What were your impressions of visiting Laos?

Laos is a wonderful and beautiful place. I love the North and was there for the month of February.

The country is feeling the impact of increased tourism but some of the changes have been good and really needed; there are ATMs are in any sizeable town that attract tourists but they are still far apart.

This is the first part of a very long blog post I wrote in 2013 about my previous trip

There are two kinds of tourists in Laos.

The first is those tourists with more money and little time; these fly into the only well-known tourist destinations, see the sights and then fly back out. The other kind is those with a lot more time who travel from place to place by bus and see the many smaller places that are not so much sights as experiences. That's me. I had planned on 5 weeks in Southeast Asia, most of that in northern Laos.

Travel by road in Laos is very slow; there are only about 3000 miles of paved road in the entire country and much of that is poorly maintained. Additionally, the public buses are generally worn out specimens imported from Thailand, Korea or Japan, prone to break-down at best and to total failure at worst.

Most long distance buses carry a mechanic and I was never on a long bus ride that didn't have some sort of mechanical problem of some kind. On the last leg of my final bus ride into Vientiane from the North, the mechanic sat above an open hatch in the floor in the back of the bus and had to finalize every up-shift of the driver with a resounding whack with a large sledge on the transfer case below.

I love that country. Nature, cities, people, food. Laotians don't give a heck about tourism, even barely try to develop it, if you behave nice enough they'll act nice to you, otherwise they won't and you might regret your poor behavior afterwards.

English and French are widely used among big cities. I liked their slow way of living, I wish I could go back there.

Once I traversed the country by bus coming from Vietnam and going to Thailand, both stronger economically than Laos. Just when I get across Vietnam-Laos border, a youngster proposed me a motorbike ride to the next town. I was already thinking about how much money she'd ask me. "That's free" she said me.

In the next town, some passerby told me the next bus wouldn't stop here before next morning. So I asked for an hotel. "No hotel here, sir". Wasn't concerned, an easy-going local man wave me to go up to him and we ended up having round of beers with local party-goers. I ate, I drank, for free. Then tried to explain my accommodation issue. They direct me to a temple in which grinning monks set up a ground sheet and a mosquito net to provide me accommodate.

Following day, I got on the bus and came across Laos-Thailand border. Found a nice hotel and by evening went out and wandered around. Gave some steps around, and one more time came across locals party-goers, they invited me for pub crawls and for dinner. For free. God save Laos and Laotians.

I visited Laos in 2008 as part of a backpacking trip across SE Asia. I was in Vientiane and Luang Prabang for 10 days. It seemed like a very beautiful, tranquil place. Compared to Thailand and Cambodia, there weren't nearly as many touts trying to sell stuff to you, and the ones who were, weren't nearly as aggressive. I would speculate that being one of the world's 5 remaining communist countries has an impact on people's ambition. In any case, as a tourist, it was refreshing. Interaction with the locals was more relaxed, and I didn't feel like I always had a dollar sign over my head.

It's my understanding that tourism in Laos has picked up significantly since I was there, though.
Sweet, kind, generous, welcoming, happy and unstressed people.
I crossed the country from East to West and I almost could not use money: free 3-km ride on the back of a motorcycle, free night stay in a temple (in a city without hotels), was invited twice to eat and drink beer as much as I could... All this took place over two days and two nights!... I speak some Thai, probably that helped...
I will never forget this kindness..
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