Despite the poverty, the Lao people seem happy. You would never know that they have one of the corrupt governments in the world. From an outsider’s perspective, there appeared to be a good social fabric in place. Most families lived together in large units. I befriended a kind man in Vang Vieng and he lived with his wife, their children, his mother and her mother. Together they ran a modest restaurant.
I fell in love with the children of Laos. Never have I encountered such pure curiosity and friendliness from children. It makes me wonder if there is a certain joy that has been lost in the Western world. Children in our part of the world are innocent but they are also surrounded by distractions such as violent television and video games. There is so much outside influence. In Laos, kids seemed adept at entertaining themselves. I witnessed boys playing with rocks on the side of the road, sisters running after one another, and a large group of kids jumping naked from high trees into the river. Even though the Lao children have little, I think they are also lucky.
Sadly, the effects of tourism on culture are largely evident in Luang Prabang. Tourism has exploded and, I believe, is reaching its saturation point. There were more tuk tuk drivers offering rides, prices were inflated compared to elsewhere in the country and It was also the only place where I encountered children selling goods. I hope that they manage to maintain their warmth rather than desire the almighty dollar or other goods they don’t need.
The craziest thing about Laos? You can be in the most rural, undeveloped and remote place in the country where people appear destitute by Western standards. The village will consist of tiny wooden shacks with no beds or other comforts. But still, each shack will have a television and satellite dish. The Lao people certainly love their television. I saw Thai shows, Korean shows and even Flight of the Conchords played on their screens!