A holiday in Laos will doubtless drift by in a sea of happy faces and a chorus of ‘baw pen nyang’ - no worries! It’s incredibly easy to romanticise the seemingly idyllic Laotian way of life, but Laos is the poorest of all the Mekong nations, school is not a priority in family life, and one in four Lao people is illiterate. In addition, more and more villages are having to be resettled as the waters of the Mekong rise due to dams being built to tap into the country’s greatest natural resource: hydropower. Laos is in the midst of a huge period of development and this inevitable progress will likely bring electricity and running water to the masses. It will also increase revenue, which could help Laos’s poorest out of poverty and into better schooling and healthcare provision, but there will always be a lingering flipside that laments the gradual loss of an old way of life and fears that the lives of Laotians will become more like ours - more concerned with material ‘stuff’, a notion at odds with their Buddhist underpinning.
The Laotian way of life has evolved over generations in line with the annual monsoon season and the rise and fall of the Mekong River; we can only hope it won’t all be washed away in the ensuing flood of progress and change.
Lesley Schofield from our supplier, All Points East shares her opinion on the issue of unexploded ordnance in Laos:
“During the Vietnam War, more bombs were dropped on Laos than they were on Vietnam and the worst sufferers of poverty in Laos are those that have become injured from unexploded ordnance, especially if they are the head of the household. There is no social security, so there are no disability means or special services in place to support disabled people. The level of unexploded bombs is still very high and it’s the farmers and farm kids playing in fields are the ones that find them, which has created a poverty that’s very difficult to cope with when you first see it as a tourist because it’s largely associated with disability.”
Sarah Allard at Lost Earth Adventures shares her opinion on the issue of animal rights in Laos:
“Elephant trekking does happen in Laos; I haven’t checked it out because we encourage visits to elephant sanctuaries dedicated to helping abandoned and neglected elephants, but I wouldn’t vouch for their proper practices. Also, there is a huge Traditional Chinese Medicines trade in Laos, which uses endangered animals, you’ll see tortoises on the road and they keep animals captive for tourists to purchase, or purchase parts of. During the Vietnam War, Laos was the most heavily bombed country in the world, so the Laotians went into survival mode and people got into eating endangered jungle meats, snakes, bats and wild cats. Officially, it’s illegal to hunt and sell jungle meat and wild cats, so that’s all best avoided because the locals need money and if there’s demand for all of this, they’ll supply, so you’re giving them more reason to head into the jungle and kill these animals.”