LAOS is a Communist Country.  And some conversations might be left at home, politics, regimes, history, bombs etc are not good topics The official language of the Lao PDR is Lao as is spoken in Vientiane, a language that is very close to the Thai language. This is a tonal language (6 different tones). Besides the official language, which has become the common linguistic vehicle between all the ethnic groups, there are also many other languages or dialects which are still spoken by the minorities and in particular by Sino-Tibetan families.

In LAOS today Route 13, is the most important highway in the country of Laos.   Since it is the only major road.  It begins at Boten in the North of Laos at the Chinese border. It connects the city of Vientiane to Luang Prabang in the North and roughly follows the line of the Mekong River down to the border with Cambodia.   Route 13 passes through the cities of Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. 

The road then continues at National Highway 7 in Cambodia. Also this national highway leads past all three international airports in Laos,  Vientiane Airport,  Luang Prabang Airport , and Pakse Airport.

Between Boten and Nateuy the Route 13 is at a length of 20 km part of the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway, which is also part of the Asian Highway AH3.  From Nateuy to Vientiane, the Route 13 is part of the AH12 and from Vientiane to the border of Cambodia AH11.

  • The road is mostly paved, though the pavement is in poor condition at places. 
  •  It is also relatively narrow, with sharp curves.  Certainly not up to a par with any roads in the US or Europe, a guide is suggested.
  • There are no markings or lighting on the road. 
  • Several daily buses run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, taking 8-10 hours. 
  • This is the great advancement by a Communist regime,  almost 50 years in the making.  The Communists run at two speeds slow and oppressive.  Thats about what speed you should drive on this road when passing Yak, Donkey, Human or Buffalo carts.  
  • The bulk of LAO IS unchanged and under Communist control. 


TRAVEL TO LAO:   Stephen Bugno - World Traveler

What is meant by a different culture is the outside, in-your-face culture.  If you’re a traveler it’s hard to find authentic Lao food, for example, is not readily available. The majority of cafes have one thing on the menu: sub-standard imitation Vietnamese noodle soup ( PHO) pumped up with MSG. I didn’t see any real Lao food until I went to the Vientiane night market (which I was very impressed with).

The Thais and Vietnamese have things that make them distinct, and the Laotians really don’t. A reason for that may be their small population of 7 million, compared to 64 m in Thailand and 90 m in Vietnam, and because of the 61 years of recent French colonial rule.

Being an optimist, I’m thinking perhaps there is more Lao culture inside the home.  My travels have taught me that there are outside cultures and inside cultures. Unfortunately I was unable visit inside the home of a Laotian family, so I can’t comment.

Suggestion : Stay with a reputable group.  Stephen Bugno is an accomplished knowledgeable traveler and familier with that part of the world.

Every traveler had told me, Lao people will be the friendliest, most laid back people you will meet.  And I agree with that statement for the most part. I did meet many friendly people and Laotians are so laid back almost to a fault.

I would even go so far as to say the majority of the population are friendly and decent. However, I would add that the majority of people in the tourism industry (or those who deal with foreigners) are unfriendly and dishonest. 

Countless times my bill after eating included items I had not consumed and in most towns I walked three km or more from the bus station into town with my pack instead of paying an inflated price to a tuk-tuk driver.

Furthermore, Laotians are at times the laziest people I’ve ever met. So it’s hard sometimes to get things done that a traveler might need.  

In addition to this, I was treated much differently while traveling with my Asian friend compared to when I was alone. I was left wondering whether racism played a role in this.

Most frustrating for me while traveling is not being able to operate on the local economy. Prices in Laos were inflated for foreigners, and we are not given the chance for any other option. 

Well, I thought, maybe that is the price we pay being “rich” visitors in one of the “poorest” countries on earth.  Well, bordering Cambodia is also near the bottom of that “poor country” list and travelers are able to operate on the local economy there.

I think one of the main differences with Laos is the fact that most locals can’t even afford to travel around their own country or eat outside of their home. This is just one example of what keeps prices for two of traveler’s necessities higher.

The rest of the time I was quoted higher prices because I’m a foreigner and many travelers just pay higher prices without thinking too much about it and locals know they are “rich” because of several reasons I don’t need to mention

I still like to be treated equally and I like to be given a fair price in the local economy.  I like to bargain in a friendly way with vendors at the market or with guesthouse owners. Getting an honest price makes me feel like everybody else; makes me feels accepted by the people of the country in which I’m traveling.

Part of the development of two economies may be due to such a rapid rise in tourism. In the past 20 years, international tourists have gone from 80,000 to 1.8 million. That is a huge increase: difficult for a sleepy landlocked country to digest. One in every 11 jobs is in the tourism sector.

Tourism is affecting Laos and its people in a tremendous way. The Lao people are either changing due to their constant contact with westerners or else they have simply adjusted by treating foreigners in a different manner.

Most travelers coming either to or from Thailand will notice a huge drop in quality from everything Thai to that of Laos. In Laos, you’ll pay more for pretty much everything and it will be of much lesser quality. One reason for that is because almost nothing is made in Laos, and therefore imported goods are more expensive. For other things, like accommodation and local food, I don’t have an explanation.

The one exception is Beer Lao, the ubiquitous national beverage. It is cheaper than any Thai beer and is actually better quality too. However, every ingredient except the rice is imported.

EDITOR:   If you ever visited LAO, you will find drinking is very common and acceptable because wine, beer, and booze might be the safest thing to drink.  A bottled water plant is open in Vientiane, the first of it’s kind.  

A chain of events which created a unique scenario.  The main source of water in the country is the MeKong possibly the one of the dirtiest rivers in the world.  Safe libation is beer or wine and certainly the French created a huge market of wine if the locals can afford it.  Viva La France! French wine drinking since 1893 and runs current.

You probably have the LAO equivalent of Moonshiners with all kinds of homegrown bathtub booze.  Drinking is treated as the national sport and get used to it.    The National Beer of Lao is BeerLao and comes in can, bottles draft and anything that holds wetness.  People drink out in the open.

I traveled in Laos for almost a month to nearly every part of the country. I very rarely speak negatively of a destination, and had I visited Laos 10 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have had the opinion I do today. 

All I’m saying is that Laos wasn’t the county that people described to me. It is a changed place, affected by tourism, and a difficult place to travel within the local economy.  Go to Laos; check it out for yourself. There are still great places for independent travelers to visit, lots of friendly people, and plenty of adventures to be had.

- The best time to visit Laos is between November and February
- The hot season from March to May is very dry and certain river trips are not possible
- The rainy season from June to October and river trips are possible

Clothing During the hot season, January to April, bring light clothes in cotton and linen, sunglasses and a hat. Sunscreen and bug repellent is also recommended. From November to December, the cold season, it is a good idea to bring warm clothing such as sweaters and jackets for the morning and evening, and even more so if you are visiting the mountainous regions of the North. From June to October, during the rainy season, it is best to have waterproof clothing. It is best to wear easily removable shoes or sandals when visiting the temples.



At meetings I noticed there are different emotions running around in the room even between those who all came from LAO.  Surprisingly, the comments are based on age and where you lived in the old country.  

The Elders who managed to survive the death camps and relocation granted American citizenship and privilege.  The elders want the old customs and food, clothing, and in some cases religion and try to press it on the children so they will know their heritage.  I agree you have to know who you are and where you came from.

These people have centuries of it, meaning heritage and tradition.  Much unchanged.  Some almost 50 plus years later are still fighting the war in their minds.  There are enough atrocities from that era which stretched from the late fifties to the mid seventies to keep it alive.

Those who immigrated and managed to get under the immigration umbrella and really prefer the lifestyle here, and do not really want to associate with the old country. They are Americans now.  Occasionally having traditional Holidays celebrated and shared with the elders is a community enterprise and assimilate with American Holidays.  They will celebrate the LAO New Years Eve with a bash and the American New years on January1st with a bash.   

The children of the newest 2nd and third generations who feel they are by birthright in the US Americans and adapted well to this style.  They will attend functions more for the party atmosphere than the beliefs...

The Hmong who follow their traditions closely (they are a smaller but very unified group).  And those cultural differences reflect in their beliefs and a strong centralized community.  There are still enough differences in attitude, beliefs,  and old memories that create small tensions.  Mostly from what I have observed, they treat each other as simply different tribes...

LAO religious images and art is also distinctive and sets Laos apart from its neighbors. The Calling for Rain posture of Buddha images in Lao, for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, cannot be found in other Southeast Asian Buddhist art traditions. 

Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lek Pha Lam, the Lao version of India's epic Ramayana.

Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcribed onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in vats. Another excellent example of the richness of Lao culture is in its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principle instrument is the Khaen; a wind instrument, which comprises a double row of bamboo-like reeds, fitted in a hardwood sound box. The khaen is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or Saw. The national folk dance is the Lamvong, a circle dance in which people dance circles around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circle danced by the individual, another one by the couple, and a third one danced by the whole party.

The LAO in the US are really several independent groups living in six major areas of the United States.  Each with their own causes, several locations and several opinions.  It reminded me at times of my own family gatherings with six relatives around a dinner table and eight opinions...  

LAO history divided the country by tribe,  some tribes had their own language, where they lived determined who they were,  elevation above sea level, ethnicity, age, and political party admission.   All brought to the United States and doing well adding to a common ethnicity sometimes confusing and lots of different pages.  Some of the baggage should have been left in LAO.

Big gaps between the 2nd and third generations, born, educated and living the life styles of Americans as they are all citizens.  The elders want to hold on to the customs they hold sacred, driven by their religion and staunch family structure.  The younger generations never fought the wars so they have no clue as to the imbedded feelings the elders who came from the internment camps, prisons or simply escaped from capture and got out through Thailand.

Seeing three million plus of their people, including Vietnamese, Cambodian and LAOs, slaughtered and had to seek refuge and were lucky to be interned and finally re-established in the US and Canada.  The youth brought up as Americans occasionally follow the old ways as they are part religion, customs as long as the elders promote something like long boats races and holidays to attract younger the LAO.  But it is a rule of diminishing returns.

Faced with a changing culture, you can see subtle demeanor and differences in the LAO low-land refugees, and Hmong refugees through their second generations born in the US and the third generation of America children.  Being they are American born both the Low-landers and the Hmong children, they do assimilate going to American schools, cell-phones, drivers, new courses and curriculums for them, sports, and many excelled, some at the tops of their class and some of the HS students graduating early doing college work. They enjoy the benefits of citizenship.

With some of the first and second generation, traditional seriousness is treated with a smile and a laugh, it’s the Lowland LAO way.  The kids are more American and the elders wish for them to retain the honesty and virtues of the LAO culture.  Some kids who are being educated in American schools, may be the first to attend any school in their family tree. These kids will become more independent thinkers.

AS the children mitigate into US society and education, the challenges in this world are more competitive and some of their youth who are very competitive have risen to the occasion and are excellent students and coming into acceptance in the professional society. Those are the ones I want to see rise to the occasion.  Those that need mentoring in some subjects should get it.

First a language problem, I don’t speak LAO, and they like to play secretive at times.  Big difference of the language you hear and the language you understand, and at times they don’t mind being rude nor interpreting for you.   They ignore you.  Second, facial expressions, they will tell you to drop dead but it always ends in a laugh or smile.  I instilled the roll my eyes back in disdain when they pulled that stunt.  

After that, I ignored that person since I realized he was using his position for gain, was fluent in English and had a monopoly on getting things done since no one else wanted to work, nor had a good command of the language.

Though many have made as strong connection with the US, there are areas they could use a little help with.   My thoughts went toward:   Advancing education, through scholarships, mentoring and peer groups, for the children. Another project was putting some pressure on the Congress for recognition of the part the LAO soldiers and Hmong fighters played in the rescues of downed pilots during the Secret War.  Congress did nothing after many contacts.

There is a big cultural difference, indifference, hatred, poor communication and in some cases a large distance between the Low-Landers and the Hmong. I felt this pressure from day one trying to help them.  I saw some of their tendency to act oblivious, reluctance to change, a language problem, to pressures of those I had work with, to ignore things, some lacking passion, not very good planners,  and  I wrote once the LAO wristwatch must have 36 hours on it since they had no concept of timing.


One of the advisors, said, the Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, and the LAO listen to it.  Understandable, rice growing knows no politics, only water and hand labor.  The LAO Low-lander’s, were rice farmers in a landlocked agrarian country, and content to live without politics and just be self sufficient and farm.  Happiness would be if they were just left alone.   

But they weren’t ever left alone...I refer to it as “ Small farmer thinking:  your world was only being in your food source, and missing the big picture.  Lao had been under a siege of some sort for years, hundreds of years, you don’t need chains to keep the status quo.

The middle of LAO was home to the LAO Middle people and the slight elevation up to 1200 feet was theirs and the area received the highest accumulation of ordinance ever by the US.  It was a dumping ground for unused ordnance.  To see it from the air flying from Vientiane North, it looks like a moonscape.

Above 1200 feet belonged to the Hmong and related tribes. These were tough mountain people, fighters and knew every square inch of their land and how to fight on it.  It was closer to the Ho Che Minh trail and that meant the Hmong tribes had the advantage and training began, then the Secret War.

In some places today this attitude extends to different tribes as some tribal conflicts never either go away or die off.   It is not spoken of as courtesy, prevails in public, but I have heard it expressed by some old timers, still fighting wars in their minds after a few beers and usually some unwilling listeners. The noise got louder.  


I had met a few wonderful people from the LAO community and we talked and I understood they could use a little help on projects involving education and working with the children.   They also needed badly some representation in Washington.

The problem was for me acceptance. The elders were grateful for any assistance and the younger people thought they knew it all which was a combination of scam, shams and some really negligent actions.

Here in the states a beer popular with the LAO Beer experts is Heineken usually seen at many functions.  By the truckload and is very common at LAO functions.  Even business functions are sometimes 100 proof.  Hennessy seems to be the shooter or shot glass hit and varied mostly Red wines are for the group and with food.   If BeerLao was distributed in the US, it would be a sellout.

The first meeting of theirs I attended was a waste of time.  No order all in LAO and I didn’t have a clue or interpreter. On more than one occasion as a guest and advisor for the group, after Roberts Rules of Order got trashed, the first speakers got trashed, and I was being ignored and disruptive actions, and too much booze.  

By the time It was my turn, I was told to sit and I got ignored.  It was an insult to me,  I had prepared plans for their future, and I was there with a presentation and share ideas for their educational needs, not their alcoholic needs.  I thanked them for their courtesy, took my notes and walked out.   Strike One!

At the LAO new years celebration with politicians four months later,  we invited it began as cocktail time It was not what I had expected but it was Heineken time.  You don’t ignore beer,  a few ( many) smuggled bottles of hard liquor and wine time.  I had things to say, no one was listening as it was that earlier time.  

The elders and the politicians, the former mayor of St Petersburg, Distinguished guests from The Local Veterans Associations, representatives from Veterans of Foreign Wars all of us were ignored, our music theme we taped for the evening intro was America by Neil Diamond, suddenly was sabotaged… but the player worked for the LAO singer who flew in from Atlanta.   

And as the booze and beer is got consumed the noise got louder… By the time it was my turn, it was chaos and I started my speech, and realized I was wasting my time.  At that point I thanked my host who apologized for their rudeness and I left.  Strike Two!

Enough, this was not a group of people I fought with and they not going to pass muster with the corporations and organizations I was planning to incorporate.

This was not a group I would support nor could support.  At two athletic events, I was asked to help with, I looked at the plans and looked at the facts.  I refused to be parts of boating and booze.  I saw more booze and injuries caused by a lack of proper safety measures, insurance and alcohol, one heart attack at New Years was enough,  and one person falling in the water, at the boat races.  All if properly handled would have been OK but paying attention to laws is not a tradition.  Strike Three!  Too much liability.  I wished them well, I am still friends with the people I met originally.

There were many other challenges and hangups that would have to be eventually worked out, lots more challenges for the representation they needed here in the states, especially in the Florida districts.  

But someone else will have to do it.  I passed, rarely have I done so in my entire life, but I got the message.   Even in a small community there is corruption and gamesmanship,  just call it politics.   When they get a bit more considerate, stop being rude and more civilized maybe someone will help them.  It was strike three -