Main Content

Content Text

May 27, 2014, Laos

The slow lane in Laos

Dave Fox goes off the beaten path and is rewarded with closeup encounters of Laotian life

Dave Fox

IT WAS my second afternoon in Vientiane and my feet were blissfully sore.

I had been walking all over the Laotian capital — partly because I didn’t feel like hassling with the city’s aggressive tuk-tuk drivers, but also because I knew that navigating on foot offers perspectives I can’t catch from moving vehicles.

I had inhaled incense-sweetened solitude at Buddhist monasteries, purchased a pineapple from the back of a pick-up truck, and exchanged hellos with strangers as I peeked into their homes and lives.

With just over 200,000 residents, central Vientiane feels almost too cosy to be a national capital. Other than the tuk-tuk drivers, people seem unrushed. Few buildings exceed three or four storeys.

The streets were quiet enough that, at times, I could even hear an electrical buzz from snarled wires overhead. 

The mellow mood made it easy to ignore the country’s war-torn past. However, a visit to the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (Cope) put things in perspective.

Cope is Laos’ primary provider of wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs for victims of landmines from the Second Indochina War. Its small museum explains the ongoing horror of unexploded landmines in rural areas.

In a country grappling with poverty, some people comb the countryside for military scrap metal, which fetch around 1,000 to 2,000 Laotian kip (S$0.15 to S$0.30) per kilo, risking their lives in the process.

A lucky disappointment

On my third day in Vientiane, my blisters needed a rest, so I rented a dilapidated bicycle for US$2 (S$2.50).

I bumped into Lisa, a German tourist I met at the train station when I first arrived. We pedalled towards Beerlao Brewery, 13km out of town. According to my guidebook, it offers tours.

It was a sweltering ride in heavier traffic than the downtown core. We made some wrong turns. A thick language barrier made asking directions difficult.

Two hours later, when we finally found the brewery, we learnt that the tours had been temporarily cancelled.

Frustrated, we pedalled back through rush hour. But instead of stopping when we reached the town centre, we followed an asphalt path along the Mekong River past a stretch of touristy restaurants.

After a couple of kilometres, the asphalt turned to dirt. We found a rickety drink shack, slapped together with plywood and corrugated aluminium.

Inside, guys were laughing and playing cards. Outside, a man was strumming a guitar. Kids were flying kites. Families were picnicking.

The Laotian menu was indecipherable but we managed to order beers. We were the only foreigners in sight.

This, to me, was far more enticing than a corporate brewery tour.

Contrasting towns

Over the next few days, I travelled by bus and minivan towards Luang Prabang, 340km north. I broke my journey in Vang Vieng, one of the oddest places I visited.

Dramatic limestone peaks surround Vang Vieng. The Nam Xong River slices through the village. An airstrip, used by American forces during the war, is now an outdoor market.

But what Vang Vieng has recently become infamous for is a binge-drinking backpacker party scene. It is not for the faint-hearted.

In contrast, Luang Prabang is a chilled-out town that goes to bed early. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it fuses European colonial and traditional Lao architecture.

Tourists flock to Luang Prabang to observe an early morning ritual as hundreds of Buddhist monks in saffron robes file through town in silent meditation, collecting food donations to sustain them for the day. It is an ageold, sacred tradition.

Sadly, however, camera-wielding vacationers were disrupting the monks’ walking meditation with flash photography.

English tuition

I got a close-up encounter with Laotian life at Big Brother Mouse, a non-profit literacy organisation. Its visitor centre invites travellers to volunteer at daily English tutoring sessions.

I was partnered with seven teenagers, all of whom spoke basic English. Some were there just to chat. Others had homework questions.

It was an intense but fun couple of hours as the students bombarded me with questions about grammar, Singapore, the United States, world travel and anything else they could think of.

They taught me about the worldview of Laotian teens, telling me about their homes, schools and families. When it was time to go, they asked if I would be back the next day. Unfortunately, I was flying home in the morning.

On my first journey to Laos, I had followed the most popular tourist route, yet found plenty of untouristy situations.

That is part of the magic in this small, landlocked country. Laos is a land where life moves slowly — and to fully enjoy it, you should too.


Lao Airlines flies from Singapore to Vientiane three times a week.

■ There are several flights daily between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. You can also make the journey by bus or other local vehicles. Overland prices start at around S$12 for the eight to 12- hour trip. However, it is a bumpy ride, not recommended for people prone to motion sickness.

■ If you do go overland and wish to break up the journey, Vang Vieng is the most central overnight stop. Be forewarned, however, that you will find a loud, all-night party scene and an environment unsuitable for young children.

■ In Vientiane, visit Wat Si Muang, which was built in 1563 and is one of the city’s busiest Buddhist temples.

Side Bar

Most Read This Month
中欧航旅庆10周年 NATAS旅展大赠送

中欧航旅(ASA Holidays)在7月份迈入10周年纪念,在明天起至星期日举行的NATAS旅游展,推出多项崭新旅游配套及大赠送系列,包括胜安航空包机直飞柬埔寨、桂林、三亚九州、冲绳岛、台湾及泰国;以及与著名艺人郑各评、陈天文、陈罗密欧及方伟杰,分别展开畅游不丹、皇家加勒比国际游轮圣诞节海上游、柬埔 寨及台湾的快乐旅程。NATAS旅游展优惠

●订购欧洲、美国、新西兰及异国风情旅游配套,赠送樟宜机场SATS Premier Lounge贵宾室使用券。
●订购中国、台湾及日本旅游配套,赠送AmbassadorTransit Lounge贵宾室使用券。


消费满$500有机会赢取首奖马赛地轿车、次奖七天阿拉斯加游轮双人游,以及三奖八天希腊双人游。第三奖抽奖将于8月2日中午12时30分在NATAS旅 游展举行,千万勿错失良机!使用花旗银行信用卡可享有多三倍机会!




你知道不丹在哪里吗?她位于印度与中国两块古老大陆之间,巍峨的喜马拉雅山像一道巨大的屏障将她和世界隔离,到今天她依然是一块尚未问世的净土。留学英国 的不丹国王推崇“国民的快乐总值”比“国民生产总值”重要,因此不丹是世界上快乐指数最高的国家。今年,不丹为纪念父王吉格梅·辛格·旺楚克诞生60周 年,推出“2015不丹幸福旅游年”,中欧航旅在不丹旅游局赞助下,隆重推介不丹航空(Bhutan Airlines)包机,从新加机直飞不丹王国(Kingdom of Bhutan),与艺人郑各评同游幸福国度,所有参

五/六/七天行程畅游首都廷布、旧首都普纳卡古都、第二大城帕罗,包括国家纪念碑、皇宫扎西却宗、章岗拉康寺庙、金刚座釋迦牟尼佛像、民间遗产博物馆、普 纳卡城堡、父母亲河、楚克旺耶纪念碑108座佛塔、古老的凯奇拉康寺庙、建在悬崖峭壁的“虎穴”-塔桑寺、工艺品市集、周末市场、射击学校,以及国家艺术 学院了解造纸、织布等传统技能。独家安排:观赏不丹“国宝”动物——Takin;不丹民族服饰体验+观赏传统歌舞表演;特别出发:11月15日;其他出 发: 11月16、21、26日、12月1、6、11、16及21日。

与方伟杰同行 8/9天台湾欢乐游

年终学校假期举家出游,乘坐胜安包机直飞台中,乘坐子弹快车到台南,游览高雄旗津岛、六合夜市、逢甲夜市、走马濑农场、北门水晶教堂、井仔脚瓦盘盐田;乘 船游日月潭、文武庙;到南投青青草原、金勇DIY 休闲农场、六福村主题乐园、苗栗巧克力庄园、九份、淡水老街和台北101。安排住宿走马濑农场、清境农场、温泉酒店,以及从房内落地窗可观赏到动物的关西 六福庄;品尝担仔面、台式料理、云庄欧式料理、稻草人风味及民宿风味等。特别出发:11月29日。


以一首自创歌曲“Un...Un...Unbelievable”在网络爆红的陈天文,将与你登上皇家加勒比国际游轮旗下十大游轮之一的“海洋水手号” (Mariner of the Seas),度过一个“Un...Unbelievable”的圣诞佳节!

六天五夜的东南亚风情之旅,让你和家人朋友沉浸在天文大哥的欢笑声中,和他一起唱歌、拍照,还有圣诞大餐、圣诞老人派送礼物给孩子,体验让人人津津乐道的 溜冰表演、皇家大道欢乐游行、双层主餐厅的美食、大型舞台表演,以及与梦工厂的卡通人物功夫熊猫阿宝、怪物世莱克和马达加斯加共进早餐、拍照等。你还可以随游轮停靠时到吉隆坡、浮罗交怡或普吉岛游览,体验轻松休闲的海上假期。特别出发:12月24日。

与陈罗密欧同行 6天神奇富历史性的柬埔寨


乘坐胜安包机直飞柬埔寨西南部的西哈努克市(Sihanoukville),畅游蛇屋、山顶佛寺;前往金边参观皇宫、银宝塔、独立纪念牌塔、金界娱乐城、 国家博物馆、波博罪恶博物馆、杀人场、吴哥艺术学院、乘船游洞里萨湖,以及游览世界七大奇迹之一的吴哥窟,它是高棉王国从9世纪到15世纪建造的都城和寺 庙,王朝迁都金边后,逐渐荒芜被淹没于热带灌木雨林之中,直到19世纪末才被重新发现。特别出发:12月1日。

Patagonia’s ice-carved waterways

Where waterfalls cascaded from fjordsides

My awesome vacation

Newsmakers recall their best moments overseas this year

Latest travel story
On a dragon’s trail

Wu Shangyuan meets the famous — and venomous — inhabitants of Komodo National Park

Party at Sea

Suriati Jamil offers eight reasons to experience It’s The Ship, the largest festival at sea in Asia

The great Greek escape

Jonathan Tan heads to Greece for a week of history, culture and some of the best seaside views in the world