Expectations are a tricky thing. It’s incredibly hard not to have them, yet by not having expectations, you are more often than not left happily surprised. My expectations of Laos resulted in me feeling a little let down by this country that I’d dreamed of for so long.
All my research told me that Laos would be stunning, the people would be friendly, the food delicious and the prices dirt cheap (compared to our other SEA destinations). In reality… it wasn’t quite like that (apart from the stunning rural background, of course). I think part of it is that we missed out on Luang Prabang in Northern Laos. Our intro to Lao culture was instead in the capital of Vientiane where we quickly realized the prices were a cool 30-40% more than what we’d budgeted for.
Our meals were hit or miss, including Lao fishcakes that left much to be desired in their rubbery, old oil flavor. I ordered Pad Thai where the noodles were so tough that I couldn’t chew them and worried multiple times that I was going to choke. Coffees were double the cost to Thailand (Thailand was meant to be the most expensive country, by the by), and the national dish of laap was way past my level of spice (my own issue here).
In terms of other costs, I felt like they were made up on the fly. The tuk-tuk to and from our hotel and the bus station in Vientiane cost more than our two bus tickets combined for a 5-hour journey north. Does that make sense? Then, the same journey on the way back costs 20% less than it did on the way out. What? You want to rent a life jacket and ask how much? “Ummmm….. 20,000 kip for the day.” This man rents hundreds of them a day, so you’d think he would know the cost easily. Instead, it seemed like he was assessing our race, our gullibility and our likeliness of arguing with him.
And friendliness? Unfortunately we didn’t get much of that. It seemed that we were more an inconvenience to people than a welcome sight. I can see how Westerners have probably left a poor taste in their mouth, but it was as though you were lumped in with their preconceptions and not given a chance, regardless of how polite you were, if you tried to speak the language or if you smiled brightly.
There were a token couple of individuals who were kind without the promise of a sale. One woman on a local bus helped us get to the Buddha Park. We spoke a mishmash of Lao, English and French. She seemed delighted to have someone to talk to about her family that lived in Toronto and she even helped us find a tuk tuk driver as we got off the bus. Another man at a bus station initially made us nervous. After too many examples of people laughing at us and being rude, we were distrusting of his kindness and watched our bags worrying about theft. Instead he just wanted to practice his English, know where we were from and tell us about his work as a mechanic. He was curious about us foreigners in a town with very few visitors. We welcome curiosity if it comes with a smile.
I know our experience has been so different to many of my fellow travel bloggers. They rave about Laos, the cheap costs, the scenery (which I totally agree with), etc. I honestly think Laos has so much more to offer, but we never got the opportunity in our schedule to head south, see the 4,000 Islands, Pakse or more of the countryside. Had we been able to do so, I’m sure we would have left with a more positive impression.
The scenery of Northern Laos was stunning and is what I will take away from our time here. I never regret visiting a country, no matter the experience, but I am truly looking forward to our next destination.