Laos is one of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia, especially to those traveling all over the Banana Pancake Trail.
The country is well known among the travelers over here as a party hotspot and people keep raving about the Vang Vieng tubing/ drinking fun, the stunning waterfalls, the magical Blue Lagoon that looks too good to be true in the photos on Google.
And that’s because it’s really not true!
Even though we always try to look at things and places with an open mind and be accepting of things the way they are, this time we really didn’t like Laos.
And there’s one particular big reason why none of us want to come back to this country, and also a bunch of little ones.
For the first time in my life, I couldn’t wait for the moment when I’ll finally get out of this country! Here’s why…
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◽IF YOU CAME HERE, THEN GIVE US YOUR MONEY!
There’s nothing more that puts me off when traveling, than the feeling that locals are trying to scam me or make me pay ridiculous prices for any kinds of stuff just because I’m a foreigner and apparently have a lot of money.
If I ever get the vibe from locals like “if you’ve come here, give us your money”, I tend to dislike the place.
And sure, there are always a few people who try to scam others, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the vibe from the whole place.
This time in Laos this is exactly how I felt from the day 1 in the country. Everywhere I went I was asked to pay a lot of money for extremely low-quality services.
I noticed so many things set up in the way so that tourists would have to be forced to pay for something more than once, and a lot more than they should.
Sure I could be oblivious and just pretend that these poor people have struggled a lot (which they have) and need to make money, so I’ll just play along and give them my money.
But that’s not how things should work in the normal world. Scamming people is a short-term strategy, that will not get anyone far.
And maybe that’s exactly the reason why Laos is so underdeveloped, as being fake is not helping them grow and be a desirable destination, even though they have a wild and beautiful nature -jungle and mountains that they should be proud of.
◽THE NEVER-ENDING BITTERNESS TOWARDS THE WESTERN WORLD
I had the same kind of fake feeling a few times when I was traveling in Vietnam and I’ve heard other people have the same experience.
I remember reading an article that explained a bit why Vietnamese try to scam Westerners and try to get them to pay up to 5x higher, ridiculous prices for anything, starting from fruit and beverages on the street, taxis and so on.
In this article, a Vietnamese – American guy explained that the people are simply taught this way.
Giving the painful history between Vietnam and America, Vietnamese children learn from an early childhood that if they see a Westerner in their country, they have to try and take everything from him, as they took everything from them in the past.
While I do understand the bitterness, this kind of thinking will not help Vietnam grow and develop right now and will just put people off from coming here.
And I believe it’s the exact same story with Laos, as the mindset, environment and even visually both countries look and act the same.
This stand with souvenirs made out of American bombs does prove that there’s still a huge bitterness in the hearts of Laotian people.
So here are a few negative aspects that really stood out for me, making me want to leave this place ASAP. I’m putting them out there to help you make an informed decision of if you want to go to Laos and what to expect there.
And of course, what to be careful of. Hopefully, if people talk more about these things and not just take them as a messed up norm, they might change in the near or far future, helping Laos to become more honest and therefore attractive destination to visit.
◽THE QUALITY OF FOOD – THE WORST I’VE EXPERIENCED
The first thing I always like to do when arriving at the new destination is to try the local food.
My preferences in Asia are usually the street food kind of dishes, as it gives such a great insight into what the locals like to eat daily.
Even though we did find the best Pad Thai (Oh, sorry! It’s Pad Lao :)) at the street food vendor in Luang Prabang, the rest of the experiences were not so good.
The first day we arrived in Luang Prabang, we took a walk around the local food market and were shocked by what we saw.
That’s most probably the place where the meat and all other ingredients come from for our lunch and dinner that are cooked later.
We saw a raw meat being sold either on tables, covered in flies or simply from a plastic of the floor. The color of the fresh meat didn’t indicate that what they are selling there is fresh at all.
Just to be safe I read some reviews about food in Luang Prabang online, just to discover several people saying that they got food poisoning from the meat, while vegetarian dishes were fine. So that’s what we were sticking to the whole time in Luang Prabang.
Sure, the conditions here are tough for the local people, but quite often it seems like they don’t care about the basic quality of the food their serve foreigners at all.
Their thinking here feels something like this – “I’ll serve you just about anything and take your money.
If you get sick after that, who cares! You’ll leave in a day or two and I won’t see you ever again.” That’s the kind of short-term thinking that shades the whole travel industry.
◽FOOD EXPERIENCES I’D LIKE TO FORGET
Some other “food experiences” through the 2 weeks in Laos I’d like to forget.
We were are the “all you can eat” buffet in the Night Market of Luang Prabang. The big bowls of food looked delicious and tasted pretty good too.
There was a lady next to the buffest collecting the cash from people who wanted to eat there. (The Laos currency bills for some reason are the worst smelling money ever!
Do you think I’m exaggerating? Smell them yourself when you get a chance and you’ll see what I’m talking about!)
Then with the same dirty hands, she mashed up the noodles in the big bowl! At that moment I tried to not think about how much bacteria just got into those noodles.
And that’s also the easiest way how to get Hepatitis A or E, that’s also called “A dirty hand disease”.
I had a vegetable sandwich in Vang Vieng. I noticed that there is sand on side of the tomato. So obviously, it’s not washed.
But as sandwiches felt like the safest food to eat in Laos in order to not get food poisoning, I kept having them.
The next day at another place I saw how the cook washed a tomato that he used for my sandwich.
It means that vegetable washing is possible at all! Some people just don’t care enough about their customers to bother with that.
We stayed the last 5 days in Vientiane, which is actually the only place I would suggest to visit in Laos if you’re going there at all.
We stayed in a hotel, which seemed quite ok. They served a breakfast buffet, which was delicious, but every day right after breakfast both of us got sick.
So we had the free breakfast there for the first 3 mornings and were sick every day.
The last two morning we decided to skip the breakfast there, as we wanted to understand what’s making up sick.
The last two days both of us were fine. Maybe it’s just a bad coincidence, but somehow it looks like that even a normal looking food at a decent place might not be clean of the best quality.
◽ENTRANCE FEES ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE
And back to the “having to pay everywhere” issue. I’m not a cheapo and I totally support everyone doing a good business and making money.
I’m also not against paying the entrance fees or anything like that. But once you see the most ridiculous things that you have to pay entrance for or “a fee for using things” that doesn’t even make sense, it get’s annoying.
You’ll have to pay an entrance absolutely anywhere, starting from all the temples, natural objects and all kinds of quite boring places.
What annoys me about this the most is the fact that most of these “objects” are like props, where locals are trying to make some cash of off you, but the “object” you see is just something boring or fake just put there for tourists.
There are some decent things to visit as well though, such as Buddha Park in Vientiane, but overall the whole sightseeing in Laos was so disappointing.
Two of the funniest “entrance fee” examples I saw in Vang Vieng.
The first one – in order to go to the most popular tourist attraction in the town, you have to cross a bridge. It’s a simple bamboo bridge that gets you across the river.
And the funny thing – it’s a toll bridge. So if you want to go to the Blue Lagoon, which you most likely do, there’s only one way and you’ll have to pay to use it.
Another one – there’s another popular attraction a cave on one end of the town. In order to get to the cave which has its own entrance fee, you’ll have to drive through a resort gate, that’s on the way.
And guess what? In order to cross the resort, you’ll have to pay a fee to the resort for that too.
We didn’t go to the second one, as this whole “having to pay a fee” felt so annoying. Most of the fees and not very high, but it’s more about the whole set up of scamming foreigners, than the amounts.
◽CRAZY SCOOTER SCAMS
As I was reading the reviews and posts on things to do in Luang Prabang, I kept coming across people complaining about a pretty nasty Scooter scam in the city.
Apparently, when you rent a motorbike or a scooter to ride around the city to explore all the natural wonders, somebody from the rental shop will be following you.
Once you’ll park your scooter somewhere and leave it out of your sight, they will steal the scooter.
So once you return without a scooted to collect the passport that you had to leave as a guarantee in the shop, you’ll have to pay a sky-high amount for the stolen scooter.
And surprise, surprise!
The scooter will be back in the shop the next day!
While this didn’t happen to us, I still think it’s important for me to share this, as so many people online have written about it and warned people.
Given the whole scammy atmosphere in the country we experienced so far, we didn’t want to risk it.
◽”AN HONEST MISTAKE” IN GIVING YOU CHANGE FOR A PURCHASE
Seeing how things are in Laos, I was trying to also be extra careful when paying in cash and receiving the correct amount back.
Since I paid extra attention to it, I can’t even count anymore how many “honest” mistakes I caught and how many “oops, sorry!” I heard from the cashiers once I pointed the wrong amount of change out.
We did rent a scooter in Vang Vieng, so a stop at a local gas station was something we had to do.
While the reviews online about renting a scooter in Vang Vieng were all fine, many warned that the gas station tends to charge people more by not setting the gas pump from zero.
So while I checked that the count starts from 0 which it did, the lady working there did manage to get a little extra by giving me a wrong change which I somehow didn’t catch right on the spot, so couldn’t call her out on that.
But maybe she made an honest mistake, like so many others during those two weeks?!
◽TAXI ROUTES IN LUANG PRABANG
And the last thing I’ll mention regarding the things that disappointed me in Laos is the taxi situation in Luang Prabang.
While I try to avoid taxis as much as I can anywhere in the world by using Uber/Grab/Taxify or public transportation, when we arrived in the bus station of Luang Prabang, we had to take a taxi to the city, as there were no other options.
So this is how it works. If you arrive in Luang Prabang by bus, you’ll get out at the bus station which is about 2-3 km outside the city center. Then you’ll be approached by taxi drivers who will offer to take you to the city.
You’ll pay around 3-5 USD per person for less than a 10 min drive in a shared taxi (that’s expensive in Southeast Asia), they will not take you to your hotel, but let everybody out somewhere on the main street of the city.
Then, if you can walk to your hotel – great! If not, you’ll have to get another taxi, pay again and get taken to your hotel.
This was another moment in Laos where I felt totally scammed by how the things are set up over here.
Overall there were also a lot of good moments in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, but the shadow of having to pay for everything as soon as I decide to step out of the hotel just pushed me down.
I absolutely hate the feeling of being scammed, so that really holds me back from visiting Laos again.
But who knows, maybe you’ll end up having a good time there. Just make sure to be informed about all the good and the bad, to make most of your trip.