You don't even get that in Japan.

I was most worried about Wi-Fi before going, after some bad experiences in the aforementioned countries where hotels either lied about being connected at all or connections were interrupted any time a bird sat on a telegraph pole, but in 21st century Laos I was able to keep up with work and illegally download new episodes of Breaking Bad in record time. You won't have to squat over any toilets and you can still use all the Thai you learned in Thailand, so you don't need to learn many new phrases. What do you mean you didn't even learn any Thai?



Laos people tend to have real jobs.
I can only imagine what they'd make of my 'problems'


I realise it's people like me with our unreasonable demands that are entirely responsible for destroying the tranquillity of this formerly obscure nation, helping to bring in valuable income that means more young children can survive preventable illnesses than the horrifying statistics of just a few years ago. Several stops in Laos (though mostly just Vang Vieng) are now well established watering holes along the banana pancake trail, though you can still see poverty and towns unspoiled by gaudy bars with Bob Marley's face all over them when heading off the beaten track into the real hinterland. But that's true for most of the countries I've been to.



There may be more ways to reduce child fatalities than improving medical facilities.
Like maybe not getting your young son to drive you around


The sad truth is, I'm happy Laos is like this. Alright, I could do without the pissed Brits boasting about their drunken escapades while I'm already struggling to sleep on the road equivalent of Edward James Olmos' face, the lying taxi drivers with even less scruples than those across the border and the cash machines that charge me 20,000 kip for every transaction without even asking me if that's okay (Thai ATMSs at least have the courtesy to let me choose whether I want to be ripped off). But until I decide to take an actual holiday and stop working every day I don't want to put myself through another China any time soon.

Maybe I'd better get my ass to Myanmar while that country's still relatively obscure, if I want to see more of 'authentic' Asia before I leave. They have Wi-Fi, right?

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