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Communist Police in Northern Laos...

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    I'm currently finishing up a 2-month trip around Laos - "Stay Another Day" became the motto for my travels, but "Stay Another Week" would be more accurate, as I stayed in a mere 7 towns during my stay - Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, Nong Khiaw, Luang Namtha, Vieng Phukha, Muang Sing, in addition to brief overnights in guesthouses near bus stations. I found that as I headed north, the police/government became more openly communist and more openly hostile to my presence in their towns. I tried to avoid being around other tourists, mixing with the locals (learning Lao language along the way), and on multiple occasions in these towns the police - in most cases non-uniformed - approached me with questions about my stay in the area. "What are you doing here?", "Is there anyone staying with you in your guesthouse?" and the like. In another place they didn't ask such questions, simply gave me glaring or otherwise clearly hostile communications. I researched ahead and was well aware of the prohibition on "Lao/Foreigner" sexual relationships (outside of marriage) but there seems to be a similar prohibition or discouragement of any significant contact between Lao and foreigners, outside of tourist guides. I was not distributing any political or religious materials, and doing nothing explicitly illegal from my reading, but it appears that the mere building of relationship between Lao and foreigner (outside of business dealings such as tourist guides) is considered threatening to the government of Laos.

    I left the rural northern parts for Luang Prabang, to visit a Lao friend before returning to Bangkok, and was riding on the bike of a motorcycle with a Lao friend when we were stopped by the LPB police. They explained to my friend that it is illegal for Lao and foreigner to ride a bike together (only tuk-tuks or hired guides) and that they would confiscate the motorcycle if I didn't pay a fine. At first they wanted 500,000 kip but we negotiated it down to 150,000 kip, all while the policeman threateningly began to fill out the confiscation papers. A relatively small sum (20 USD) compared to western police fines, but very "not okay" on a matter of principle, from my way of seeing things.

    I feel it should be known to the tourist community how the government of Laos views any sort of non-business relationship between Lao and foreigners - Lao people are generally quite friendly, so I'm quite angry to see how the government treats them. I was well aware of the prohibition on Lao/foreigner romantic relationships before entering the country, given the warnings in the Lonely Planet, but was not aware of this law. Maybe I shouldn't post this critique of the government of Laos while in the country, but I need to vent! I really love the Lao people but I do not know if I can return and contribute money to a government that treats its people in this way.

    Does anyone else have similar experiences with the Lao police claiming it is illegal for Lao people and foreigners to engage in simple shared behaviors such as riding a motorcycle together?

    #1 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 11:43

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  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    Roflmao.
    " and on multiple occasions in these towns the police - in most cases non-uniformed".
    So how do you know they were police?
    Newbie, one post, surely a troll.

    #2 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 16:53

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Rufus
    Laos is a single party state. A single party state can't function without a security apparatus that suppreses dissent. It's not possible. The mentality that is displayed by single party states is paranoid by nature. Maybe this guy is a troll, maybe not. With the exception of VV, I haven't heard any non-Laos say anything negative about the cops there (Laos persons who I have talked with in Thailand it's a whole different story). I myself had an ugly run in with a cop in Laos who started screaming at me and threatening me with arrest about the war (I was in grade school dude). It's one of the reasons I have an aversion to the place. Given what is posted here on travelfish, my impression is the police in Laos are pretty benign unless they really think they can shake you down. But it would not surprise me if there this one guy did have a negative experience - although as you said, it could be a guy with an axe to grind and subject to hyperbole.

    In any event, the government there is indefensible. All single party states are indefensible. Multi-party states are flawed, but single party states are inherently oppressive. Some more, some less, but they can't exist if the security apparatus allows organized dissent.

    #3 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 17:05

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
    15th January, 2008
    Posts: 1557

    Surely, Madmac, U.S.A. is a one party state called Corporate Interests (de facto ) When you got a situation where the President is helpless in the face of big business surely that isn't true democracy? As far as Laos and Vietnam are concerned I would agree with the description benign dictatorship. All the people have jobs, housing, food something you couldn't say about America. I would love to see true democracy but show me where it exists?

    #4 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 18:03

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Rufus: I've read on travelfish since researching my travels in SE Asia back home, but haven't had a reason to post until now. In the two northern villages I stayed for a while in, there are two I know were police, because they introduced themselves as so - they introduced themselves to me within several days of my arrival - and what they said was confirmed as such by the local townfolk. They didn't have the standard green uniforms, but I was told they were local police, not secret police of any sort. One had a handgun, which he showed me when I asked him, the other did not. I met many more police in my day-to-day activities while there - many Lao police seem to work in a "reserve" role, called into duty in the district or elsewhere - and these gave me no problems, in fact inviting me to their homes for food and beer, quite apparently friendly. The two problematic ones, acting as if "enforcers", behaved quite menacingly towards me from the beginning. The message I felt from many of the government officials I met was clear: "we want your money, but we don't want you here".

    I had hoped to find a village in northern rural Laos to stay in for a few months for volunteer English teaching. This did not work out and I will find somewhere else to go. And I should make clear that I was never spreading propaganda or anything of the sort, only making friends with the locals as I have done with no problems in travels in South America and Western countries.

    If anyone wants an interesting read regarding the political conflicts tourism, and ecotourism in particular, is presenting in northern Laos, look into the kidnapping of ecotourism pioneer Sompawn Khampisouk in Luang Namtha in 2007. There's a thread on the lonelyplanet forum here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1337931

    #5 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 18:20

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    "All the people have jobs, housing, food something you couldn't say about America. I would love to see true democracy but show me where it exists?"

    I agree with what you say regarding the one-party state nature of US politics - the Democrats and Republicans are merely puppets for the same masters. However, the statement you quoted above does not match with the reality on the ground in Laos. I met many in the hills of northern Laos who did not have jobs and had food only if they grew it themselves, just the basics, rice and gathered vegetables - the meat is only for selling in the market, where 1 water buffalo can fetch 700 USD. I also met friends in the cities in Laos who despite having jobs, work for 8 hour days for the ripe total of 25000 kip/3 USD, which may have the same buying power as 10-15 USD does in the States. Working 8 hours at minimum wage in the West gives you significantly greater buying power. Teachers I met here told me they have to pay 1 million kip, ~125 USD, to the school director, merely for the "privilege" of having a government job. The yearly salary is a mere 180 USD, paid by the director, and is optional - the director only pays if s/he considers your work sufficient for pay. In both areas, I think it is generally true that only the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer. In Laos, however, the odds of enhancing the standard of life for you and your family are stacked against you if you are not already rich and do not have political connections. This holds true, but in a much lesser degree IMHO, in the West.

    #6 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 18:49

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Sayadian
    The US is not a single party state. That's a tired old saw brought out by Chomsky. In fact in the US there are many parties which participate in all elections (a socialist party, a communist party, a green party - remember Ralph Nader? - and so forth) but two dominant parties are the best organized and, given that the American population is centrist this is reflected in the dominant parties as well. You can tell a representative democracy not by the results it yields (Kenya is a representative democracy but doesn't always yield great results) but by the following:

    1. Are people free to say what they think without fear of retribution by government agencies. Take the protest test. Can you stand on a street corner with a sign that says the Obama is doing a terrible job and he should be removed from office? If you do, will be arrested? Now, can you stand on a street corner in Laung Prabang with a sign that says the president of Laos (I do not recall that august persons name) is **** and should be removed from office?
    2. Can you organize a political party to run in elections, local or otherwise?
    3. Is there an apparatus where the citizenry can challenge abuses of state?

    In the US, Germany, Britain, Australia, Japan, and other states with representional systems, you can do these things. These states have superior governance for that reason. In states like China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, you can not do these things. These states have inferior governance for that reason. That's not to say that there is no abuse of power in representational states, or that they always act in the greater interests of the citizenry. That's just to say that between the two systems, one allows for correction AND, most importantly, allows for the citzenry to participate and try to change the system.

    In Germany during the late 60s, there was a student rebellion of sorts. The motto of the students then was "We will storm the bastille from within". What they meant, of course, was that they would take over the political apparatus via the electoral system. And eventually they did just that, when the SPD / Green coalition won the election of 1998.

    Representational systems allow for dissent and allow for participation, one party systems do not. They can't or they won't survive as one party systems.

    From Europe and it's affiliates (Australia and New Zealand) there is a lot of criticism directed at everything American, including it's politics and it's culture. The US is the one country where, particularly in leftist circles, it is OK, even good, to denounce it (on all levels). In my time living in Germany (a long time) one thing was painfully obvious. The Germans (and other Europeans I worked with) were painfully ignorant of American culture, American history, American demograghics and American politics. But that never stopped them (particularly the post 68ers) from being highly critical of it.

    So no, to claim America is a one party state is, frankly, absurd.

    #7 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 21:07

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
    15th January, 2008
    Posts: 1557

    I'm no apologist for communism or its tyranny but I fail to see where there IS true democracy.My experiences of Vietnam were extremely positive in relation to the unregulated capitalist greed of Cambodia. At times it was rather comic with jobs having obviously been invented to provide employment.An example was going into a supermarket and after receiving a till receipt having to wait for someone to give me a written one and then someone else at the door checking that each item in my bag matched the receipts.

    #8 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 21:24

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
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    How do you define "true democracy"? In any representational system there will be disproportionate influence because they are run by humans, with human failings. "True Democracies" alllow for participation, freedom of expression, and generally try to avoid what Jefforson called "the tyranny of the majority" in maintaining judicial systems that protect minority rights. All Democracies have failed in one or more aspects of their ambitions (the US history with its native American inhabitants and it's black population for example) and none have always stayed true to their values - again, you have that messy human factor to deal with. BUT, and it's a big BUT, in single party systems these ambitions just don't exist at all.

    As for Vietnam, I have a friend there. She's a dancer and runs her own business. I won't tell you what she told me about the government there concerning her welfare - but it wasn't good. And how can it be. Single party states can't be egalitarian, they have to repress dissent in order to survive as single party states.

    #9 Posted: 19/10/2011 - 22:10

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 1557

    How do you define democracy-that's easy just go back in history to a guy called Solan.But of course, in the big over-populated world of ours such a method would be impossible.So we try all soughts of methods but none of them is democracy.
    BTW. I'm sure as hell you're right that Vietnam suppresses dissent but are you trying to tell me that America doesn't?
    (In the) 'single party systems these ambitions just don't exist at all.'
    Single party= corporate America

    #10 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 00:54

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  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
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    Mac, "I haven't heard any non-Laos say anything negative about the cops there." You might not have, but I do on a daily basis. Mac, I would suggest that Americans are far more ignorant about countries other than their own than the reverse being true. Americans in general, have very little knowledge of other countries cultures, hitories or geographies. That does not stop some idiot US politicians coming out with with statements like "God gave the US the right to lead the world. (Mitt Romney).

    Op, you said you were "learning Lao". I doubt very much whether your Lao capabilities are good enough to ascertain the facts you claim tohave ascertaned. Nearly all the people who live in the remote areas you claim to have visited speak no English.

    #11 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 07:15

  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
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    At least 67

    I was not distributing any political or religious materials

    according to a friend from Huay Xai who has relatives across the area stretching to Muang Sing, some of the places in NW Laos you mentioned are having problems with missionaries, some of whom went in under the guise of setting up businesses/teaching. don't blame the people there for being wary of outsiders who don't seem to be the usual 'touch & go tourist' or employee of some established NGO.

    Lao people and foreigners to engage in simple shared behaviors such as riding a motorcycle together?

    hmm...do you look Lao/Asian? are you & that friend of the same or different gender? btw even in this time & age my parents would still disapprove of me riding pillion on a motorbike with a Western guy, & my neighbours would stare & talk.

    Nearly all the people who live in the remote areas you claim to have visited speak no English.

    I had hoped to find a village in northern rural Laos to stay in for a few months for volunteer English teaching.

    many in those areas don't even speak/read/write Lao. would be more useful for someone to volunteer to teach them Lao language.

    curious as to why you'd expect to find a village willing to take in a stranger?

    #12 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 08:50

  • ContraKindle

    Joined Travelfish
    1st January, 2011
    Posts: 21

    Wow! I spent a couple of weeks in Laos earlier this year. Amazing people. Even in Phongsali, which is as far north as I went, I had no problems with the police. In fact, I asked to take a picture of a Laotian Police Officer and was greeted with a smile. I hope this wasn't the exception to the rule.

    #13 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 12:59

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Rufus
    First of all, the tired old nonsense of Americans being ignorant of foreign cultures is just foolish. Americans are made up exclusively of foreign cultures. Back in my home neighborhood, we have Italians, Armenians, Mexicans, Africans... people who are first, second and third generation immigrants from the world over. They bring their culture, language and traditions with them. Even before I left the US (in 1985) I was exposed to a great deal of non-anglo influence, as are all Americans. Europeans are not more worldly, they are not better educated, they are not more cultured - they really need to get over themselves.
    Now on to the subject of Laos - I don't speak Laos, I speak Thai. That's what I learn in school. I have been subjected to the Issan dialect, a dialect of Laos, but my proficiency is in Thai, not Laos. But we have a great deal of Laos people residing here, and what they have told me about their government has not been positive. That doesn't surprise me, as you can't have a single party state that doesn't oppress. That's impossible. As soon as it doesn't oppress, it stops being a single party state because other parties form to challenge the ruling party.

    Sayadian
    Again, your line of argumentation here is simply foolish. In the US you are free to form political associations of your choice. You are free to assemble. You are free to criticize policy. You have a free press (and the press in the US voices opinions across the political spectrum). In Laos you are not free to do any of these things. One country embraces political freedom for its inhabitants, one does not. It's that simple. The US is every bit as free as Australia is and it's system of representational government is every bit as reasonable as any in western Europe. Arguements to the contrary are based in ignorance. I've been around and studied this subject well enough to understand that. Like I said, bashing Americanism including all of its components is the last form of acceptable prejudice in the western world. And frankly I find it quite offensive. Particularly since I know it's based in ignorance.

    #14 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 17:51

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 1557

    Madmac
    'You have a free press.'
    Yes, and unfortunately you have distortion of the news coming from channels such as Fox news.
    Standing on a corner with a placard is your way of defining freedom of expression?
    I would say that there are many other more subtle ways of suppresing dissent.You should examine your Homeland Security Dept for some of the answers to that one.

    BTW would you like to answer your own question-just what would happen to you if you stood on a corner in Vientiane or wherever with a placard saying you thought the leader was doing a bad job?

    As far as Americans being aware of other cultures.I'm sure they are.
    When I was over there I noticed two things which shone out more than anything else.
    Firstly, Americans are extremely friendly people to strangers and very hospitable BUT secondly I have never come across a people so insular and ignorant of world events that didn't directly impact upon America.

    #15 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 18:12

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    There are people like this everywhere. Trust me:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFpyl5B0v0g

    #16 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 18:12

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 1557

    Addendum
    Perhaps we might hear the views of Sarah Pailin on this issue.Though I'm not sure she can see Laos from her bedroom window. :-)

    #17 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 18:15

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Sarah Palin is a moron. I don't know what McCaine was thinking on that one. If he wanted a woman to try and draw the woman vote that was pissed because Obama won the democratic nomination, he should have selected Olympia Snow, who's position on most issues mirrors his and who actually has a brain.
    But hey, Germany has plenty of laughable candidates too. It's not a uniquely American thing.

    #18 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 18:20

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 1557

    Germany and the rest of Europe devotes its news programmes and newspapers to world news whilst America seems to have news which only focuses on issues imortant to America.Sure there are morons everywhere but that wasn't what I had in mind.Perhaps things have changed since 9/11, I haven't been over there since but I stick to my view that as a nation, Americans are ignorant of world events.
    On a lighter note when I was driving through Arizona and stopped to gas up, the curious attendant asked me where I was from. I replied England. He scratched his head bemusedly and with a beaming smile said.'Why, that's out of State, aint it.'

    #19 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 18:36

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    And he was right, it is out of state.

    Look, I lived in Germany for 18 years. A long time. Served in the German Army for 5. They are just as ignorant there as the US. Their news programs are structured exactly the same way - international news, local news, weather, sports...

    The only reason Americans are somewhat more isolated is geograghy. If you live in Germany, it's a short drive to cross multiple borders. Not so the US. On the other hand, Germans tend to be FAR more arrogant concerning their culture (which they consider superior to everyone's.)

    My big objection to the ignorant American theme is that it presupposes (as you implied in your first post) that therefore American opinions on an individual level are less valid than, say, yours. Or that because America is a flawed society (like every society is) an American's criticism of another political system of culture is less valid than someone elses. And that, my friend, is BS. And if you reject this line of arguementation, then why did you bring up the US in the first place concerning this thread - since it is immaterial?

    #20 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 18:45

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 1557

    You know why I brought it up. As a comparison/contrast to Laos.
    I see you've skipped my question about what would happen if you put down the govt in Laos. Do you know, because I don't. You're just making assumptions.
    On the theme of ignorance it was America that invented Fox news wasn't it?

    #21 Posted: 20/10/2011 - 19:00

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    If you "put down" the government in Laos you will be arrested. That is, if you are vocally critical about the government or, worse, if you try to form a political party and challenge communist rule. That is true of all one party states. It has to be true. When it isn't true, they cease to be one party states, as challenging parties are formed. Note the following:

    In this document Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience Thongpaseuth Keuakoun, Seng-Aloun Phengphanh and Bouavanh Chanhmanivong on the 10th anniversary of their arrest for trying to hold a peaceful protest. These prisoners of conscience should never have been arrested. They committed no recognizable criminal offence, but only peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression.

    There are other sources too, if you think Amnesty is over the top (which they sometimes are)

    And you brought it up for the obvious reason that you are trying to deflect the criticism and do what Europeans love to do - dump on the US. It's a favorite pastime. Why didn't you bring up the English government and it's flaws? Why not the Spanish government? Why not the South African government? I'll tell you why, because dumping on the US is what Europeans do. And since I am an American who happens to be highly critical of one party states, you are trying to delegitimize the core arguement in favor of discrediting my position based on my country of origin.

    #22 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 00:26

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 1557

    With respect I think your taking this too personally and getting a wee bit paranoid.
    I stated above I found American people to be some of the most friendly and hospitable people I have met.
    I think you are confusing American people with American politics. I have nothing against American people but I think your politics stinks as does your distorted news coverage by the likes of Fox.
    So the Laos police would arrest you for dissent much the same as your country incarcerating 1 in 10 black males, half the prison population when they constitute a mere 13% of the population.Oppression comes in all shapes and sizes.

    #23 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 01:30

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 1557

    and BTW if you're going to start quoting Amnesty International take a look at this.You should be impressed since you obviously see Amnesty International as a credible source seeing as you quote them.

    'Amnesty International stated, “Since the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture in October 1994, its increasingly punitive approach towards offenders has continued to lead to practices which facilitate torture or other forms of ill-treatment prohibited under international law.”
    AI expressed particular concern that the US continues to insist on adhering to its own definitions of torture and cruelty, rather than those of the international treaty: “Such an approach undermines not only the protection afforded to individuals in the USA, but also the whole enterprise of creating a viable international system to ensure respect for human rights.”
    The human rights group drew attention to the skyrocketing US prison population, which recently hit two million, contributing to widespread mistreatment of men, women and juveniles in custody. They also cited numerous instances of police brutality as well as a bias in the court and prison system against racial and ethnic minorities.
    The US also executes juvenile offenders, who were less than 18 at the time of the crime for which they have been sentenced to death.

    #24 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 01:45

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Sayadian:

    1. You are trying to make an illegitimate comparison between a closed political system (laos) and an open one (the US).
    2. The US political system, and your thoughts on it, are totally irrelevent to the original post and you only brought them into the conversation because, like most Europeans, you don't respect much of what constitutes America.

    The incarceration of black males in a disproportionate manner is due to the following:
    1. Black males occupy a lower economic strata and therefore commit more crime.
    2. Because they occupy a lower economic strata, they are less able to afford counsel.

    Both of these things are an unfortunate consequence of slavery, brought to the North American continent by our happy friends the British. It was one of several legacies of the British empire that we are still living with.

    I think Parliamentarian politics stink and are unresponsive to popular sentiment as well as individual needs. I think the American system is vastly superior. But what I think of the British Parlamentarian system isn't important. What the British think about it is. The reverse is also true.

    None of that, however, has anything to do with the closed, one party political system of Laos. Does it? And the only reason you bashed on the US political system is because you are European. You could just as easily have chosen Kenya, who's representational Democracy system is flawed and has also been accused of being essentially a one party state - but you didn't. And the reason is obvious.

    #25 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 01:53

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    Mac, you are wrong. I have heard the most idiotic questions, (and have been asked some idiotic questions), by Americans. Examples are, "Do you speak American in Australia?" "Do you have supermarkets?" Europeans in general are far better informed historically, geographically and culturally.

    (Washington, DC) A poll conducted by Roper for National Geographic finds that Americans 18-24 demonstrate an appalling lack of geographical knowledge.

    Some of the most disturbing findings: 6 in 10 Americans between 18 and 24 cannot find Iraq on a map, while almost one-third could not find Louisiana. Nearly one-half or respondents could not identify Mississippi on the map.

    Some other findings:

    * Less than 30% of those polled believe that it is necessary to be able to locate countries in the news on a map.

    * 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia (It is actually the largest country on the Africa continent).

    * 75% could not locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.

    * Half of young Americans cannot find the state of New York on a map.

    * 40 %of young Americans believe the religious affiliation of the majority of citizens in India is Muslim ("Hindu" would be the correct answer, Alex).

    * 47% of respondents could not find India on a map.

    Further, look at:
    http://www.etherzone.com/2002/burn120802.shtml

    #26 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 08:51

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    The problem with polls like that is they are done in select areas (DC being a favorite - have you been there? Not the best America has to offer I am afraid. A shame they didn't do the poll where i grew up.) If you want to go head to head on a geagraghy test, I'll be happy to do so. Like I said, the arguement that is being used by Sayadian (although he won't admit it) is twofold:

    1. That being American means my opinion has less value.

    2. He chose America to attack because it is politically correct for Europeans to do so.

    I lived there a long time. I was exposed to Europeans for a long time. and it isn't just geograghy they like to bash. American culture (or lack thereof in their view), American politics, American food... you name it, I heard it all over and over again from Brits I served with in Bosnia and Africa, from Germans whom I lived with, from French (though they were less communicative). It's the last bastion of prejudice that is socially acceptable among European intellectuals. In fact, it's beyond acceptable, it's de rigeur.

    Americans are geograghically isolated (you two big things called oceans on either side of the country that have tended to isolate it) but Americans are also a composite people unlike, say, the Germans. So Americans cme from everywhere and in that sense are much more worldly than most. What is an American? Racially, ethnically, you can't pin the tail on that donkey. So if you want to cite some state or other that says that 30% of Americans don't know something, that's fine. But there are 300 million of us which means that there are tens of millions of more Americans who are better educated than your average Brit.

    I've lived in seven countries in my 50 years and everywhere I've gone, cultures might be different, but people are pretty much the same. Your average Laos person who comes to Mukdahan couldn't find India on a map either, but that doesn't make them stupid. Europeans, because of their colonial background and geograghic proximity to their neighbors are, in a certain sense, more aware of external factors, but their overweaning (and fully unjustified) arrogance is obnoxious in the extreme.

    The notion that the opnion of my countrymen counts for less because they are American is ****.

    #27 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 11:32

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    "The notion that the opnion of my countrymen counts for less because they are American is ****."

    Hey, noone said that. I certainly didn't.
    Anyway, the comment regarding knowledge is a general one; of course there are a lot of people who have a wide knowledge - that goes without saying. The problem is that compared to say your average European your average American does not have worldiness.

    #28 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 11:50

  • exacto

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location United States
    Posts: 2359
    Total reviews: 47
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    At least 98

    "The problem is that compared to say your average European your average American does not have worldiness."

    Darn! That must include me too because I didn't even know that worldiness was a word!

    #29 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 12:48

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
    15th January, 2008
    Posts: 1557

    'Black males occupy a lower economic strata and therefore commit more crime.'

    and you blame that on the fact the Brits brought slavery to America when you've been a nation state for over 200 years!
    We refused to support the Confederacy because of their slave policy and the British navy was instrumental in stopping the trafficking of slaves.

    You seem to have some idea that Europeans don't like Americans.
    Do I have to repeat that I have found your countrymen to be amongst the most hospitable and friendly in the world.

    I'm not America bashing.
    I'm bashing your system of government and news-papers/channels ( eg Fox)

    and why don't I choose Kenya?
    -because Kenya has very little influence on the world whereas U.S. interests have, in the past, dominated it.

    You brought Amnesty into this discussion and I'm merely quoting from the same source.

    The relevance of the argument is that Laos and U.S. both have systems of oppression; albeit, America's is more subtle.
    I've not witnessed any mistreatment of people in Laos by the police but I most certainly have in America.

    Madmac
    have a look at this. Let's hear it for the marines.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/marine-confronts-nypd-protest/story?id=14764163#.Tp_i8r48kcE.facebook

    #30 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 13:51

  • ContraKindle

    Joined Travelfish
    1st January, 2011
    Posts: 21

    Hey Madmac.
    As a fellow American who gets his news from Aljazera, I really don't take idiots seriously when they bash the US. Still waiting on how the EU is going to come up with 2 trillion euros. Perhaps some of the apologetic pseudo intellectuals on this blog can solve that one. Oh wait. Its Americas fault as well.... BTW Fox is owned by Rupert Murdock... Remember. Glass houses.

    #31 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 14:48

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
    15th January, 2008
    Posts: 1557

    N.B. In all the posts I have made on here and disagreements with Madmac the above is the first abusive poster I have come across.I hope it's the last because once an argument degenerates into name calling it's reached the level of the playground.

    'BTW Fox is owned by Rupert Murdock (sic)'.
    Yes, an American citizen.So what is your point?

    I would agree Europe is in a mess but so is the U.S.A.
    Again, what is your point?

    #32 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 16:21

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    That's my point Sayadian, America has a system of governance every bit as free as that found in Britain. In any meaningful measurable. Arguements about subtlety are fallacious. You can express yourself as you see fit there. You can assemble, you can organize politically... Laos isn't free, the US is. And it's that simple. All the rest is bullshit.

    #33 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 17:18

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgfuBgWVsV8

    Does this mean that Britain is the equivelent in terms of personal freedom to Laos? No. It doesn't.

    The line of arguementation that somehow closed, one party states and in any way reasonably equivelent to modern representative democracies is beyond absurd. Such an arguement is obtuse the extreme.

    #34 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 17:58

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
    15th January, 2008
    Posts: 1557

    'You can assemble, you can organize politically.'
    Yes, agreed but there are other forms of political repression and perhaps it is subjective of me to claim that in a true democracy there should be none.

    Cambodia is a democracy de jure but hardly de facto.
    So you see I can offer other examples of democracy's failure other than inflame your patriotism which I admire.

    Perhaps Churchill should have the last word. If I can paraphrase him.

    'Democracy is the worse form of government except for all the others.'

    #35 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 18:01

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Churchill said it best. The US has plenty of warts, all countries do. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Laos people. But their system of governance (which sadly they have very little influence to change right now) is simply not the moral equivelent of a representative system. That's not to say it has no value or performs no services or is always repressive. It's not North Korea. But like all single party systems, it should be scrapped. One day it will be.

    #36 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 18:37

  • ContraKindle

    Joined Travelfish
    1st January, 2011
    Posts: 21

    First off. Sayadian. Sorry if I offended you. I do get my hackles up when anti Americanism sprouts its ugly head. Especially on a travel website I really love. I am still trying to find anything in your posts here that has anything to do with Communist Police In Northern Laos. That is why this discussion is inappropriate. Not that it is/isn't valid, but that this is not the place to vent our political beliefs. Second, Murdoch is a naturalized citizen. He immigrated in 1985 in his mid 50's from Australia. I could pick apart the rest with my own take on world politics, but this is not the place for it. Peace Out.

    #37 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 18:59

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
    15th January, 2008
    Posts: 1557

    As far as I'm concerned what brought this into general debate was Madmac's statement that:
    'In any event, the government there is indefensible. All single party states are indefensible. Multi-party states are flawed, but single party states are inherently oppressive. Some more, some less, but they can't exist if the security apparatus allows organized dissent.'
    He starts to talk about states as in countries so as I know Madmac is a U.S. citizen I thought it was moot to use America as a comparison/contrast.He then counters with an attack on European values etc but never have I ever attacked American people as you can see if you read my posts.I just think that it's rather naive to point out the failings of one type of government which I acknowledge in the case of Laos and Vietnam and fail to see the oppression in the democracies of the world.
    As far as Murdoch is concerned, and here we are going way off base, just ask yourself why he wanted to become an American citizen and renounce his Australian citizenship.It was much easier to peddle his vituperous poison in America than anywhere else.
    I could devote pages on American values which I admire and respect but I'm sorry to say on the above issue, as in my posts, I cannot agree with Madmac.
    BTW I am no admirer of the communist system.I think Churchill got it about right.

    #38 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 20:50

  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
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    time to shift this thread to http://www.travelfish.org/board/topic/culturepolitics ?

    #39 Posted: 21/10/2011 - 21:31

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
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    You don't think Murdoch was perhaps motivated by a MUCH larger market?

    And man, it must be easy for him to peddle his "vituperous poison" in England, because he does it there too. For that matter, he has major controlling interests in a several Australian media and recording outletts... So it must be easy for him to peddle his vituperous poison there too.

    Frankly, Sayadian, you're just out to lunch on this subject.

    #40 Posted: 22/10/2011 - 00:09

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
    15th January, 2008
    Posts: 1557

    I thought this one had run its course but as a final answer perhaps you should be aware that Murdoch was exposed by members of the British parliarment for his phone hacking.It would take too long for me to explain all but surely just have a look at the drivel originating in the 'Tea Party' to see that Murdoch has a much easier ride over there and lots of gullible people willing to swallow his 'news' stories (read propaganda for the right wing).
    Europe(with the obvious exception of Italy) has a much more diverse media ownership than America making it more difficult for Murdoch to peddle his lies. He has real competition in UK from, for example, Channel 4 and the BBC. Murdoch spent a great deal of effort trying to undermine both as they posed a threat to his empire by taking the dissemination of news seriously.
    BTW
    I tend to agree with 'Wandering Cat' Laos seems lost now - as Dengue Fever might say.
    If you want to continue open another thread.
    I would especially love a debate on 'The Tea Party'

    #41 Posted: 22/10/2011 - 01:43

  • Jim123

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 2

    I find something pretty fishy about this story. First you should clarify if you were riding pillion with a lao woman. That would be considered unusual. Even for a lao guy to be riding pillion with a lao girl might arouse suspicion that they were having a relationship.
    Second, as a foreigner, you can't really just go hanging around in villages on your own outside of the circuit without arousing suspicion that you have other motives. That's just the way it is, and understandable given the huge gap in culture. I bet in many western countries if an asian national just showed up in some small town wanting to teach the locals to speak his native tongue, that would be considered pretty weird too.
    That being said, some people can travel alone and off the circuit if they speak decent Lao and can convince locals, town officials and police that they don't have nefarious motives (preaching, drugs, etc). It is thus probable that there was something in your appearence or behaviour that they found threatening and that is why you met with hostility.

    Jeff

    #42 Posted: 22/10/2011 - 08:12

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    ". BTW Fox is owned by Rupert Murdock... Remember. Glass houses."
    Who is Murdock? Do you mean Murdoch? Yes, Murdoch is a US citizen.

    I am inclined to agree with Jim123's post.

    #43 Posted: 22/10/2011 - 09:36

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Sayadian
    When George Bush was president, did you see how he was getting raped by the media? I mean, it was brutal. Have you ever read the Onion or listened to NPR. The US body politic IS more right of center than western Europe. The American PEOPLE are more right of center. And that, my friend, is what rankles. Europeans believe that Americans are lessar intellects as a group (which subsequently reflects in their critique of our politics, our food, our culture, our entertainment industry, etc.) precisely because we are more right of center than they are. Look I've been down this road with this throught process so many times it makes me want to puke. It's one of the reasons I decided not to remain in Europe. If I went to a non-dancing social event (my non-dancing friends were all of the educated variety) then doubtless I found someone bashing something American. And almost all of it was based in half truths and ignorance. Like I said, it's the last bastion of prejudice that's acceptable in Europes intellectual circles. Of course they have deeply negative thoughts and feelings about Eastern Europe, but only the crass lower classes talk about those.

    #44 Posted: 22/10/2011 - 11:18

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Didn't expect to start a political debate like this! To the people who directly addressed the topic I raised, Wandering Cat and I offer a response

    Wandering Cat: hmm...do you look Lao/Asian? are you & that friend of the same or different gender? btw even in this time & age my parents would still disapprove of me riding pillion on a motorbike with a Western guy, & my neighbours would stare & talk.

    No, I am a white Westerner. My friend in Luang Prabang and I are both males.

    Nearly all the people who live in the remote areas you claim to have visited speak no English.

    True for the most part - maybe 95% in the areas I mentioned speak no English. I was still able to meet enough locals who speak English to be able to learn about the going-ons in the countryside. I also learned that there are a lot of police even in these small towns. Interestingly, in one of the towns an issue arose with another tourist who was explicitly there in pursuit of a Lao girl. He was being kicked out of the area and several of the police dealing with him saw me walking by and requested my presence. I didn't understand why - I did not know this tourist and couldn't help out in any way I could see, but it seemed that it was important to them to have me, the "resident tourist" in town, present for the "meeting", which consisted of them going between threatening statements: "you must leave...", and the typical Lao relaxed manner: "...but take your time." This particular tourist, to my knowledge, was not deported despite the reported fact that he was indeed sleeping with a Lao girl, which makes my treatment all the more puzzling.

    Curious as to why you'd expect to find a village willing to take in a stranger?

    Because in my previous travels I'd had my best experiences when getting off the tourist trail and visiting places that weren't typically frequented by outsiders. Also, I have a friend who had visited Thailand and whose advice for traveling the area was to "buy the Lonely Planet and a map, mark off everywhere the Lonely Planet recommends and go everywhere else, and you will have a great time". This worked for him in Thailand, but had unexpectedly different results in Laos...

    I don't know how my behavior in Laos attracted the heat differently - maybe they thought I was a sex tourist or missionary as Jim123 suggested. In one of the above villages, I stuck around because I saw an advertisement for English speakers to help in the local school, and also saw descriptions of people doing this online. I figured people would want to learn English since it's seen as a way to "get ahead" in terms of business opportunities; I also figured that actually working in a village or town would help me to "get in" with the locals on a more face-to-face basis, hence my heading to northern Laos with hopes of finding a place to stay for a bit longer.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head, Jim123. Still, this doesn't address the police in Luang Prabang. I was going for a day trip with my Lao friend (both male, I am Caucasian/obviously a foreigner) when we were pulled and the exorbitant "on-the-spot fine" was demanded. Is this actually illegal in Laos, as the police claimed, or perhaps it was merely a way for them to earn some extra beer money? I suspect it's somewhere in between - perhaps it's not explicitly illegal, but it's "illegal enough" that they could get away with confiscating the bike, or taking it to the station on the justification it was being used to transport both a Lao and a foreigner.

    Obviously, this won't effect the "touch-and-go" or Vang Vieng-style tourist visiting Laos, but I figured the negative aspects of my experiences in Laos were worthy of reporting, so perhaps other travellers who hope to head off the tourist trail in Laos will take heed. I appreciate your responses.

    #45 Posted: 22/10/2011 - 17:53

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    "Is this actually illegal in Laos, as the police claimed, or perhaps it was merely a way for them to earn some extra beer money?"

    The law doesn't matter. Laos is not a society of law in the sense that your rights are protected. The patronage system rules there even more than in Thailand. You come from a place where law matters, where cops can and are challenged. You are not going to get away with that in Laos. The cops could lock you up and nobody might even know it.

    We just had a case here where a Thai man from Phuket took his Laos bride to go visit the family. He was arrested as he went through customs, even though he hadn't broken the law and everyone knew it. He was then held for a week incommunicado. Eventually he was released, although I do not know under what conditions. I heard about this case from a local judge who's a friend of mine. I had a buddy who wanted to go with his Laos girlfriend to meet her parents, and he was strongly advised by the local Thai officials here not to do so, and this case was the one cited. Word around the campfire is the Laos for Laos law is being increasingly and more stridently enforced to extract money from unsuspecting (or suspecting) individuals.

    #46 Posted: 22/10/2011 - 18:57

  • Jim123

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 2

    I've been stopped and fined a few times in LPB on motorbike, usually I was clearly doing something wrong like not wearing a helmet or going the wrong way on a one way street. Once I didn't have my bike papers on me. It helps to have a sense of humor. Police have been courteous with me, often flexible in their demands but still firm. But you could have bad luck and have your bike confiscated too. I've heard of foreigners being stopped and fined riding pillion with locals on the road to Kuang Si waterfall. It seems some locals are acting as informal tour guides without having a proper guide license.

    I too like to be off the beaten track, but am ambivalent about westerners trying to go native in Asia. I don't feel comfortable going into villages which don't see tourists unless I am with somebody who has a connection to the village. For many Lao people the idea of extended travel without any practical goal is very strange. They are fun loving people who enjoy their time off but it always fits in with some routine or ritual. If you fit the tourist stereotype - traveling in groups, eating in tourist restaurants, buying souvenirs, etc, it is easier for them to rationalize your behavior. If you go off walking around the countryside without a guide, sleeping in poor villages and washing in the river, they don't understand why a person from a wealthy country would want to do this. To some degree all foreign people will appreciate you learning their language and customs and behaving similarly to them. But there is a limit to how much they will appreciate this, and you are always expected to represent your own culture as well. To me this means curiosity and respect on both sides, but always maintaining at least some distance.

    In your specific case, wanting to stay in a rural village and teach English for a few months, this is not possible in Laos without prior arrangements and authorization.

    Jeff

    #47 Posted: 26/10/2011 - 12:41

  • 9preciousGe-
    ms

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 82

    ^^^ great post

    #48 Posted: 26/10/2011 - 16:26

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    "If you go off walking around the countryside without a guide, sleeping in poor villages and washing in the river, they don't understand why a person from a wealthy country would want to do this."

    Neither do I.

    #49 Posted: 26/10/2011 - 17:30

  • sayadian

    Joined Travelfish
    15th January, 2008
    Posts: 1557

    'Neither do I.'
    If that's the case Madmac, soldiering was a poor career move for you ;-)

    #50 Posted: 26/10/2011 - 17:39

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Are you kidding? I got to retire at age 46. how many professions offer that option? And I loved soldiering, but there's a lot more to it than just the negatives of having to live like an animal. That's what you tolerate for the good parts.

    #51 Posted: 26/10/2011 - 23:46

  • Ice

    Joined Travelfish
    27th October, 2011
    Posts: 1

    Good discussion. My 2 cents:
    Shake downs/corruptions in Third World countries are nothing new (it occurs in every country in the world, but more prevalent in the Third World countries). You can view it from which ever angle you want, but it's a fact of life. People who barely makes enough money to get by will take whatever opportunities comes their way. It's easier to be virtuous/righteous when you're not struggling to get by with basic necessities. Though it's frustrating and annoying to be the victim of a shakedown, I don't blame those "authorities" for doing what they do. I'm not saying it's right. I'm saying it's a fact of life that you have to deal with. Yes, I have been victims of shakedowns many times in many places: Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia just to name a few.

    #52 Posted: 27/10/2011 - 06:01

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    I haven't had anyone try in Thailand yet. But a cop did try to shake me down in Africa. What he didn't know, because I wasn't in uniform, was I was working at the time. I called my colleague - a senior memeber of the Ethiopian armed forces in Harar - and handed him the phone and watched as he kept repeating, "yes sir, yes sir..." and then handed me the phone back. "Sorry sir, you are free to go." It was kind of funny but prior t the call the cop in question was supremely obnoxious.

    #53 Posted: 27/10/2011 - 12:31

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Thank you everyone for the information and thoughtful responses. Hope to avoid shakedowns in the future, but they're certainly less costly than the typical traffic ticket in the West. Safe travels.

    #54 Posted: 29/10/2011 - 12:12

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    " I figured people would want to learn English since it's seen as a way to "get ahead" in terms of business opportunities;"

    Business opportunities for the Akha Hill tribes and Hmong living in remote areas. excuse me, but this is the silliest comment I think I have ever read on these forums.

    #55 Posted: 29/10/2011 - 13:59

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    "Business opportunities for the Akha Hill tribes and Hmong living in remote areas. excuse me, but this is the silliest comment I think I have ever read on these forums."

    Yes, but I wasn't referring to these areas...the Lao people I talked to suggested to me that speaking English is seen as a way to guarantee themselves, or at least improve the odds, of a good job. For the hill-tribes-people who desire to stay in the mountains/forest/countryside, it wouldn't come in handy - except for attracting tourists, if that's what they want...

    #56 Posted: 29/10/2011 - 17:13

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    " I figured people would want to learn English since it's seen as a way to "get ahead" in terms of business opportunities; I also figured that actually working in a village or town would help me to "get in" with the locals on a more face-to-face basis, hence my heading to northern Laos with hopes of finding a place to stay for a bit longer."

    This does not even remotely concur with your previous comment.

    #57 Posted: 30/10/2011 - 08:54

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Rufus,
    I didn't see the inconsistency. Which elements don't concur with each other?

    #58 Posted: 30/10/2011 - 10:17

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Likewise, Rufus, I don't see the inconsistency. None of the places I mentioned staying in are the remote hill-tribe villages you hint at.

    #59 Posted: 30/10/2011 - 12:30

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    " In the two northern villages I stayed for a while"
    "I had hoped to find a village in northern rural Laos to stay in for a few months for volunteer English teaching."
    Enough said.

    #60 Posted: 31/10/2011 - 07:16

  • somtam2000

    admin
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    Very late in on what, at a glance looks like a thread that has hit all the bases ;-)

    I had a rather unpleasant run in with "bandits" a couple of years ago on a road near Phongsali. Subsequent to that found the local authorities to really bend over backwards both to assist me but also at least to maintain the illusion that something was going to be done about it. I have no idea if anything ever was.

    Aside from that one incident (which had nothing to do with the cops) I had no problems at all, and would say others that I met also travelling by motorbike, had few problems (I'm assuming they didn't as they didn't mention any - people love a moan).

    I gave locals lifts a couple of times, but I didn't make a habit of it.

    All I can think is that I was in an area a little more off the tourist trail than you so perhaps that was a contributing factor, but overall strikes me as a little odd and out of character.

    #61 Posted: 31/10/2011 - 09:22

  • Tira

    Joined Travelfish
    6th August, 2011
    Posts: 13

    Reading all these comments make me wonder, should I go on another trip to Laos, how to "behave". I've spent some time in Luang Prabang and had a tuk tuk driver taking me to the waterfalls. I was riding inside the tuk tuk - not in the back - as it was a bit cold. I now wonder, is that "illegal" as well? Then, the next day he picked me up to take me to the airport and before leaving I asked him into my room at the guesthouse as he wanted to see the pictures I had taken the day before. No intentions, after all we were leaving 5 mins later. How close to "illegal" was I? I really wouldn't want to get in trouble on a further trip, so how much "distance" do I have to keep to a local male, me being a white female? Oh, he had also invited me to a Laos disco me sitting in front of the tuk tuk. At the disco, though, I saw quite a few white guys with Lao women, quite obvious what it was all about. So how is that being handled??

    #62 Posted: 12/2/2012 - 10:40

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    Your fears are absolutely baseless.

    #63 Posted: 12/2/2012 - 17:55

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
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    I think it's important to remmember that the vast majority of tourists who go to Laos don't have a problem with the police. I'm not defending the single party state or it's security apparatus. I despise all single party governance. But that's not an issue that is impacting on your average tourist.

    #64 Posted: 12/2/2012 - 21:13

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Agreed, you should be fine, for some reason they were suspicious of me. Being a female in Luang Prabang, you should have no problem. You would most definitely have a problem being a male with a Lao female in some of the towns I mentioned; on the other hand, I think in Vientiane and LPG, and perhaps Savannakhet, have more Thai-like police in terms of being fine foreign-local interactions of the non-sexual or sexual varieties.

    I've also heard of cases of Lao children being kidnapped right out of their village to be sold as sex workers, so perhaps they thought I was this sort of visitor.

    I've since spent more time in southern Laos, and have not attracted the same attention. Friends backpacking through China mentioned having similar negative encounters with police there - being told to stay in foreign areas and such, perhaps for economic reasons (they make more money if you stay in the tourist areas).

    One other town where visitors have police problems is Vang Vieng - I was told that about 20 people were recently arrested in one of the bars for illicit substance possession, even those who weren't in possession of illicit substances. Of course that town is known for having corrupt police who profit off both ends of the drug trade (sales and arrests).

    I feel sympathy for the Lao people.

    #65 Posted: 12/2/2012 - 21:46

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    "Of course that town is known for having corrupt police who profit off both ends of the drug trade (sales and arrests)."

    It is also know for having tourists who buy drugs. If they did not purchase drugs they would not have a problem. It is time they stopped blaming others and took responsibility for their own actions.

    #66 Posted: 14/2/2012 - 00:34

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    "It is also know for having tourists who buy drugs. If they did not purchase drugs they would not have a problem. It is time they stopped blaming others and took responsibility for their own actions."

    What logic. I commented about the corruptness of police who take bribes from dealers and in turn extort tourists who are "foolish" enough to smoke a joint, etc. (and presumably not sufficiently cautious to not get caught), or even extort those happen to be in the vicinity. Such behavior is extortion since the "fines" are carried out extrajudicially, ie not through the rule of law. Do you find anything reprehensible about this sort of behavior by the police, profitting off the drug trade from both ends?

    #67 Posted: 14/2/2012 - 00:56

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Rufus
    He's got a point. If the police were concerned about the drug issue in and of itself, they would close down the distribution points (like the restaraunts). They don't, because they are getting payoffs from them, and then are arresting people at the places they are getting payoffs from in order to strong arm more money out of the tourist who thought this was "illegal" but "acceptable" (sort of like prostitution in Thailand). It's a setup, and the police are running the scam. No point in trying to defend the Gestapo here. That's not to say tht the tourist aren't being moronic and putting themselves foolishly at risk - but it's designed to entrap them and enrich the police at the same time.

    #68 Posted: 14/2/2012 - 03:52

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    I am not defending the police Mac. However if tourists didn't buy drugs they would not be scammed, would they? If people behave stupidly then they should take responsibility for their actions.

    #69 Posted: 14/2/2012 - 18:20

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Well on that you and I are in violent agreement.

    #70 Posted: 14/2/2012 - 21:54

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    "I am not defending the police Mac. However if tourists didn't buy drugs they would not be scammed, would they? If people behave stupidly then they should take responsibility for their actions."

    At one point in dreamtime, my attorney (a solid attorney, as it were) smoked marijuana and opium in Laos. He was not behaving stupidly and was not caught. The marijuana, it is alleged, was of poor quality. But the opium was, allegedly,...ahhhhh... Laos, like many other countries, including the US, it seems, has two types of police - local "community" police who are basically looking to keep their family and friends safe - and then there's the "Nazi" party police, in green uniforms, who will F**K YOUR S**T UP if you're a Lao person trying to fight The Party's status by keeping your soup restaurant open past curfew hours or by participating in other mischievous behaviors - but if you're a foreigner with embassy protection - you will be "encouraged" to leave the country. Still, as others have suggested, my attorney is basically worthless in Laos, a one-party autocratic state.

    For the most part I love Lao people but F**k the Lao government. I'm told it's worse in Myanmar...

    #71 Posted: 18/3/2012 - 11:45

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Square
    That's the way it is with ALL single party states. Laos is much more tolerant than most too.

    I think the Laos for Laos law is hillarious. I have a friend who married a Laos woman, but because he's over 65, not only can he not get the marriage recognized in Laos, he can't even go there and meet her family without being at serious risk. Imagine if ANY western country passed a law that dictated who someone could and could not marry or have sex with in this day and age?

    You will also note the lack of political dissent (which appears obvious to you) in Laos. You think you're going to see an "occupy whatever" demonstration in Laos? Yeah, right.

    Single party states can only be single party states if they crush dissent and freedom of expression. As soon as you allow dissent and freedom of expression, you become a multi-party state.

    #72 Posted: 18/3/2012 - 22:03

  • neosho

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 386

    Madmac
    I agree with your position on the multi-party system. Yet since 911, we have increasingly seen an attack on our civil liberties in the US, all sold to us by both the major parties in the name of security. The so called Patriot Act and now the NDAA of 2012 could be subject to major abuse. Those abuses may eventually be exposed in a society such as ours but only after they occur. Our law enforcement agencies don't knock on your door anymore. They break it down, usually in the early morning hours when you're sleeping.

    #73 Posted: 18/3/2012 - 22:21

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    neosho
    Most of the time, they knock on the door when serving a warrant. They only break it down when concerned about violence. And to be fair, that's legitimate concern, especially with drug dealers and violent offenders.

    The US today is FAR, FAR, FAR more free than it was in 1950. I'm not saying we don't have to be concerned about government excess. But we do have to keep perspective and also remmember that there was a legitimate threat generating the response. You are still free to engage in political dissent of all kinds in the US, as well as free to found your own party, write your own critics, and so forth.

    And the US doesn't have a two party system. It's really not a fair description. There is a communist party of the US which every election has a candidate for the presidency. There is a socialist party, green party (remmember Ralph Nader?), Libertarian party, independents... But the American people ARE centrist (right of center from a European perspective) and their political mainstream reflects what they are.

    No western Democracy can be even remotely compared to a single party state.

    #74 Posted: 18/3/2012 - 22:26

  • neosho

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 386

    I said multi-party, but the two major parties usually control things.
    Last fall a man was awakened by his front door crashing down. He goes out of his upstairs bedroom to met by a member of ICE and thrown down the stairs. His crime? Suspected of downloading kiddie porn from the internet. Turns out it was a young neighbor of his tapping into this man's unsecured WIFI.
    Over a year ago, a young ex-marine was awakened by his wife because she had seen someone armed and dressed in black run by their window. He grabs a gun and runs into the hallway about the time they come through the front door. Twenty seconds and 70 bullets later, the man was dead with 22 bullets finding their mark. His crime? Suspected, never proven, that he was involved in drugs.
    I suggest they could have accosted either one of these men later with a lot less damage. There have been other instances. Just having a warrant does not justify such actions

    #75 Posted: 18/3/2012 - 22:53

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
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    Neosho
    Those things do happen. No dispute there. And when they do, if malfeasance is determined, it needs to be punished. Sometimes it will be, sometimes it won't. But while this aspect might be new, government malfesance is not new. Think of the lynchings of blacks 50 years ago. Or currupt police intimidating and stealing from people. In a free society, there's a possibility of redress. In a closed one... you're screwed.

    In Germany, where I lived for a long time, the State is much softer in how the police enforce laws. BUT, Germany does not have a culture of individual violence, and it's massive amounts of state violence were eliminated with WW II. On the other hand, violent offenders are often on the street in a very short time. When I lived in Augsburg, we had an 18 year old murder a 12 year old girl for fun. It was premeditated, planned event. He wanted to see what it was like to be Michael in Halloween. He got five years. In another case, a girl was taken hostage. Beautiful 18 year old. Police had numerous opportunities to kill the hostage taker, but failed to do so. He killed the girl.

    There is no such thing as perfect governance, but one in which people can elect their representation, are free to express disastifaction and free to participate if they so chose is about as good as it gets.

    #76 Posted: 18/3/2012 - 23:01

  • neosho

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 386

    Madmac
    We're in general agreement on this. The under reaction by the German police can be just as deadly as the over reaction of the American.
    While there has been many abuses of the past and will be more in the future, it always seemed that we progressed away from those practices. It is just my opinion that since 911 we have been regressing. Especially the civil liberities area.
    We can start another thread with my next question, but have you been keeping up with the political circus that's been going on?

    #77 Posted: 18/3/2012 - 23:36

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Heard some more news from the through the backpacker grapevine via VV - of course, take it with a grain of salt, but it sounds interesting. Apparently the Lao government does not like the impact the backpackers or younger crowd is having on Lao culture. In light of much of the irresponsible behavior that goes on in VV and elsewhere, I'd say this is a reasonable enough view. So their new policy is in the next few years they want to promote the country as a family or luxury-traveler style destination. I have no clue how they plan to do this, but it seems the local officials have been made aware of this and are trying to take advantage of what they might see as the end of the backpacker crowds.

    On to what you all spoke of above: a friend in the US recently angered an unreasonable roommate, who in revenge went to the sheriff's and told them my friend was distributing heroin and was armed. The local judge signed off a search warrant and the police busted in my friend's house, full-on raid. They manufactured some bogus charges to justify the raid, which were thrown out in court, but it cost my friend many thousands in apartment affairs and lawyer fees. This kind of stuff goes on all the time in the US and there is no political will in either of the two major parties to put a halt on the militarization of the police force.

    Another thing that interests me about Laos is why food and other things are so expensive there. I can get a big plate of delicious pad ga pow gai khai tod (fried holy basil chicken on rice, with fried egg) for the equivalent of 8,000 kip (30 baht or 1 USD) right across the Mekong in Thailand, but the same dish would be at least 15,000 kip, nearly twice the price, at a similar shop in Laos. At markets and street set-ups in Thailand, the food prepared generally gets bought up. All across Laos I saw so much food being prepared and not being sold - and it's not like there aren't hungry people in Laos - in some of the places I mentioned up north, quality meat is definitely a luxury item for the richer people in the villages. I think the central planning of their economy leads to the unfortunate situation of meat laying around, unsold, with malnourished kids nearby.

    #78 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 05:25

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Square
    Laos in general is not good agricultural land and is a net food importer. Thailand is a net food exporter. Hence the difference. If Laos had some sort of production going on, it would be different. But it's land locked and doesn't have a well educated population and this creates challenges to move to an industrial economy. Plus there is the poor governance.

    The "militarization of the police" is a direct result of violent crime. American police have always been more aggressive than their European counter-parts because America is a more violent culture. This isn't really about governance, but about culture and who has the right to use violence within the society. In this respect, Europe and the US are very different in their outlooks.

    #79 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 06:16

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Madmac - thanks for the response

    Not sure if your explanation re: Lao economics makes sense. The going rate for a full-grown water buffalo, I was told, is around 500 Euro. The meat produced might go for 550 Euro at the local market (didn't think to ask why they quoted in Euro, it's more likely that Baht or Kip would be used). At that kind of price only the wealthy few can eat buffalo, for example. The rest sell the buffalo. I guess you're implying that if there was more arable land, the supply of food such as buffalo would increase, so the price would correspondingly decrease, and people would be able to afford it? Similar reasoning for the less pricey meats such as chicken fish and pig.

    I'm curious if Vietnam is more like Laos or Thailand. The Vietnamese I came across in Laos and upcountry Thailand seemed more hard working - always doing something "productive", rather than sitting around drinking, or just sitting day after day after day, like many of the Thai/Laotians seemed to do (perhaps they just know how to relax).

    What you say about Militarization of US police being the result of violent crime is not true to the best of my knowledge. This is largely a result of the War on Terror, and while militarization of US police was underway prior to 9/11, it exponentially took off thereafter, with federal grants and the like, after nearly a decade of falling violent crime rates (which the author of Freakonomics argued was a direct result of Roe v Wade/legalization of abortion). I don't want to hijack a travel forum but here's a good write-up, I think someone above also read this article:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/how-the-war-on-terror-has-militarized-the-police/248047/

    #80 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 08:08

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    No the militarization of the US police started LONG before 9-11. People have been complaining about it for at least two decades. There's no causal association there. The 9-11 issue isn't the militarization of the police, but rather specific laws that gave government agents more leeway to conduct search and seizure without warrants. That is what has civil libertarians concerned.

    Again, the US is simply a more violent culture. In US law individual use of violence is more acceptable both legally and culturally.

    But I emphasize that is quite demonstrable that the US if more free now than it was in 1950 or 1960 and government has less, not more, freedom concerning search and seizure now than then.

    #81 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 09:01

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    ^^^"The US is simply a more violent culture.

    If you look at murder rates, the Land of Smiles is a more violent culture than the US. Their police still seem to do fine without the mini-tanks. I have no clue where you get the idea that individual use of violence in the US is at all acceptable culturally or legally. I've lived in rural and urban areas in different parts of the states, didn't find this anywhere. I honestly found in SE Asia that use of violence seems more acceptable in some circumstances, ie if you are insensitive enough to cause someone to "lose face", and keep it up, they will react with violence. The pictures of your body will be in the newspapers, etc. Are you referring to some states' self-defense laws?

    In the decade since 9/11 the federal government has given grants of $34 billion to state and local police to spend on military-style equipment, with little or no monitoring with regards to what it's spent on or whether the equipment is actually necessary. Such wide-scale federal funding did not occur prior to 9/11. The new warrantless search-and-seizure rules don't seem to have a direct impact on your typical US police officer; the evidence won't hold up in court, only in a special, secret court. However, the military equipment and training, and the general psychological shift from a "peace officer" role to a military-like "occupational force" role is far more tangible and apparent in terms of typical police in the US.

    I spoke with a retired state police lieutenant a few years back - he said when he was working, the way they would serve a warrant on a person was to go to the house, knock on the door, and proceed. Never had any problems. That's the "community peace officer" attitude. The ones today have a different mindset and I think it's a detriment to that country.

    #82 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 09:25

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    To be continued...

    #83 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 12:42

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    squarethecircle, I suggest you stop posting before you make an even greater fool of yourself than you have with your last few posts. You appear to know nothing about the lao Government at all, yet are posting as if you were an authority.

    #84 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 19:44

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    ^^^such a post adds nothing to the forum - and in addition to contributing nothing, it took to uncreative name-calling rather than adding substance. If Rufus would point out where my perception is wrong (I was pretty clear that I was stating my perception if s/he didn't catch that) and explain in a logical manner why, that would add something to the discussion. Given Rufus' previous responses, I suspect the "logical" part may be difficult for Rufus. Otherwise I would ask Rufus not to spoil the forum with these mindless non-contributions. I think the 2nd response, from Madmac, regarding one-party governments, is particularly accurate. If Rufus doesn't find my posts substantive, perhaps s/he could attempt to refute Madmac's views regarding one-party states, and Laos in particular.

    #85 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 21:33

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Well it's not possible to refute what I said about a one party state. That's like trying to refute a base assumption that the Nazi government was brutal. It is axiomatic that a one party state represses dissent. If it doesn't, it doesn't remain a one party state. Laos is most certainly less reprehessive than North Korea. So there are definitely degrees. In Laos enough repression is maintained in order to maintain a one party state. In Korea, it's full on.

    The big difference is that in elected representational governments, people are free to express dissatisfaction with the representatives, free to choose new ones, free to boycot or strike or protest, free to join or create a party and run for election... in one party states people are not free to do these things, or the contraints upon doing them are extreme.

    Like I said, you aren't going to see "occupy whatever" anytime soon in Laos. Not going to happen. You are not going to be on vacation and see protestors carrying signs saying "Prime Minister (I have forgotten that August personages name) must go". In fact, you aren't going to see any protestors ever. It doesn't happen. And there is a reason for that. And the reason isn't because Laos people are all perfectly happy with their governance all of the time.

    #86 Posted: 19/3/2012 - 22:10

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    OK, lets look at the nonsense you spouted:


    At one point in dreamtime, my attorney (a solid attorney, as it were) smoked marijuana and opium in Laos. He was not behaving stupidly and was not caught.

    Yes, of course he was behaving stupidly. You well know that these acts are against the law, so it was a stupid action. He was lucky not to get caught. I wonder how a conviction waould have affetced his ability to practice law in his own country. By the way, why are you appealing to authority? What difference does it make whether this person was a lawyer or a streetsweeper?

    then there's the "Nazi" party police, in green uniforms, who will F**K YOUR S**T UP if you're a Lao person trying to fight The Party's status by keeping your soup restaurant open past curfew hours or by participating in other mischievous behaviors.

    What sort of nonsensical statement is this? Do you have evidence of this happening or this a figment of your imagination? I have heard of bars being forced to close after 11.30, but thats it.

    their new policy is in the next few years they want to promote the country as a family or luxury-traveler style destination.

    Apart from backpacker gossip, where is your concrete evidence for this? If it were to happen, I for one would think it is a good thing anyway.

    Another thing that interests me about Laos is why food and other things are so expensive there.

    Food and "things" are not SO, (my emphasis), expensive here. Street food is more expensive by a little than in Thailand. I pay about 10,000Kip for lunch, which is a little more expensive than the 8,000 you quoted. Western restaurants, beer and wine etc, are far cheaper than their equivalents in Thailand. The quality of western restauranst is better as well.

    All across Laos I saw so much food being prepared and not being sold - and it's not like there aren't hungry people in Laos
    I think the central planning of their economy leads to the unfortunate situation of meat laying around, unsold, with malnourished kids nearby.

    The statement above is incorrect. I have no idea where you were or what you saw; food that is prepared at street stalls is sold to both locals and tourists. Further, there is not much malnutrition in Lao except if you are talking about remote villages and hill tribes. These places are hard to reach.

    Do you have any idea how government decisions are made in this country? Do you even know the names of the PM, the President and influential ministers without using Google? Have you any inkling of this country's history? I suspect not. I would far rather live here than in Thailand, which incidentally rates higher on many indexes of corruption than Lao.

    #87 Posted: 20/3/2012 - 02:18

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Oh wow...you managed to give a half-thoughtful response to my "nonsense". I expected you to disappear :0.


    Not appealing to authority - it's just my attorney happened to be travelling there and reported back. The fact that the very destructive "white whiskey" or Lao-Lao is legal there while cannabis or opium are not shows how arbitrary the laws are. There's nothing morally wrong with responsibly using these materials. If used properly, they each have their own medical uses, and have been used in this manner for millennia.


    As far as the "men in green" or national police, I know of one case in northern Laos (Luang Namtha) where a Lao national was kidnapped for political reasons, and there was evidence of police involvement. That individual's position in the tourist industry meant his detainment was publicized. There are also reports on wikitravel.org/en/Vang_Vieng
    of police arrest of locals (and allegations of demands for sexual services by police) for violating the curfew. Elsewhere in Laos I noticed towns shut down at night. This perhaps is partly cultural - sleeping with the sun - but it's also enforced by a curfew.


    I have no evidence besides the backpacker gossip for the "family-friendly Laos" story, as I clearly stated. To me it sounds like a plausible explanation for what is going on there. I think their government is going to have to clean up its act if it wants Laos to really be famiy-friendly - someone reasonably observant can see things are not right there in many ways. A family-friendly destination in SE Asia would be a nice escape from the sex tourists (or worse, pedophiles or criminals on the run) that are common elsewhere in the region.


    With regards to malnutrition, a UNICEF study released last year showed that upwards of 50% of rural Lao children have stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. I couldn't find figures regarding malnutrition in the cities. It seems that Laos has a very wide distribution of wealth - nationwide, the annual per capita GDP is $2700 USD, roughly 8 dollars or 64,000 kip a day. In Luang Namtha province, the per capita GDP is around $270 (around 75 cents or 6000 kip per day). Given your quoted meal price, on average, a person in Luang Namtha can afford a meal once every two days.

    I don't know how government decisions are made, but if you have any inside information, that would be very interesting to hear. I don't know and don't care who the PM, president, or influential ministers are, but I can comfortably say "shame" on them for their greed and their treatment and neglect of the Lao people and minority populations. Also, I don't know how corruption rates can be quantified in a country that lacks an independent media, and where dissenting voices can be imprisoned without anyone outside hearing about it. All this considered, it appears that neighboring Myanmar and China's governments have worse records regarding human rights, and given China's influence on Laos, it's probably not going to change for the better any time soon.

    One other question I have is - why is there such an apparent lack of Western expats living in Laos, compared with even the most remote regions of Thailand, where many expats retire? I think Thailand's more welcoming attitude towards expats/falang immigration is one small but significant piece of evidence that it's less of a repressive country.

    If any moderators are reading this, is this thread turning into too much political discussion irrelevant to the typical visitor to Laos?

    #88 Posted: 20/3/2012 - 04:46

  • wanderingcat

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 724
    Total reviews: 4
    Places visited:
    At least 67

    perhaps time for this discussion to be split off into the Culture & Politics section?

    #88:
    Given your quoted meal price, on average, a person in Luang Namtha can afford a meal once every two days.

    many people in rural Laos are subsistence farmers & survive mainly outside of the cash economy. they eat what they grow + what they hunt & forage from the forest & rivers. it's the people living in the towns & cities who use cash to buy a significant portion of the food that they consume. think this is one reason why the markets that serve the most rural villages of Laos are active only once per fortnight, while markets in towns open daily.

    why is there such an apparent lack of Western expats living in Laos, compared with even the most remote regions of Thailand, where many expats retire?

    basic infrastructure in Laos is still lacking outside of the major towns & cities (just a handful of places in Laos make it into the 'towns & cities' category, unlike in Thailand - consider that the population of Thailand is >10X that of Laos). most Western expats need their comforts & conveniences. even in rural Thailand, you have access to clean water, a stable electricity supply & good paved roads. the standard of healthcare facilities in Laos outside of Vientiane is still far from what one can expect at the province capital level in Thailand (am not even talking about the better private or university hospitals in major cities like Khon Kaen & Chiangmai, let alone those in Bangkok). even for Vientiane, the wealthier Lao people still travel to Udon Thani, Khon Kaen or Bangkok for medical treatment. cheap (relative to the West) & good healthcare is one major draw for the older (retirement age) Western expats, & they find it in Thailand, not Laos.

    about the difference in cost of living between Thailand & Laos - might want to factor in the price controls & subsidies from the Thai government for things like fuel, food staples (rice, cooking oil, sugar, etc) & building materials, which keep prices lower for consumers in Thailand. Laos still has to import a whole lot of things, & this involves moving them across a transport network that is still pretty basic (incurring additional transport costs) - was looking at this line of fuel trucks slowly climbing the hills of northern Nan province to cross into Laos, & wondering how much fuel would be spent by the time the trucks made it across the (then) unpaved roads of northern Sayabouly province to the nearest big town in Laos. as a guesthouse owner in Luang Prabang was telling me, pretty much everything from mattresses to light bulbs to toilet bowls is imported from Thailand or China.

    #89 Posted: 20/3/2012 - 16:33

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    Lets look at what you have written:

    "he fact that the very destructive "white whiskey" or Lao-Lao is legal there while cannabis or opium are not shows how arbitrary the laws are.
    This is a straw man argument. What does this have to do with using drugs. Lao Lao happens to be legal, drugs do not in Lao.


    There's nothing morally wrong with responsibly using these materials. If used properly, they each have their own medical uses, and have been used in this manner for millennia.
    This is irrelevant. If these substances are illegal in Lao, then so be it. The fact that they have been used elswhere is of no consequence. As an analogy, look at behaviour acceptable in western countries which would earn you a jail term in the Middle East.

    "" I know of one case in northern Laos (Luang Namtha) where a Lao national was kidnapped for political reasons, and there was evidence of police involvement."
    You KNOW of this case personally? I have heard of it. My knowledge is that the person disappeared. What actually happened to him is unknown, so I am curious from where you got the kidnapping information. By the way, Wikipedia is NOT a credible source.
    "police arrest of locals (and allegations of demands for sexual services by police) for violating the curfew."

    Evidence please.

    "a person in Luang Namtha can afford a meal once every two days."
    A subsistence farmer can afford a meal every 2 days? Do you realise how silly this comment is?

    "why is there such an apparent lack of Western expats living in Laos, compared with even the most remote regions of Thailand, where many expats retire? I think Thailand's more welcoming attitude towards expats/falang immigration is one small but significant piece of evidence that it's less of a repressive country."
    Lao has a population of about 6 million. Of course there are fewer westerners living here. By the way, there is a large expat community here. If you think Thailand has a welcoming attitude to foreigners, I can only suggest you don't read the complaints posted on many fora.

    "I don't know and don't care who the PM, president, or influential ministers are,"
    Well, thats it then. I have no interest in debating a topic with someone who is ignorant about what they are debating and has no desire to improve their knowledge. It is a wast of my time. Hence this is my last post in answer to you.

    #90 Posted: 20/3/2012 - 23:17

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    To tbe best of my knowledge (Rufus correct me if things have changed) Laos doesn't have a retirement visa, so to live there you have to be married to a Laos woman (something actively discouraged in their legal system and not permitted once you are 65 years old anyway). Most people reach the point at which they can relocate permenently after they have made their money and are retired. To do that in Laos, you have to generate some sort of machinations to get a fake work permit for a job you aren't doing...

    Laos also doesn't have near the cosmopolitan appeal of Thailand either (which is why backpackers like it - it strikes them as more authentic).

    Laos' medical infrastucture is also not very good in most parts of the country - precisely because it is much poorer than Thailand (which is why it's not as cosmopolitan).

    All of these factors combine to limit a permanent expat community in Laos. In Vientiane you still have some, and a diplomatic community of course...

    As for "family friendly" Sqaure get real here. This is SEA. Sex for sale is part of the culture of ALL of the mainstream SEA countries (less so in the Muslim areas of course - but even there it's around). A lot of people pretend the reason authorities don't crack down on it is because they are benefitting from it financially. That's only one reason. The other is they don't see anything wrong with it. It's part of life here. As a westerner you are attaching a moral value to it that is interpreted in a different manner here.

    #91 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 00:06

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    Thanks for the information Madmac and wanderingcat. Rufus, the whole point of my continued responses is to improve my knowledge and the increase the information available to others. If you have a good logical response to things you find incorrect in what I say, then please share. It doesn't sound like you are willing to do this. Furthermore, I don't care what the names of Lao's government ministers are because I find it a corrupt state. They drive around Vientiane and elsewhere in their fancy cars and vans with the police siren-blasting escorts, while >50% of children in rural areas are malnourished, and other human rights violations are committed against Lao people (such as the Hmong people east of Vang Vieng). I find this reprehensible.

    Madmac and wandering cat bring up some good points about concrete reasons why there is not a substantial expat community there as you find in Thailand. However, I think the political situation - the Lao government trying to maintain its tight grip on the Lao people - also plays a big role, particularly outside of Vientiane. Here's a good article I found regarding the Lao government's fear of foreigners, and mentions the expulsion of expats doing charity work - helping the locals improve their economic lot - in some of the areas I was in: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/JB02Ae01.html (some of these also were apparently engaged in religious proselytization as well). There is indeed some crookedness in Thailand's treatment of foreigners - for example, if you follow on ThaiVisa, there has been a constant stream of suspicious expat 'suicides' by falling out of buildings in Pattaya/Phuket that never seem to get properly investigated, just quickly labeled as 'suicide' - but I don't think the Thai government has the same sort of political fear or suspicion of outsiders as the Lao government does.

    There's a thread on the Lonely Planet forum regarding the kidnapping of Pawn in Luang Namtha: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1337931. One of the commenters stated my own views/experience perfectly - "I thought of Laos as a very fine country with a very fine people and culture, and so it was a shock to run up against the angles of violence, corruption and fear that also seem to permeate the society." There's a police state apparatus there that I would have expected to find in China or Myanmar, but found surprising in Laos.

    I felt it was my duty to share my observations, and thanks to those who people are giving informative responses.

    #92 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 01:40

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    "(something actively discouraged in their legal system and not permitted once you are 65 years old anyway)"
    Mac, there is no retirement visa, but you can apply for a permanent visa, and some i know have done this. There is no 65 rule; I don't know where you have got this from, but Cambodia does have such a rule, though it is 60 I think. You are not actively discouraged from marrying a Lao; you are discouraged from cohabiting.

    "Laos' medical infrastructure is also not very good in most parts of the country - precisely because it is much poorer than Thailand (which is why it's not as cosmopolitan)."
    I agree with this.

    I find StC posts amusing in their naivety. He offers no evidence for any of the assertions he makes. By the way Mac, I am sure that you would agree that it is a good thing that missionaries get booted from the country; they do more harm than good.

    #93 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 03:07

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Rufus
    I have a friend who just got married. He's 73. His wife is Laotion. After he got married (In Australia) the Laos embassy told him that Laos law prohibits foreign men from marrying Laos women if the man is over 65. They also told him he could not travel to Laos with his wife. Now, maybe the Laos embassy got their facts wrong, but that's what they told him and his wife said he should not go to Laos at all. That he might be at risk for violating the Laos for Laos law.
    I do not consider it a good thing that missionaries get booted from ANY country. This is all tied to freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and so forth. My daughter goes to a Kindergarten sponsored by the Protestant Church in the States, and it's a well run kindegarten that offers indigenous people an opportunity for their kids at a very reasonable price and a cut rate for the poor. Sure, they prostelytize. This doesn't bother me. I went to the same kind of kindergarten when I was a kid. I am not a Christian.
    I consider it a good thing when the state provides basic services and infrastructure and otherwise shuts its mouth. I'm a Libertarian. My irritation with my own government (and people - the American people are to blame) is the state is involved in everything now. There is nothing the state deosn't seem to have an opinion on and want to pass a law about. They've lost the plot. This is a problem in the US, it's worse in Laos.
    Some of TsC posts are off, but his basic assumption that the Police of Laos are in the service of evil is correct. As it is correct in all one party states. Natures law, not mine. The wrong side won the war.

    #94 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 03:22

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    I find StC posts amusing in their naivety. He offers no evidence for any of the assertions he makes. By the way Mac, I am sure that you would agree that it is a good thing that missionaries get booted from the country; they do more harm than good.

    ^^^I find Rufus' posts amusing in his inability to follow basic logic. The Thais have more impressive logical ability (no offense to the Thais intended). If he would actually respond in any detail to what I've observed and concluded, this would add substance to the thread. Otherwise I have to agree with Madmac that my basic assertion that Lao national government are in the service of evil is correct (as I mentioned above, I encountered individual police there who did appear to be decent). Fortunately I think most people are more sensible and I'm glad this information will get out to them. And second what Madmac says about Freedom of Expression.

    #95 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 03:31

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    Mac, I just asked the local Mayor if he knew of such a law and he replied in the negative. I will try and ask around a bit more for you if I can as this also interests me.
    Regarding the missionaries: there are a number of cases I know of where they have been booted out; in all instances they were proselytizing. In one case being taught English was linked to being forced to attending Church services. I find it appalling that some christians believe in forcing their nonsense down other peoples' throats and supplanting others' cultures, particularly when those cultures and belief structures are older than theirs.
    I am definitely not a Libertarian by the way; I would regard myself as a socialist. Perhaps thats why I enjoy living in Lao. Yeah, sue many of the cops are corrupt, but so they are in Los as well. At least we don't have a you know who here anymore.

    #96 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 05:12

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    ^^^Rufus, Lao is not a genuine socialist state. If you would take your blinders off you would see wealth there is concentrated in the hands of the few. The fact that the per capita GDP is $8 per day, means that those who can afford the fancy BMWs and Mercedes or those French cars are taking up a humongous proportion of that GDP, probably deriving from cushy benefits due to resource exploitation.

    But of course neither this extreme split in the distribution of wealth, nor human rights offenses documented (illegally), are of the least bit of concern in a country where religious missionaries might be on the loose. Glad to see you've got your moral priorities straight.

    #97 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 05:52

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    Something smells. Did you fart Mac? Oh sorry, it was just another irrelevant post from STC.

    #98 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 06:21

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    "I find it appalling that some christians believe in forcing their nonsense down other peoples' throats and supplanting others' cultures, particularly when those cultures and belief structures are older than theirs."

    There are lots of things I find appalling that do not need to be regulated by the State. I find the Laos for Laos law appalling. The state is now telling people who can **** who? Come again? Do you find it appalling that there are Bhudists teaching Bhudism in England? There are. Is it appalling that there are Muslims prostylitizing in the US? What's good for one place is good for the other. And it's certainly not the place of the state to intervene. If people aren't interested, ignore them. Look how many people ignore Jehovah's Witnesses every day.

    Laos isn't just currupt. Come on man, get your head out of the sand. The system is oppressive. Any system that doesn't allow people to say what they think is oppressive. You aren't part of the system, like me in Thailand. It's WAY better to be a Falang in Thailand than a Thai in Thailand. Because the social rules don't count for us. We get cut lots of extra slack because we're assumed not to know better.

    I am more concerned with being free than social justice. Social justice becomes an excuse for those in the position to make the decisions about who gets what make sure they are getting what. Another universal truth. Socialism is a dead letter, but it doesn't know it yet. Communism is deader yet. Who decides who gets what? I'm sure you've read Orwell's Animal Farm. It goes down this way EVERY TIME. At least in quasi socialist states like Germany, people can express dissent and vote and so forth. And leave if they don't like it. And at least Laos has that going for it. People can vote with their feet (as so many do - we got tons here and tons in the US).

    Like I said, the Laos government sucks. It is the enemy of its people, and I look forward to the inevitable day when it goes the way that Russia went. As I said before, the wrong side won the war.

    #99 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 10:14

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    "As I said before, the wrong side won the war."
    I don't really believe that yoou mean this Mac. Would you rather have French colonialists exploiting the country's resources rather than self government? As I said, at least we don't have a "you know who" here like you do.

    By the way mac, I don't think you read my post properly; the Christians, (mainly Koreans), who spread Christianity here often linked it to aid or English teaching. That is what I find distasteful in particular. I agree with kicking them out.

    #100 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 18:39

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Missionaries, particularly Muslim and Christian, make this linkage all the time. It's part of their faith - to help the poor and to prostelytize is part of their edict. The question isn't whether or not you approve or like it, but rather is it an issue for government? The answer is no.

    I don't like door to door salesmen. It's annnoying. But do I think government should ban it?

    I don't like Monks coming around all the time looking for cash for something or other. But do I think the government should ban the practice?

    I despise those Che Guevara T shirts, but does that mean they should be outlawed?

    The missionaries should be free to give away whatever they want and should be free to say whatever they want. It's not the business of government to regulate that. And if people don't like it, then ignore them. If they're poor and feel they have to take one to get the other - so be it. That's their decision, not the governments.

    When you empower government to regulate things you support, you empower it to regulate things you don't support (like who you can be with and where).

    And I didn't mean the French. They were out of the war by 54.

    #101 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 22:01

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    "but rather is it an issue for government? The answer is no."

    For me the answer is definitely that it IS an issue. By the way, I am in favour of strong governments and government regulation and i always have been. It is a difference of principle I guess. I would suspect far more Americans are libertarians than say Europeans.

    #102 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 22:16

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Absolutely. Strong, meddling government is a recipe for having someone who doesn't know you and doesn't care about you dictate ever increasing aspects of your existence. And in a one party state the security apparatus will make sure you are laothe to complain.

    Germany has strong government and at every level.

    My old girlfriend's sister was renovating a house, and the local city council not only disapproved her plan (she wanted her living room to have a three sided plate glass window looking out over the hills behind her house and that archtectural style did not fit that of the village) but also told her she could not have a blue roof (which she preferred) but had to have a red one as that was the approved color of the roofs in the village and for aesthetic reasons they have to be the same.

    If you cross the street when no cars are IN SIGHT, but the little man is red, you can (and sometimes are) cited for J walking. On Konrad Adenauer Allee in Augsburg whole crowds of people will stand and stare at the little man even though you can see a full kilometer down the road and there no cars (because the light is red a kilometer down the one way road!).

    There isn't any actvity in Germany that isn't heavily regulated. Boating, driving (you ought to see a car inspection in Germany), taxation out the ying yang, parachuting, parasailing, running a business of any type, education, home or building construction... all the rules always developing slowly, insidiously and with the best of intentions.

    Want to have a salsa party in Germany? Well, then you have to have a permit to play music in an pubilc environment (which costs something like Euro 100 a month).

    A vote for strong government is a vote for oppression. The more years that go by, the more laws on the books. They never seem to come off the books. They just accumulate.

    And strong one party government? In Laos you can be arrested and detained indefinitely without charge. You are aware of that right? Of course it's illegal, but since no one can challenge state authorities, they are under no obligation to follow the law - and they don't. It's all documented out there. See any "occupy Vientiane" demonstrations lately Rufus? Guarantee you won't either. See any "stop dam construction" demos? How about any demonstrations against deforestation? How about any condemnation against the central government by anyone - EVER?

    #103 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 22:45

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    So Rufus isn't disturbed about Lao police "allegedly" raping Lao women who were violating the curfew in VV, or human rights violations east of VV involving rape and murder of Hmong women and children, but finds religious proselytization worthy of being kicked out of the country.

    #104 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 22:48

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    Mac, I lived in Germany for some time, as you know, so I am aware of these points. I was once chastised wor walking on the grass of the Gemeinde. I do disagree with your premise that "A vote for strong government is a vote for oppression." I believe a vote for strong government is a vote for security and the welfare of citizens who could not cope well otherwise. As I said, it is a difference in Philosophy.

    #105 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 23:05

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    STC please do not butt in in discussions others are having. I have already stated that I will not respond to your posts anymore because of a lack of knowledge, a lack of verification and basically silly statements.
    If you must have a response, your last post is even more ridiculous. Again you provide NO EVIDENCE of the events you allege took place. Please do not quote Wiki and do not quote right wing Hmong web sites, the authors of whom have a bone to pick with the present government. Now butt out of other people's discussions. While I disagree with Mac on many things, he is at least an intelligent and interesting correspondent unlike yourself. You come across as a 16 year old high school student.

    #106 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 23:10

  • eastwest

    Joined Travelfish
    17th December, 2009
    Posts: 771

    I agree with Rufus on the strong government. Can't say anything about the Lao government.

    Strange that Mac uses Germany as an example. Germany is a wealthier (per capita) country, has better health care with healthier people, superior infrastructure, far less real poverty and overall happiness of people seems to be higher than in the US (read that in some research).

    Sure there are silly laws that can make people crazy and that's part of the reason why we moved to more liberal countries but I'd say also that I'm in favor of a strong government. Mac you just throw all strong governments on 1 heap and condemn them

    #107 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 23:16

  • squaretheci-
    rcle

    Joined Travelfish
    19th October, 2011
    Posts: 125
    Total reviews: 5

    ^^^Rufus, you contradict yourself yet again. You stated you don't respond to my posts, yet you just responded to my post. If I'm such an uninteresting correspondent, then why so many responses? And you resort to a lot of name-calling but yet again fail to provide a substantial response, which makes sense because indefensible actions cannot, by definition, be defended.

    If I can get people visiting Laos to read the information on the internet about their government and its actions, available via an easy google search, then it's a good thing. It would also be interesting to hear from the journalists who were arrested in Xieng Khouang (15 year sentence, which due to international attention was suspended) while documenting Lao government/Hmong "interactions". If there's nothing to hide, then why the arrests?

    #108 Posted: 21/3/2012 - 23:48

  • khiekster

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd March, 2012
    Posts: 1

    I find some of the posts here a little odd. I do a bit of work promoting tourism here in Laos. I must admit that i have never heard of the cases quoted by square the circle either. I have tried to google them and really came up with nothing. It would seem to be some trolling for responses.

    #109 Posted: 22/3/2012 - 03:06

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6221
    Total reviews: 10

    Eastwest
    I lived in Germany for 18 years and there were three reasons I left and moved to Thailand:

    1. Climate. It's too damn cold.
    2. Cost of living. It's too damn expensive.
    3. Freedom. I am MUCH more free in Thailand than I ever was in Germany.

    Too many rules, too many regulations. I can only speak from my personal experience. The Germans have a love / hate relationship with their government - like most of us. They hate the over-regulation, but like Rufus expect government action on anything and everything they don't like. They're conflicted. I would not say they are happier than Americans (though some study or other might state this - I don't know), and I certainly prefer American governance (only because I don't like the fact that the German party system tends to sequester individuals from their constituents) to German (though I prefer the level of discourse and responsibility in German politicians which has a lot to do with German character). But the bottom line for me is I resent constant government interference in my daily life. Of course, like Americans, Germans basically have the government they asked for. The Laos don't. Big difference for sure.

    Related to this entire thread is an idea I consider really dangerous. The communist movement has basically been discredited at this point, but back in the 60s and 70s in particular, leftists in Europe and the US were highly sympathetic to those movements. They were sypathetic to the point that they ignored gross excesses and often said that reports of same were the product of "propaganda". That's because they thought there must be a "better way" and that better way was a rejection of the free market. With the recent economic crisis, many youth are again seeking a better way, and I am concerned that you will see apologists for these closed systems reappear. I have no problem with the Laos people, but no one should be sympathetic to that governing system. I guess that's my biggest rub. TsC is basically correct in that the Laos police are in the service of a government that needs to go away (although I will be the first to admit this is a Laos problem and needs a Laos solution).

    #110 Posted: 22/3/2012 - 08:36

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