I’ve been in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic for over a month now; here are my first impressions and observations:
It’s more common to see Lao walking with umbrellas to block the sun than it is to see them wearing sunglasses.
They call it ‘summer’ now (Jan/ Feb). But, since we are in the northern hemisphere, this is when days are shortest and temperatures coldest. I think it’s a bad translation from ‘dry season.’
Lao fear their government.
The government controls all media and information.
The capital is covered in flags. Almost always a pairing of the national flag and the communist party flag.
There are far more tourists than I expected.
Lots of tourists in flips flops and sunglasses take selfies in the capital; inevitably those photos have the sickle and hammer in the background. What a weird juxtaposition.
The transportation infrastructure is extremely poor and seemingly almost all inter-city travel is done by foreigners.
The motorcycle is king.
Sidewalks are inconvenient to walk on. Cars park there and motorcycles drive on it.
Lao people are passive. In markets vendors usually just watch people walk by and do not actively try to sell anything.
Lao money is all paper, meaning everyone carries around a wad of bills and most of them have little value. The 500 note is worth about 6 cents.
Dogs here are also passive. They don’t bark much, even when cats are nearby.
The U.S. dropped more bombs on Laos in the 1960s and 1970s than they did in all of WWII and millions of them did not explode and are still killing people.
People here don’t seem to hold any grudges against the U.S. and the government also does not dwell on this or use it for propaganda purposes.
Lao are not very fond of Thailand who is a historical enemy. Lao also worry that they will be dominated by Thai culture and products and lose their identity.
Lao love Vietnam and see them as a big brother.
In the countryside no one speaks English. In the cities, especially in tourist areas, many do but this often comes apart if you poke at it. I often ask people questions relating to history or culture and they respond with an answer relating to a local tourist site.
I have no idea how old people are.
I’m much taller than almost everyone here.
Laos loves badminton.