Flying from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos on a ATR-72 (70 passenger plane) is a bit different than the typical American domestic flight.While the aircraft was modern and airworthy, trying to understand the announcements (even the English version) was a challenge.
On a positive note, the unidentifiable baloney-like sandwich with mayo (I think) was delicious. At least I thought so.
Driving from the airport, built by the Chinese to accommodate their workers building a railway bridge over the Mekong river, one is thrust into a different albeit similar culture to Thailand. Laos is less developed, having suffered greatly during the American War in Vietnam, not to mention previous and subsequent wars with neighboring countries. The primary source of income is agriculture, rice and corn, and fishing the Mekong for the giant catfish (200 kilos.)
The resort we stayed at was lovely. Laos has not yet fully embraced tourism, but the signs are there. Our resort was a pleasant change from the crowds and noise of Chiang Mai. One of the highlights for me was the scalding cold shower. After spending sufficient time, you leaned the rhythm to the water temperature. Pleasantly warm, scalding, freezing, scalding, and back to pleasant, repeated at various intervals. I pictured two frazzled Lao workers on the roof fervently pouring alternating barrels of hot and cold water into pipe as someone called up the number of people taking showers.
But if that is the worst of what we dealt with in Laos, it is better than what most Lao people bear in their life.
Laos is a communist country, now officially known as LPDR the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, run by an “elected” government from the single party, coincidently known as the LPDR. Formerly a monarchy, the Lao heir to the throne of the disposed King disappeared into one of the Communist re-education camps along the Mekong, known as the Lao Hanoi Hilton after the infamous original in Hanoi during the war. Until not that long ago, it still was a camp. Now it is a sign of better things to come as it serves as a tourist attraction.
The locals, while acknowledging the official name of the country and ruling party, say it stands for Lao People Don’t Rush.
And indeed they do not. Not only do they not rush, they seem oblivious to things like oncoming traffic or pedestrians.
The roads are crowded with scooters and motorcycles often ridden by two, three, or more people. It is not uncommon to see what is likely an entire family, including infants, riding a single 50 cc scooter. They dodge in and out of traffic, mostly ignored by the car and truck drivers.
One of the highlights was a side trip we organized to Kuang Si Park. In the park there is the most beautiful waterfall and a sanctuary center for the moon bear; an endangered species hunted and imprisoned for of all things, bear bile. One consistent thing among endangered species is they are usually endangered to satisfy the self-centered aphrodisiac fantasies and failings of the human male. For this I wish to offer my apologies on behalf of the rational males of my species.
Like the Thai, the Lao are a friendly, smiling people. Curious but polite, their Buddhist heritage ingrained in their deference to others.
Without further adieu, I give you Laos.