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Laos is Awesome!

I am confused. What is this strange upward twist of the lips I am seeing here in Laos? I’ve just been in Vietnam for the past month and this expression is unfamiliar. Wait a minute… it’s coming back to me… this expression is known as a “SMILE”! Glory be, Laos is full of them!

That’s right: Laos lives up to the hype. For the past three months that I’ve been traveling around Southeast Asia, everyone has been raving, “This place here is all right, but my favorite country so far was Laos.”

Other tourists add: “Laos is so chilled out, man. The people are nice, the food is damn good, and it’s super-safe.”

Another traveler always pipes in: “And it’s CHEAP. I exchanged a hundred U.S. dollars and got back a stack of one MILLION Laotian Kip!”

When I creakily descended from our 26 hour bus ride to Vientiane from Hanoi, there was no crushing tsunami of moto and taxi drivers screaming, “RIDE, MISS???” like in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Thailand. Rather, one gentleman quietly asked if I would like to go into town in his rainbow colored tuk tuk, and I smiled, bargained the price, and hopped on.

We chugged around for about forty five minutes to the far corners of this farm-and-chicken-filled country capital, dropping off each of the shyly smiling Laotians who had been sitting beside me in the tuk tuk. I scrambled to read the street signs and landmarks, cross-referencing with my dear Lonely Planet map of Vientiane in the Laos chapter, and finally hollered to the driver, “Stop here please!”

Out I went, was politely turned away at three hotels that were full (Laos is getting popular, man!), then landed upon a delightful $6 a night place.

The hotel is clean, friendly (smiles again!), and boasts a giant free breakfast included in the price. You really can’t go wrong with a complimentary breakfast that features eggs cooked in heart shapes.

After a MAJOR shower, out for a happy solo dinner I went.

Four U.S. dollars bought: three hours on a cushion-piled sofa, a luscious plate of chicken-vegetable-cashew-rice stir-fry, tea (two rounds), fresh fruit, decadent chocolate ice cream, unlimited purified water and free Wi-fi for my little laptop.

I nearly hugged the waiters when I realized that they could banter. I love bantering! Vietnam did not to banter with me. In general, the level of English proficiency here is much higher than in Vietnam, too.

“Don’t sleep on Laos,” a friend advised me before leaving Boston. “It’s the hot, up-and-coming destination.”

Indeed, all along the calm Mekong River by the rainbow cafe street of Vientiane’s center, construction is quietly chugging along. I predict that in a few years, the entire Vientiane riverfront will be lined with lovely waterside cafes like the two that are there already.

I don’t think this development will happen in a sleazy way, either. I have full faith that Laos can develop this tourist thing while still maintaining its smiling warmth.

Want to be a hip, happy, and cutting-edge traveler, AND save money? Consider Laos!

(Coming next: Juicy and lustful details on Vientiane’s amazing culinary scene!)


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Traveling Ted

Saturday 4th of February 2012

I spent 3 months in Southeast Asia a few years back, but I did not have time to do Laos. I regret it and will someday make up for the fact I did not make it.

Interesting comments regarding your experiences in Vietnam. You are not the first blogger to write negatively about your experiences there. I had good times and bad times in Vietnam, so I can see both sides of the fence. Some people like certain countries more than others. I don't think there is anything wrong writing about your preference for one country over another.


Saturday 4th of February 2012

Thanks so much for your comment, Ted! Indeed, I've seen a few controversial articles recently about Vietnam travel, and to clarify, I had an AMAZING time there and would love to go back-- it just wasn't always easy!


Friday 3rd of February 2012

Absolutely agree! Laos has been our favorite so far and despite what some people have said about Vang Vieng my family and I adored it there. We went for 2 days and ended up spending 3 weeks. The people are warm, it is cheap, the countryside is stunning, and the entire experience is so much more authentic than a place like Thailand where there is a 7 eleven on every corner. Laos gets my vote for a great family destination!

Annabella Bautista

Tuesday 6th of December 2011

I wish Boston would have the same attitude as Laos, a smile on everyone’s face. If we had the same money system as Laos the economy wouldn’t be as unstable as it is now.


Tuesday 14th of December 2010

Hi Lillie,

This comment comes a year late, since I just found your blog, but I want to say I really admire what you're doing with your life and your travels. Also, I think you sound so sweet and humble in apologizing to Steve Jackson -- even though his comments and blog post response were borderline bullying in nature.

Don't doubt yourself. You ARE a writer, as well as a teacher, and your own opinions and impressions are just as valid as anyone else out there. I view your references to Vietnam simply as a reflection of your own, brief experience there. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Keep up the good writing!


Wednesday 15th of December 2010

Aw, thanks for your lovely comment! Even a year later, it is much appreciated.

Imported Blogger Comments

Wednesday 26th of May 2010

Steve Jackson said... If people weren't smiling at you (or you weren't smiling) in Vietnam then you were doing something very wrong.

October 31, 2009 6:36 AM

Lillie M. said... Ouch, Steve, ouch! Maybe that's so, but I stand by the fact that the character and frequency of the smiles seem very different here than there.

October 31, 2009 11:19 AM

Steve Jackson said... I'm sorry but... "Vietnam does not do banter"


I'm sure Laos is a sea of smiles but I spend my day surrounded by smiles and banter in Vietnam.

I recall a Paul Theroux quote that I keep meaning to find and put on my own blog's something along they lines of travel writing is breezing into town - jumping to conclusions, making sweeping statements and leaving.

I'm not sure you really spent enough time to make such general declarations that smiles are unfamiliar in Vietnam and the Vietnamese don't do banter.

But what I will say is that people in Vietnam tend to reflect your own treatment of them.

If you smile and banter with people - they smile and banter back.

October 31, 2009 1:51 PM

Lillie M. said... Steve,

Ok, you win this one. You would know far better than me, having lived in Hanoi for an extended amount of time.

I shall try to be less glib in the future, and shall edit the post soon.

Apologies to Vietnam and those that know it, Lillie

October 31, 2009 1:55 PM

David said... It's TOOOOO LATE... to apologizeeee...

October 31, 2009 2:55 PM

Steve Jackson said... No - don't edit the post. You should always stand by what you write.

If you want to add something late fine - but you can't take away what is written.

October 31, 2009 3:03 PM

Steve Jackson said... Okay - here is my response:

October 31, 2009 4:15 PM

David said... Hey Steve, Nice article; some very good insight. My only comment is that your points would be better served when they not directly at a particular author. Although I joke that blogging is like journalism but without the hassles of liability and accuracy, I believe there is a lot of good being done by individuals armed with genuine fascination and a desire to share those experiences with other, individuals like yourself and Lillie. I believe the average readers understand that when it comes to any literature or anecdotal stories, it should be best viewed with a critical eye and at times, some light-heartedness. Although Vietnamese culture is shrouded by layers of social complexities, I found a many of observations in these articles to be surprisingly refreshing and accurate. There is subtle difference in the mindset of people as you move from region to region. I do not believe the articles were ever meant to be all encompassing but rather a snapshot of only the experience of a lonely traveler.

October 31, 2009 5:37 PM

Steve Jackson said... David,

My point isn't that Lillie shouldn't be writing this - it's that I think she is wrong. That's what comment boxes are for. I don't think she should be altering it on my say so. If at a later point she has a rethink then so be it. I would just like to balance out what she says with my opinion.

However, I would have to say that I am not sure I could offer travel tips after three years in Vietnam - never mind a few weeks.

Personally I'd love to see some more personal articles. Lillie is living the dream and all I am getting are travel tips and complaining about service. There must be some moments that lift the soul, surely?

October 31, 2009 6:27 PM

Sarah said... I had a very different experience than yours in Hanoi, though I was only there for a month. I felt very warmly welcomed by the Vietnamese people we met in cafes, in markets, in the service industry, or just on the street. It makes me sad that you didn't get a sense of how incredibly kind and generous we found Vietnam to be.

This blog post of mine is just one tiny anecdote out of many, but it illustrates perfectly, for me, the level of care and respect we were shown while in Vietnam:

As a fellow Bostonian, I'm looking forward to reading more about your trip.

October 31, 2009 8:23 PM

Lillie M. said... Steve,

Thanks for your comments and for your insightful article. You make many good points, and I will try to pump up the humility and be less of an obnoxious brat.


I had a wonderful time in Vietnam and found Vietnamese people to be wonderful, but I was remarking on the outward contrast between Vietnam and Laos. Listen-- I love Boston and think the people are great, but when I enter Ohio I am stunned at how unfriendly my hometown is in comparison. People in Boston never smile at you on the street, but that doesn't mean they're bad people or I have an awful time at home!

Other Readers,

Again, I am sorry if my glib words have offended or given the wrong impression. I wonder if any other people who have been to both Vietnam and Laos can chime in?

Controversially, Apparently, LIllie

November 1, 2009 2:27 AM

Steve Jackson said... Hey, it's all just opinions. But I don't think the debate is Laos v Vietnam. I am quite happy to take your word for it that there are more smiles in Laos. I am just saying there are plenty of smiles in Vietnam too.

November 1, 2009 3:21 AM

Lily said... Lillie,

Admittedly, when I first read your blog, I had sentiments similar to that of Steve's. I also agree that there is no need to apologize because what you wrote were merely accounts of your experiences. During my travels to Viet Nam, I did encounter some of the things you'd written about, however, my reactions to them were slightly different than yours because of this realization. One of the reasons why people opt to backpack or travel to Southeast Asia is because of its affordability. To put it bluntly, to get the most/best for as little/cheap as possible. So why do we fault and label others when they do the same?

With regards to how plentiful smiles are in Laos relative to Viet Nam, you might be right; although it might have more to do with your transformation as a result of your travels. I noticed that with each entry, you've demonstrated your humility and shown us a more accurate picture of yourself. I have a feeling that once you've completed your travels and give Viet Nam another go, you'll find that the Vietnamese are some of the warmest, kindest, friendliest and principled people out there (just like your friend David).

I think once we get pass the attachments we have for Viet Nam, we'll all realize that you meant no ill-intention when you wrote this entry, rather just an account of what happened.

Safe travels Lillie :)

November 1, 2009 4:16 AM

Luddy Sr. said... Well you sold me on seems amazing! Plus who wouldn't want to be an instant millionaire!

December 19, 2009 5:10 AM

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