The Lowdown on Laos

I had to leave Thailand again as my 30 days were up already so, pretty much at the last minute I decided to go to Laos.

I booked a ticket on Laos Airlines to the capital of Laos, Vientiane (pronounced Vien-jun) which is a 1:20 flight on Lao Airline’s prop plane or 1:05 if you take a jet on Thai Airways.

I left late for the airport and ended up having to run to catch the plane, but I just made it… but because I was late I didn’t have time to go to the bank machine so I had no cash on me.

To my surprise, upon arriving in Vientiane, they make everyone “apply” (read: pay) to get a Visa, which is quite irritating, especially because they also require a photograph, which I didn’t have… but for $1 they’ll take you to some old photocopy machine and copy it for you.

But I didn’t have any cash to pay for the visa and they don’t accept credit cards so I had to have them escort me through to the airport lobby to get some money off my visa card at a currency change shop.

The visa prices range from $20-42 USD depending on what country you are from, and the highest one was Canada, at $42, which I am starting to get used to…. I don’t like it, but I am getting used to it.

All in all, it took me about 30-45 minutes just to get cash, apply/pay for the visa and then go through customs. Even if I had the cash, it still would have taken 20+ minutes to get through the visa process and through customs, which is pretty ridiculous considering our plane was the ONLY plane on the tarmac and there was only about 40 people on my flight… many things in Laos are like this though, they are WAY behind the curve on basic things like that for the most part.

The airport was very, very small… about on par with Phnom Penh… the country of Laos is tiny in terms of population, especially compared to many of their neighbors, which include China, Vietnam and Thailand. Laos only has a population of 6 million.

Laos people speak Lao, but it is very, very similar to Thai… Jane didn’t come with me on this trip but said she has been there before and she has no problem communicating with them… there are lots of little differences though, such as hello… in Thailand it is Sawasdee, in Laos it is Sabaidee (sabaidee in Thailand means “how are you?�).

All, and I mean ALL the tv in Laos comes from Thailand… I don’t think they even have 1 tv channel of their own. Phone calls to Thailand are local calls too… and they readily accept Thai Baht, or USD…. The Laos Kip isn’t used too much because it is 10,000 kip = $1USD and I think the largest Laos bill is a 10,000 bill, so to carry $100 around would be a massive bulge in your pocket! In essence, Laos is pretty much just a province of Thailand really.

There are lots of interesting pecularities here too… for example, for some reason, they have a rule that no building can be taller than 7 stories in Laos! Don’t ask me which bored super genius came up with this bizarre rule, but it’s there. There is one hotel in Vientiane that is taller than 7 stories though, called the Don Chang Hotel, and I was told by some locals that it is owned by rich Malaysians… so, as with everywhere, if you have some cash the laws don’t apply to you… and, btw, that isn’t a jab against businesses or people with money, it is, as usual, another easy jab at governments (definition: people with guns that are the only people in the area “allowedâ€? to force you to do what they want), which are the bane of this planet.

Because the city barely has any buildings even taller than 3 stories, the view of the city from the air and on the ground likens it more to being a village than a city… it really just seems like you are in a little country town.

The pace is veeeerrry laid back… if you like places where no one is in a rush to do anything and stress levels are zero, go to Vientiane.

I had read a bit about Laos on the internet before going and was a bit worried that it would be way too quiet for my tastes. For example, the great majority of websites on Laos basically say there is hardly any nightlife and all bars are mandated to close by 11:30pm… but, things weren’t that way when I was there… maybe again, the internet was outdated! Or maybe people don’t know where to go… I stayed at the Novotel and there is a little disco in the back of the hotel called Dtec that was pumpin and packed with young Laos people, all of whom appeared to be having a great time… it was a very fun atmosphere.

I then hopped a tuk tuk to a more upscale place called Marina. It was small but very modern looking as opposed to the college-bar style at Dtec. I met some people there… in fact, everywhere I went people bought me drinks and invited me to their tables! Not that the drinks cost much, the most I paid for a drink was $2.50 for a Johnny Walker Black Label… Something about the way I look makes me very popular in Thailand and Laos apparently… I think I know what it is too… the people in this region all consider it very “high class� if you have a long straight nose. Many people here, including Jane, have quite small little noses with not much of a bridge… and they all wish they had a big nose (don’t ask me why, I always wanted a smaller one! Especially when it came to boxing and martial arts where my nose was an easy target)… many Thai’s get nose surgery for this reason… even Jane asks me every month to get it for her, but I like her nose, I think it looks perfect, so I don’t let her mess with it!

I met a guy at Marina who appeared to be quite a well-to-do businessman, although he was quite young… I think his family is one of the major construction companies that do most of the work on the roads in Laos, from what I could gather.

He was really nice to me and took me to another club at the Don Chang Hotel which, he said, was open until 4am… so, again, the laws in Laos don’t appear to apply to the Don Chang Hotel!

The club there was pretty cool… a lot of fun… partly indoor and partly patio overlooking the Mekong, very nice.

All in all, I had a great few days in Laos… I really enjoyed it and if I have to do some further visa runs from Thailand in the future I think I’ll put it at the top of my list because it is so close, cheap and a lot of fun.

Kinda summing up how small the place is, is this advertisement in there largest newspaper, the Vientiane Times (run by the government, I believe… how’s that for independent media!: Wanted: Attractive Lady, Room #2551. That ad wasn’t in a “classified� ad section either, it was one of the largest ads in the newspaper, a key sponsor!

To conclude, Laos gets majorly overshadowed by every single one of its neighbors, but it is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area!

On an end note, I may be passing through Canada on my way to the Caribbean in the next month or so and thought I’d take Jane to show her Canada. We applied for a tourist visa for Canada for her and she was TURNED DOWN!!! I “sponsored� her and everything and still she was turned down. We have gotten tourists visas to Australia, China, Russia, Myanmar and more, with no problem, but of course, CommuCanada is WAAYYYY too crowded (you know, being the largest country in the world in size, and smallest in population) to allow someone like Jane to come for a visit. They told me it was because she didn’t appear to have a job in Thailand… They said they are worried she was going to come there to work… I said, look at my financial statements and our travel records… but they just got snider and snider, at one point basically telling me I am a liar!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I HATE CANADIAN BUREAUCRATS!!!!!!!! It is always the worst part of my year dealing with these judgemental, money stealing, non-backbone-having ignorant morons who will do everything to get all your money and as much as possible to impede your progress, and will use force to imprison you or kill you if you don’t listen to them. I was about to tear the office apart but figured that wouldn’t change anything and, if anything, just put me on one of their ‘watch lists’. Sigh. He basically told me that it would be easier if I applied for a permanent residency for Jane than to get a tourist visa for her (don’t even try to understand their logic), to which my response was, “why in the world would anyone want to be a permanent residence of Canada?!�… he just looked perplexed as, as most Canadians all know, they think Canada is the most amazing place ever.

Ah well, rant over. I’m just sad for Jane, she really wanted to go… I’ll figure something out though. The fight isn’t over.

So, I will decide what I will do over the next few weeks, then like I said, I most likely will pass through Korea on my way to Vancouver, then Edmonton… then likely the Caribbean (Dominican Republic specifically, plus some other stops I’m sure) and then probably over to Italy and many other European destinations for the summer.