“So what is it about Laos that is so charming, so alluring that makes us want to pick up house, cross over the Mekong River and settle down? Is it the dream of a slower, quieter life? Is it the gentle and honest nature of the Laotian people? I believe the answer is a little bit of both. We are nostalgic for a past when life was simpler, more caring, more down to earth. Modern and more developed, our capitalist society have rendered us victims to money, power and influence.”
– Swisa, Having “Me” Time
This post resounded with me in a number of ways. The author’s images of the slow life of the Mekong, particularly in Laos does seem to ring true with many of the stretches of it I have seen. And each time I have been to Laos only makes me want to stay there longer.
Laos is itself an extension of Thai culture. Many of their customs and architecture are nearly identical. The languages are mutually intelligible and Thai popular media is dominant in Laos broadcasts. I’ve even seen images of the Thai king posted in many places around Laos.
But there is something that just seems so much more genuine about Laos culture, and I think that might be what the author of this post was hinting at. There is something inherently insular about Thailand culture. Anyone who has spent time in Thailand certainly is familiar with the word Farang. It extends beyond that though, and for so many people you meet here, you are either Thai or ‘other,’ regardless of it’s even a neighboring state like Laos. And this isn’t racism, Thais are more than accepting and welcoming of people of any kind, but it just seems more a disinterest in cultures outside of their own. This exists in Laotian culture as well, but from what I have seen, to a much lesser extent.
But the other topic this post gets at, the slow life inherent in these Laos towns, is certainly true. Again, anyone who has spent time in Thailand is acquainted with “Thai time”. Take this concept up a notch and you might get “Lao time.” In my apartment in Bangkok, I’m often awoken by the crow of roosters kept in cages in the surrounding neighborhood. Why there are roosters kept in the middle of a city of 8 million people, I have no idea. But, in Laos villages, these same roosters, pigs, and other livestock simply roam freely through the town. I have no idea how they keep track of which belongs to who, but I guess it works somehow.
Much of this concept extends to even the cities of Laos, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, all of which are built along the Mekong River as well, hardly register as cities on the scale that most of us are familiar with. And while Vientiane and Luang Prabang were cities I appreciated, Pakse and the whole province of Champasak, was an area I just immediately fell in love with.
There is a reason for this though. Pakse, and by extension its surrounding province, is one of the lesser-known, though very important crossroads in all of South East Asia. Only about an hour from the borders of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, this small city has people coming and going from all directions. This gave it that unique blend of slow Laotian city life combined with an international pace and almost a sense of cosmopolitanism. At least as much as a small city in Laos could have.
This is what I love to see in the world, and often what I feel I need to see. Sure, the idea of the slow Laos town is appealing. And I love going there to see it for a short duration. But spending a whole life in a place like that when there is so much else to see? That’s why I left Marquette. It’s why I left Grand Rapids. I love to visit small towns, be it Laos or U.S. or anywhere, but I can’t stay for too long.
I’m inherently someone who loves cities. From the historic and archaeological concept of them to the sprawling modern megalopolises. Cities give variety. Cities give new experiences. They give choice and chaos and are constantly surprising you. For the moment Bangkok is providing me with that. But, my time is running out, and I am very excited to see what something or someplace new has in store for me.