Tuesday, November 15, 2011


We were due to exit southern Laos into the Khorat plateau of eastern Thailand before reentering Laos via land at the capital, Vientiane. Unfortunately passport issues (never leave home without at least three extra pages in your passport than you think you need!) meant we were afraid of being denied reentry. As a result, we chose to stay in the provincial capital of Pakse and fly directly to Vientiane the following day. Pakse is not a place I recommend going.

Laos was originally a series of rural Buddhist kingdoms, aligned with more powerful neighbors. When the French seized Lan Xang (as the Lao kingdom was called) it was mainly as a springboard for aspirations of further expansion, and as a buffer against Siam. The colony remained the neglected step child of the French... in fact, even in 1940 it took longer to get from Luang Prabang (the former royal capital) down the river to Saigon than it did from Saigon to Paris via steam ship. In other words, Laos was isolated and without much infrastructure for most of its history. That remained the case right up through the communist victory in 1975. Now that Laos is opening up, the main players in development are Vietnam, Thailand and (most powerful of all) China.

Behold a Chinese contribution to former isolated provincial backwater, Pakse: the Champasak Grand Hotel. We seemed to be the only western tourists in town, which is developing its infrastructure to cater to Thai visitors who cross to gamble and karokee for cheap. The Chinese designed, Lao staffed, Thai patronized mix at this hotel is bizarre.

The Champasak Grand has mastered the communist-does-capitalist interiors of my nightmares.

I didn't know what a "slimming cryo massage" was, but I was NOT going to find out.

What you cannot garner from this photograph is the fact that a single Kenny G sax composition played on repeat at an unacceptable volume. The lobby was the only place to get internet access, so we heard Kenny in our dreams for the next few days.

All materials fabricated with off-gassing toxic chemicals and assembled in an unsafe manner by unlicensed contractors. All furniture made from old-growth Lao mahogany forests in factories over the border in China by children making $1 a day. Views of the water treatment plant.

The view from the other side of the hotel is of a humongous, tacky mansion being built by the Vietnamese owner of Laos' largest coffee producer. Pakse is a little glimpse into a Laos that will come about if the one party government, which sensors the press and freedom of speech, allows the country's more powerful neighbors to exploit the resources and labor of their country. It is a sad and scary vision.


  1. Now we know where not to go! Thanks again. Mike had problems with no empty passport pages and an expiration date on his passport less than the rec. time frame one year. Ended up going to the American Embassy in Barbados enroute to somewhere. It can be a nightmare.

  2. Some of this strangely looks like DC and its surrounding area. Just sayin'.

  3. Love your Southeast Asian! Please add more pictures if you have them of Vientiane, Laos.