Lao – Traveling through one of the poorest countries of the world

My first hours in Lao. I feel free. Finally there is no guide anymore in my car. There is no travel plan. I could define my daily destiny again. I was tired of the 7.200 KM through China. I needed a break. The cute little Nong Kiao with its beautiful landscape which is located only 200 KM from the last border point was supposed to be the right spot. I had to hurry to arrive before it gets dark. I always try to avoid driving in the dark because it has one main reason: It is simply dangerous. The vehicles in the dark have switched their lights of or driving with long distance light which flashes you and makes it very difficult to see the vehicles without light. The risk is too high to hit in this situation animals, cars or even worse: people.

So I was driving through this beautiful landscape on roads which were surprisingly in a good shape (I will go to it later). But only the good roads were remembering me that I am living in the year 2016. When I was driving through the little villages I was thinking I live decades before. Kids played with their bicycle tire as it was their only toy. And on the streets was a whole animal farm: chicken, pigs and cows were everywhere. I figured out later that I was driving through one of the poorest countries of the world.

Szenen aus dem Landleben
Scene of the live on the country side
Tiere auf den Straßen
Animals at the street

How does it come to this point? For that it is necessary to have a look into the history books. Lao was once one of the several colonies of France. Some years after the Second World War France were accepting Lao as an independent country. But the country was very unstable. In the north were the communists who sympathized with China and Vietnam. In the south were the supporters of the monarchs which were supported by the U.S. who wanted to avoid that another socialistic state was come into being in this region. In the following years Lao was suffering a bloody civil war.

And this wasn’t bad enough. Lao was playing an important role in the second Indochina war of the U.S. with Vietnam. The main replenishment route of the North Vietnamese towards South Vietnam was going through Lao. The Americans wanted to cut this route off and they started bombing it. They dropped during the war more than two million tons of explosives over Lao. A lot of people lost their home, their arms and legs, their lives. Several unexploded bombs are everywhere in the country. And some bombs were cut off and are used now as a barbecue grill.

 

Das einfache Leben auf dem Land. Der Fluss ist Hauptverbindungsader
The simple life at the country side. The river is the main connection to reach some villages
Fischer auf dem Mekong
Fisherman at the Mekong

After this war was finished in 1975 the Democratic People Republic of Lao was founded. But live wasn’t becoming better in this brother state of the GDR. The inhabitants didn’t accept the system that private property should become state property. The planning economy didn’t work out neither. Reforms came too late and the country developed very slowly.

Hoffnung
Hope

Since a few years times in Lao are better. But the price is high. By the end of the cold war the country started cooperating with China. China was investing in the infrastructure which was through war and bad economy in a very bad condition. In exchange Lao gave China land for use. This was the beginning of the end. Thousand year old forest does not exist anymore. And for sure the normal inhabitants didn’t see a penny. The money went to the rich investors or to the corrupt officials.

Eine Verkäuferin in Luang Prabang
A street vendor in Luang Prabang

Well I was driving through this beautiful and remote land. But every traveler who get this unique chance to see these places of the world should know that behind this village romance is an empty money purse. The people have to work very hard for their money and some stomachs remain hungry when the land which is supposed to be used for rice cultivation is flooded by the water of the several dams in the country or is used as a teak wood plantation of one of the investors from Vietnam.

Szene aus einem laotischen Dorf
Scene of a Lao village

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Mathias Written by:

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