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The journey without destination "We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment." -Hilaire Belloc

Laos

LAOS | Tuesday, 29 January 2008 | Views [819]

Laos - such a tranquil and beautiful country with kind, warm, modest, graceful and a bit melancholic people. You can feel a touch of poetry radiating from their eyes and speech, almost like they are daydreaming, with soft smiling mouth and deep eyes. The “dreamy” feel and peacefulness of the country is somewhat being disturbed by inevitable economic progression mostly brought by western visitors that are flowing in bigger and bigger numbers. Last decade or so, Laos has been “discovered” as a destination for experiencing “untouched” natural beauty, warm, shy and hospitable people - a genuine and unique spirit of this region (as it once was).

Loads of time while in Laos I had sensations of feeling fortunate having the opportunity to experience the country’s tranquility, modesty and purity, but at the same time I also feel a strange need to protect it’s “virginity” and dreamlike spirit from our “modern” influence which is overtaking Laos in a fast pace.

I was visiting shortly North part of Laos about 5 years ago and coming back to Luang Prabang, Van Vieng and Vientiane left me with mixed feelings. The inevitable progress brought by large number of tourists made these places to adopt their Laotian way of living in order to be able to feed the demanding and growing needs of the westerners.

For example, Vang Vieng’s beautiful surroundings with erected rocks, river, caves and serenity is just calling you to stay there forever. The small Vang Vieng village (as it once was) in the last few years has been transformed into the backpackers’ mecca – the place to make young backpackers feel relaxed. Almost all restaurants offer low tables and cushions so you are almost lying on the floor while eating and in the same time you can watch TV. Believe me, it is very weird experience walking down the street and seeing all these people lying in the restaurants and watching “FRIENDS” (??!!!) on the TV while eating (most of the restaurants would show old episodes of Friends) - felt like I ended up in some strange dream which does not fit at all to this country!

I wonder why people travel so far away when they end up watching TV, drink and party until they can not stand on their feet anymore and ending up doing almost the same things as they do at home… Well, I guess we all have different perception of what we expect from traveling, so I really do not like to sound like judging anyone. It is just making me so sad seeing how we, “the tourist” are so reckless to the country we are visiting, that instead of respecting its tradition and culture by trying to understand more their past, culture and their everyday life, we are trying to impose our own values and standards and demand them to adjust themselves to our endless needs.

But as the medal always has two sides, the opening of the country to the world and tourist also brings a lot of progress. People are earning more money by engaging themselves in tourism and therefore they could build better houses to endure the monsoon season, they can have running water closer to them so they do not need to walk several kilometers to the river to get the water for cooking, drinking and washing, they can afford their children to go to school and have at least some chance to utilize their natural potential and have more hope in better future.

As example, five years ago Vientiane had the charm of a small city, completely unlike the other capitals of SI Asia, with its dusty, mostly unpaved streets and village-like atmosphere. Now, Vientiane pleasantly surprised me with paved, wide roads, nicely maintained streets and more restored facades – the city now got what it deserves – the dignity of being capital of the Laos with distances still easily managed on foot.

Yes, there is a lot of prosperity brought by increasing number of tourist, numerous NGO’s, businessmen and companies who are trying to bring “development” to Laos (and other parts of Asia). Nevertheless, the question that is bothering me is: “what is the cost that this country needs to pay for it?”

Although I am also just a tourist visiting Laos, the country and its people left me with longing feeling and strong wish that its serenity and the graceful aureole will remain intact. And I really hope that everyone who’s visiting Laos will try to understanding more of Laos’ culture and personality and would respect its differences and the true spirit of this poetic and kind country. This is the least what we can offer to our warm and hospitable host while visiting Laos (or any country) and trust me, the world of experience it would be open to us…it is priceless!

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