Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vientiane, Laos.

Vientiane could likely take the crown for being the quietest capital city in the world. Most restaurants close their doors by 10 pm with a few bars staying open a bit later. Despite its slow pace and general tranquility, the city is teeming with prostitutes who pound the pavement wearing too tight and too short mini dresses and stilettos. Although prostitution is prevalent all over Asia, just as it is prevelent globally, it is much more obvious in Vientiane compared to other Asian countries I have visited. In Vientiane, the men and women working the streets wear clothing and makeup that is over-sexed and exagerated. I saw both local and foreign men paying for sexual services, however, they conducted themselves differently while in public. The local men had the prostitutes walk a few paces behind them after requesting services. The foreigners walk beside the prostitutes, often touching them suggestively or holding their hands as though it was a romantic union. Police officers are an obvious presence but turn a blind eye to many illegal activities including prostitution and drug trafficking.
I found the Loatian people in Vientiane to be very uninterested in foriegners. They want the money that tourism brings but beyond that they largely ignored me. I did not feel welcome to take photographs of people here. And unlike many other tourists I will not shove a camera in an unwilling subjects face.
The riverside is under excavation as it is being prepared for massive amounts of construction. I imagine the river will be lined with expensive resort hotels in the next couple of years. This seems in line with the high costs I have encountered in Vientiane but I hope it does not create more harm than good for the local people by interupting their use of the land and its resources. Laos is by far the most expensive Asian country I have been too, which is surprising considering it is also one of the poorest. I expect tourist pricing is in effect. I feel it is fair for tourists to pay higher prices than locals but the level of inflation here makes it difficult for a backpacker on a small budget to get by.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. Approximately 30% of the bombs remain dormant and hidden. There are daily occurences of these bombs being disturbed and exploding across the country causing injury and death. This keeps Laotian people in poverty because they cannot use much of their land for agriculture or developement. I visited a museum run by an organization called MAG who removes and deactivates these bombs. They have been in operation for 16 years and there is still so much work to be done. This is a reputable organization who does invaluable work to improve the livelihood and safety of Loation people. To learn more or to make a donation please visit Every dollar counts!