LALaos

Laos

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LaosLaos

Traditional Hmong New Year, with Heels

This week, the Hmong in Laos, one of the country's larger ethnic groups, are celebrating their New Year Festival.  The festival, which, in Luang Prabang, takes place in a wooded area near a major road, is a great opportunity for young Hmong to find a mate.  Most people come dressed ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

Lao Medical Advice

The Lao have interesting beliefs about how certain actions will affect your health and well being.  Some examples I've heard:   Eating burnt bread will give you cancer.  Drinking cold water will give you a sore throat.  Wearing long sleeves in the heat will actually keep you cooler.  Drinking beer ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

What's it to You?

The way greetings are expressed here is something you have to get used to.  At first, I found if them to be quite annoying, but now I find them endearing. Many standard greetings are actually questions about your day's activities that might seem like none of the asker's business.  Usually ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

Between the Sheets

Relationship rules and cues in Laos are often baffling to me. There are a lot of practices that have taken some getting used to. Girls have a very specific role that seems demeaning to me, but I don't think Lao people really see it that way. When out at a ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

Multiculturalism at it's Best

Multiculturalism is a good thing, right?  Luang Prabang is known for its mix of cultures: its Lao and French architecture, its Buddhism and spirit worship, its traditional practices in a modernizing city.  But, after a year of life here, I've noticed these convergences pop up in funny places and in ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

Set the river on fire.

This year was the first time I experienced Bun Awk Phansa, and I'm happy to report it's now my favorite festival in Laos.  The new year celebration in April is terribly fun, but even more so, exhausting.  It officially lasts 4 days, but in reality it's a 2+ week party. ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

Happy Birday to Me.

As this coming Saturday is my birthday, I think it's appropriate to share my observations about birthdays in Laos.  Here goes: No one seems to really know how old they are.  This is so common that whenever I ask someone's age (which I don't believe is frequently discussed among Lao), ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

Paper, Glue, and Bamboo

On Monday, Lao will celebrate Bun Awk Phansa, which marks the end of Buddhist lent, coinciding with the rainy season.  Townspeople and monks alike have spent the week preparing for the festival, by making paper lanterns and "fire boats" which will be paraded down the street, and represent each village ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

Scratch the Surface

I’ve known Phone for 9 months, and would say I’ve been close to him for about 5 of those months.  He always told me his family was poor, but I never quite knew how poor until this past weekend, when he invited me to visit his home.   His family ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

Races in New Places

A few weeks ago, the annual boat racing festival in Luang Prabang took place.  Many larger villages in Laos have their own boat racing festivals that are scattered throughout August and September, but I only attended a couple.  The one in Luang Prabang is certainly the largest in the province, ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

One BeerLao, Please. With Ice.

Two years ago, when planning a 9-week trip to Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang was not much more than a circled name in my Lonely Planet guidebook.  In early 2008, after traveling for a month in Thailand, I entered Laos for the first time.  I spent a few days in the ... read more

Gabriel Shaya

LaosLaos

The Luddites' Last Stand (Don Det, Laos, Around Day 100)

The Internet and Traveling - A Struggling Outpost - I am a Trojan Horse - The Development Debate - Zeus's Fury - Escape to Cambodia!  The internet is a mixed blessing for travelers.  The internet connects travelers like never before, allowing us to research travel information instantly, trade tips with ... read more

Mark Ayling

LaosLaos

Would You Like to Eat Some Beetles? (Savannaket, Laos, Late April)

Punk Rock Kids in Laos - Buses and Beetles - Savannaket - Fury from Olympus The gray buildings of Vientiane disappeared and the bus descended from the mountains of the north into the wide, green plains of southern Laos.  We followed the Mekong south past small villages and farms.  Water ... read more

Mark Ayling

LaosLaos

The Slow Boat to China (Vientiane, Laos)

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Mark Ayling

LaosLaos

Ain't Gonna Work on the Organic Farm No More (Vang Vieng, Laos, Mid April)

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Mark Ayling

LaosLaos

The Local Experience, Lao New Year (Luang Prabang, Laos, Mid-April)

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Mark Ayling

LaosLaos

American Bombs (Early April, Luang Nam Tha, Laos)

  At the crossroads – Trekking – Development Challenges – Luang Nam Tha – Laos’ Future, Past and Present – American Bombs I crossed the Mekong at dawn.  Instantly I felt the subtle differences between Thailand and Laos.  The pace of life was slow in Laos: the border guards had ... read more

Mark Ayling

LaosLaos

Mo' Money Mo' Problems

I got yelled at yesterday by a swarm of tribal ladies in a village in northern Laos called Muang Sing. They were genuinely concerned that I was sitting peacefully drinking coffee and reading without my newborn baby in sight. It was when I burst in to hysterical fits of laughter ... read more

Rachel Holan

LaosLaos

Sunny Little Paradise

Last night the electricity went out over the entire town of Vang Vieng while I was eating dinner with friends. The waitress walked over using the light from her iPhone to bring us candles, assuring us that this happens all the time, and it should be back on in half ... read more

Rachel Holan

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Books

Throw a book party

Gabriel Shaya

22 Oct 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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There is a dearth of books in Laos. While you are visiting, consider stopping by a Big Brother Mouse office. The organization publishes children's books in Lao, English, and Hmong. If you are the adventurous type, join one of their trips to a remote village to throw a book party. At these events, the staff teach kids about reading, drawing, and taking care of books (a precious resource). They also set up small libraries, leaving behind more than 50 books for the kids to borrow. If you don't have the time to attend one of these parties, consider sponsoring one. Find more information at www.BigBrotherMouse.com.

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Getting Around

Slow cars and fast motorbikes

Gabriel Shaya

22 Oct 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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The city center of Luang Praban is very walkable, so there's not much need for a vehicle. But if you are go out of town, or you decide to drive in the city anyway, be prepared to develop a little road rage. Cars often drive too slow and motorbikes often drive too fast, and biking friends often chat while driving 3 or 4 abreast across one lane. So keep your eyes peeled for these kinds of drivers, as well as anyone making a turn--people in Laos rarely look both ways or yield when turning. Lastly, don't mind the spray-painted outlines of crashed motorbikes on the pavement; just think of them as a reminder to drive safely and to stay alert.

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Festivals & Events

All eyes will be on you

Gabriel Shaya

01 Oct 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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If you are going to a big festival anywhere outside of the capital city, expect stares. Villagers will come in from all around the region, and they may not be so used to seeing folks that look so different from themselves. So, if you weren't already feeling a little looked at, you'll get a full dose at a festival. The teens may even stop in front of you to have a solid scope, as Lao people don't have the same discontent about blatant staring as we do in the west. Be cautious about approaching a cute toddler, as the sight of you may invoke tears, no matter how innocent your intentions! Try not to take offense to becoming an oddity--think of the attention as complimentary intrigue.

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Culture Shock

Learn a few simple words

Gabriel Shaya

22 Oct 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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The best way to get over the initial culture shock of Laos is to learn a few simple words. These new words or phrases will always be conversation starters--especially if you say them wrong--and will open the door for some friendly interaction. They will also get you in the habit of using body language when verbal language isn't enough. No matter what, don't get frustrated when your pronunciation isn't perfect--the locals just want to hear you try. Give it a try, and they'll get your message without much trouble.

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Must Do

Get to gabbing with the boys in orange

Gabriel Shaya

25 Sep 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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Luang Prabang is well known for its more than 30 temples and hundreds of monks. One of the best things to do in town is totally free, but terribly rewarding: stop in one of these temples for a chat with a novice monk. These young men are between the ages of 7 and 19, and many are studying English. They will be eager to practice, but make sure to speak slowly so you can be understood. If you are woman, never touch a monk, or even hand them anything. When you part, be sure to exchange emails, as he'll likely want a pen pal. Be advised that a request for sponsorship may follow.

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Etiquette

Keep your volume on low

Gabriel Shaya

30 Nov 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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It's likely that, at some point on your trip to Laos, something won't go your way. If you are unable to just let the problem go, it's best to try to remedy the situation with a cool and calm demeanor. If you raise your voice, not only will it not help solve anything, but it will also embarrass the person you are talking to and those around you. Keep yourself together; patience and a calm tone will get your much further.

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Food

Put the utensils down and get your hands sticky

Gabriel Shaya

01 Sep 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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The fastest way to sound the Falang (foreigner) alarm in Laos is to try to eat your sticky rice with a knife and fork. So put the utensils down and dig in with your hands. Grab a small chunk of rice from the little basket, lightly squeeze it into a ball in your hand, and then half-flatten it. Use this and your thumb to scoop up your laap, your jaew bong, or your som pak. Just make sure you wash your hands afterward--you'll avoid getting chili in your eye!

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Film

Put down your books and beer, and watch a movie instead

Gabriel Shaya

30 Nov 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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There have only been a few films that have been made in Laos in the past 30 years, but that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities to watch international ones. In Luang Prabang, foreigners get their film fixes by attending screenings at a few different bars and bookstores around town. There are also plenty of places where you can buy cheap bootleg DVDs from China and Thailand. You may want to ask to see the movie before leaving the store, just to make sure the image of the back of someone's head in a theater won't be obstructing your view.

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Packing

Pack light and keep your parts unbleached

Gabriel Shaya

30 Nov 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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Packing light is almost always the way to go when traveling. In Laos, the laundry service is cheap and reliable (same day service could be as inexpensive as 60 cents per kilo), and most things you may run out of, you can find here at a local shop. Bring enough deodorant though, as it's often a challenge to find ones here without whitening chemicals. Also, if you have big feet, don't expect to find shoes that fit in Luang Prabang. Lao people are generally and generously smaller, meaning stories don't stock the large sizes, so it's best to bring your footwear from home.

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Religion

Show your respect by keeping your distance

Gabriel Shaya

25 Sep 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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Luang Prabang is quite a religious city. Each village provides food and funding for its individual temple on a daily basis. It is perfectly acceptable and sometimes even encouraged for foreigners to observe religious activities. However, you should maintain a respectful boundary. You may sit in the back of a temple while the monks are chanting, but do not take pictures from inside the pagoda. You may watch the morning alms-giving ceremony, but do not take part unless you understand the significance of the tradition and it is deeply meaningful for you. This deference will show your respect for religion and its believers.

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Politics

Don't talk politics in public

Gabriel Shaya

25 Sep 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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When the communists took over Laos, many royalists left the country. A large number have returned, but few have wanted to regain their citizenship. As the government is somewhat wary of this repatriated community, it's usually best to keep things simple and not talk politics with them--at least not in public.

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Music

Lao and louder

Gabriel Shaya

30 Nov 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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The Lao have an insatiable appetite for loud music, and at all times of the day. If you plan to attend a wedding or new baby party, be prepared to have ringing ears for a few hours after. And don't be surprised if your alarm clock doesn't turn off when you hit it--it's the blaring music of your neighbors who woke up at 6 am seemingly just to hear their favorite tunes.

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Sports

Two unusual sports: pentaque and kator

Gabriel Shaya

01 Oct 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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Lao people are big fans of soccer, which, of course, they call "football" when speaking English. But make sure to check out two other very popular sports: pentaque, which is a leftover from French colonialism, and is somewhat similar to Italian bocce, and kator, which is reminiscent of volleyball, but played with the feet and a small rattan ball. Lao people will be very happy to have you join in these games, and equally happy to have you buy the BeerLao when you lose.

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TV

Stick to the foreign-made stuff

Gabriel Shaya

30 Nov 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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The two television channels in Laos are of embarrassingly poor quality. The sounds is terrible, the camera work shoddy, and the hosts obnoxious. You would be better off watching Thai-dubbed Animal Planet. But don't fret--if your guesthouse in Luang Prabang has a cable TV (very few do, but yours might), you can tune in CNN or BBC for your news fixes, or HBO to catch a movie. Keep in mind that HBO Asia mostly gets the cheapest, bottom of the barrel flicks about giant man-eating snakes or zombie rats.

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Fashion

Keep it covered

Gabriel Shaya

22 Oct 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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When in Luang Prabang and most towns in Laos, it's best to dress conservatively. This means keeping your shirt on in public, wearing pants or shorts that hit somewhere around the knee, and for women, leaving the low cut shirts at home. People usually won't tell you they find your dress inappropriate, even if they do--that's because they don't like to make others lose face. So play it safe: dress modestly and leave some things to the imagination.

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Dating

Keep it under wraps

Gabriel Shaya

25 Sep 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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It is illegal for a foreigner to have sex with a Lao person, unless they are legally married. If you plan to, you risk being deported, or worse--spending time in a Lao prison. It is not unheard of for police to participate in extortion schemes where unsuspecting tourists are caught with a woman in their guesthouse room. Better not risk it, or make sure you know whom you are going home with after a night at the disco.

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Health

Got the sniffles? Your doctor's just a flight away.

Gabriel Shaya

25 Sep 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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The health care system in Laos leaves a lot to be desired. For example, the website of Luang Prabang's largest hospital lists abortion as one of the most common diseases facing locals. All ex-pats will agree that if you have a serious ailment, it's best to get on the next flight to Udon Thani or Bangkok, Thailand. There, you can rest assured you will be given the proper care.

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Slang

Laoglish

Gabriel Shaya

30 Nov 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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Some more modern slang involves the incorporation of English words into the Lao lexicon, often with a unique pronunciation for the added word. For example, many people say "khawy bo keh-yuh" to mean "I don't care." Or you might hear young people talking about "kin fee," meaning to eat without having to pay. Someone who is handsome might be considered "sa-mahd," or "smart." If a person sports a faux-hawk, they might have a "bek-ham sa-tai," or a style similar to David Beckham's.

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Nightlife

Wrist-twirling dances or cheap beer

Gabriel Shaya

30 Nov 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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In Luang Prabang, your nightlife options are somewhat limited, with two main nightclubs in town. Dao Fa is more popular for the younger crowd, and plays western and Thai pop. They recently remodeled the place (or rather, scrapped the old location and opened a new building directly behind) and now it looks like an art deco Christmas present inside. Muang Swa has a live band for much of the night, playing traditional Lao songs, and people dance in the traditional style (this includes an incredibly complicated version of Lao line dancing--forget the electric slide). If smoke and bizarre wrist-twirling dancing aren't your thing, head to one of the dozens of local Lao beer shops where you can drink a 640ml (22 oz.) BeerLao for less than $1.

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Being an American

Lao people like Americans, despite our past

Gabriel Shaya

01 Oct 2009

Laos

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Gabriel Shaya

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In the '60s and '70s, the US government dropped over 2 million tons of bombs on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country in the world. Despite this fact, Lao people do not harbor resentment against individual Americans. You might even receive a great welcome if you say you're American, complete with two thumbs up. So, as hard as it might be, do yourself a favor and leave your American guilt at the airport. There's no need to pin a Canadian flag on your backpack or fake a British accent. You'll see many remnants of the war, and will exhaust yourself apologizing if you're too focused on past. Instead, do your part to correct our government's wrongs--volunteer your time or make a donation to an organization that supports UXO cleanup.

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