Luang Prabang

With the Vietnam visa over, I needed to decide where to go next. Lao was the most obvious choice. After being in Hanoi for a while, with its busy streets and long roads leading to distant neighbourhoods, I looked forward to taking the bus to Luang Prabang - a small town in the North of Lao, in a beautiful mountainous area. The trip took around 27 hours and was quite testing, as the roads in the mountains were not so smooth.

I had an idea of how Lao would be different from Vietnam. Nevertheless, I still got surprised by the cultural and infra-structural differences.

In Luang Prabang, I have been told, things are even more quiet and chilled out than the other main Lao destinations. I can say that the locals are very relaxed, and the street vendors are not nearly as pushy as any of the Thai, Cambodians and Vietnamese who do the same line of work. It's even more surprising to notice this during low season, when there are far fewer tourists. If you want it, you buy it. Otherwise, peace, and see you around - that's their attitude.

To make things even slower, it rained during most of the week. On the first 3 days I was there, it rained relentlessly, and tourists were trapped in their guesthouses (which are many, and well equipped, though the internet is really slow - I've been told by locals and foreigners that it's not the equipment, but the many filters that the government applies, and all the "communist privacy invasion").
The surrounding nature is remarkable, as the pictures from the waterfall show.

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Unfortunately, though it is a beautiful place, I learned that it is quite poor as well. As it is usual, there's the need to criticize US behaviour here as well (I wonder - will I find a land outside Europe where they haven't fucked everything up?)

During the Vietnam War, the US and Lao had a peace agreement. Which was completely ignored by the US, who carried out a "secret war". They dropped bombs in Lao like it was "bomb rain season", which helped the country in becoming the most bombarded nation in the history of warfare.

The cherry on top of it all? About 30% of these bombs, many shaped and colored to resemble pineapples, did not detonate when they were dropped. Which means that sometimes, a farmer's wife will try to grow a new rice field and will lose a leg. Or children will play between the trees, and picking up what they think are pineapples, or even metal scraps (which are worth quite some money for them), will blow up to pieces. The incomparable works of Uncle Sam.

Having suffered such atrocities in the past, the socialist government is now trying its best to not let the western world fuck their people in the ass again. Therefore, I understand the quite unique law they have here; sexual intercourse between Lao nationals and foreigners of any nationality is illegal, as is prostitution. Ironically, the age of consent is 15.

Though a great thing in my opinion, as it prevents sexual tourism from happening (which is now quite common in Thailand or Cambodia), it does discourage many of the Lao nationals from having any kind of exchange with foreigners. I had a really hard time meeting locals, and only managed to have interesting conversations with a few of them. While in other countries the ladies will look at me and giggle, and possibly approach me with the usual "Where are you from?", here in Lao they just look away; being with a foreigner can put you in jail, so they don't even want to be seen talking to one.

From what I heard, tattoos are also illegal, though that I do not understand at all.

Next stop: the capital city of Vientiane, because now my South-East Asian part of the trip is about to end, and I must arrange the details of the next part of the trip: China.