tight grips and blank stares

Saibaidee from Laos,

If you surveyed a few hundred people as to the important qualities in a coach driver for an overnight journey over the mountains, you’d expect responses like 20:20 vision, conversant with the road rules, experience at the wheel, etc. Agree? I’m willing to wager 20 000 kip that nobody would mention the driver’s clothes. Even though we all agree that the relative importance of a driver’s garb is vanishingly small, it’s a tiny bit disconcerting to see our driver wearing a pair of shorts, thongs and no shirt.

To me – rationalising, no doubt – it’s a source of mirth. To M. – privately – it’s a source of unstated concern, eliciting a tighter grip on my hand and a blank stare into the middle distance. Anyway, we arrived safely and are both enjoying a week or more in Luang Prabang and places farther north.


Laos is a country that offers much for the responsible traveller. We are especially enjoying the beer (Beerlao) and the fruit shakes. The former has the advertising hook line: “Beer of the wholehearted people”. The fruit shakes are mixtures of fresh tropical fruit and carnation milk made with a blender and a radiant smile as you wait. I’m tempted to use the adjective I’ve eschewed on every previous occasion viz. “divine”. They are the perfect breakfast but I’ve been tasting the different combinations at all times of the day.
Vientiane is the capital of Laos, a country of 6 million people. The Lonely Planet provides some interesting facts. For instance, there is a very low rate of violence in the community. The evidence around us says the people are typically calm and gentle people. They are softly-spoken and welcoming of foreign visitors.

cultural evening

We attended a memorable “cultural evening” in the capital. This included sumptuous food, very pleasant live music and young people dancing in costume on stage.
The currency in Laos is the Kip. Typically, a coffee costs 10 000 kip and a newspaper is 4500 kip. One night’s accommodation costs us 120 000 kip. There are lots of zeros in every transaction. It begs the question: Why doesn’t the government surreptitiously move the decimal point three spots back at midnight and simply order everything to be adjusted the next day? I think it could work. It would obviate the need for individuals to carry around millions of kip in their pockets.

a 20-year vision

The Laos government has a plan for the country and the capital with a 20-year vision. It encourages public discourse on the subject. They give all the signs of seeking progress and development without the usual drawbacks. “You are in a country where the environment and wildlife need your help.” says one sign. An official billboard in the capital says – among other things – “Culture is an invaluable heritage from our ancestors. It is one fundamental factor of nationhood, the spiritual foundation of society. It is the guarantee of the perennity of our Nation. It is the strength and objective of national development.”
One chap jokes, “I’m from LA.” “Oh yes”, says the surprised tourist. “Yes LAO,” he finishes. My recommendation: “Aim higher, Comrade.”
The shirt is obviously not considered sine qua non for the bus drivers in Laos. Just as long as they get the bus through safely, eh what? It’s a good lesson in priorities. Safety first, apparel later. Are the dear readers with me on this one?

Bye from Laos


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