Greetings from the serene world that is the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR, or Laos as it’s most commonly known!). This is my first time returning to a place I’ve already been to and I must say, it’s quite bizarre. I only have vague memories of my days spent in Luang Nam Tha (Lou-ang Nawm-Ta). It was the rainy season and there was so much flooding that the town was without power for much of my stay.
Aside from the general layout, I can’t say I really remember much, except for where the bus station used to be. It’s now moved 6km out of town and a gleaming new “3 star” hotel has replaced it. At least the market is still where I remember it.
We drove through the forest, passing red soil cliffs that gave way to trees of the most incredibly vibrant shade of green I have ever seen. A modern road ran through tunnel after tunnel that had been blasted through the surrounding mountains.
After a stop for lunch, we hit the gleaming Chinese border town of Mohan. Things were quick and efficient at the pristine Chinese immigration checkpoint. The officer closely examined every single stamp in passport prior to stamping me out of the country. A soldier carefully inspected our bus before we were allowed to re-board and roll the 3km into Laos before hitting their checkpoint in the town of Boten.
The change was almost instantaneous. China looks like the first world compared to the third world of Laos, which is particularly apparent in the differences in their border checkpoints.
The Lao checkpoint also reflected a change in mood. There was no military-like precision as there was on the Chinese side. They couldn’t have cared less as to the accuracy of the info on my Arrival Card. After obtaining my Visa-On-Arival for US$37 plus a Passport Photo, it was back on the bus as we rolled on.
There are no modern expressways here. Roads go up and over mountains, not through them. I can’t tell you how many times we had to pull off into the dirt because the road had become a large collection of dust (and was supposedly under construction).
Along the way we passed many a rice field and many a minority village, complete with those meager wooden houses on stilts and thatch roofs. Villagers even bathed in the stream along the road.
Someone who has never experienced intense levels of poverty would be shocked by what they find here. But one must also bear in mind just what exactly this land has been through.
Laos is, per capita, the most bombed nation on Earth, thanks largely in part to a secret campaign that was waged here by the U.S. while the rest of the world was focusing on the conflict in neighboring Vietnam. Just something to wrap your brain around.
Thinking back on my past visit here, there is one stark difference. The rain, or lack thereof. This region has been experiencing a bit of a drought lately, which will hopefully make road travel a bit easier. That’s good, as there will be a lot of it in the next week!