Footnotes from Laos

As we headed to Cambodia, we put together a few remaining thoughts about the wonderful land of Laos.

The Hmong tribe

There are many tribal villages that have been resettled by the Lao government, and are called model villages perhaps because they are typically the ones visited by tourists and because they have a bit of unreality about them (a shift in traditional sources of food or earnings, or a prettification of their dwellings and environs).

This seemed particularly true at a Hmong village near Luang Prabang. The tribe was relocated there from the upper hill country so they would no longer grow opium and cut down forests, but in their model village were shifted to a livelihood based on valley farming and tourism. Perhaps it was just as well, for the Hmong otherwise could not be particularly popular here. Their tribes were the primary military forces recruited by our CIA to battle the eventually victorious communists during the secret Laos war of the sixties. That’s why many Hmong moved to theUnited Stateswhen the war ended, escaping retribution no doubt and finding a greater freedom.

Characters: Our flirty guide

Strange how in a foreign country, you find yourself expecting everyone to be somewhat the same, for some of the big cultural differences seem so dominant at first. And naturally those you spend some time with would conform to our personalities as we travelled together.

Yet a moment’s thought reminds you that people around the world exhibit their own weird characteristics within their own culture. Our two principal guides inLaoscould not have been more different: one serious, the other a jokester, bantering with the ticket takers at sites who seemed largely unamused anyway; one, thoughtful and serious in demeanor, the other, always breaking out in bird calls and whoops, accompanied by a varied repertory of body contortions.

The main characteristic we noticed about the jokester, though, was that he appeared to flirt with every young woman we passed, whether at the ticket booths or at food stalls or on the road. He even flirted with a woman on the Cambodian side of the Mekong though he knew little Khmer language.  Toward the end of our time with him, much to our surprise, we discovered he was married and had just had a child born a few days before we met him…or at least we think that’s what he said. So what’s with the flirting? Just an exuberance of spirit and temperament? Restless youth that he hasn’t outgrown? A roving eye? Of course, we didn’t probe and we’ll never know for sure, but speculating is a good tourist’s sport anyway, 

Airport security in Laos: apparently not much of an issue

We flew out of three airports inLaos, each of which was pretty small, but did have a semblance of the security check-in apparatus we’re familiar with. However, we didn’t get a strong impression that any of the staff were particularly worried about any of the passengers.

At none of the three did we have to remove our shoes, no one cared we were carrying water bottles/candles and some gel, and the computer just  passed through inside the backpack.

One airport featured our favorite security measure: our backpacks were just slid along a table and left unscanned like at museum. At another, we know the water bottles were full, but again no one cared. The metal detector did go off as someone brought a bag of purchases through, but only the passenger himself seemed to care that this happened.

On the other hand, you never know when even an out-of-the-way airport will get rigorous. Friends of ours lost a few very expensive bottles of wine to stepped-up security at a small Australian airport. So be prepared.

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