Photo: Classic scenery surrounds Vang Vieng.

Laos forum

Northern Laos, the rivers and the Chinese effect.

Posted by Bowner on 8/2/2013 at 21:11

So what's the story with the Chinese and the dams up North? I was in Phongsali the last couple of days. Went for a wander out to some villages and when we popped over the top of one of the hills we found a scene of apocalypse! Diggers pulling apart the hillside, sticking it into trucks and dumping it down the bank presumably to improve the road. I've heard talk about the plan to build around 7 dams on the Mekong/Nam Ou but seeing it close up seems pretty scary. One minute we were seeing villagers collecting wood and 5 minutes later, Chinese trucks carting soil all over the place. I'm realising that some parts of the trip I've done these past few weeks will simply not be possible in a few years.

I've also heard about the environmentalist who 'disappeared' recently. I can see he would have had a lot to talk about because there are parts of Laos that look very depressing.

#1 Bowner has been a member since 10/1/2013. Posts: 11

Posted by MADMAC on 9/2/2013 at 01:45

Laos needs hydro power in order to export it and hopefully eventually build enough of a base to generate some manufacturing jobs. Laos desperately needs to earn foreign currency, and the dribble brought in from cheap backpackers doesn't cut it. Sometimes I think people would like to see the Laoso stay poor so they can keep a nice cheap place for them to play.

"I've also heard about the environmentalist who 'disappeared' recently. I can see he would have had a lot to talk about because there are parts of Laos that look very depressing."

Laos is a single party state which does not brook dissent. Environmentalists like to challenge authoritarian decisions concerning the environment - a good way to end up dead in Laos.

#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957


Posted by Bowner on 9/2/2013 at 09:00

"Laos needs hydro power in order to export it and hopefully eventually build enough of a base to generate some manufacturing jobs. Laos desperately needs to earn foreign currency, and the dribble brought in from cheap backpackers doesn't cut it. Sometimes I think people would like to see the Laoso stay poor so they can keep a nice cheap place for them to play."

Although I'm not sure it needs saying... I am a fan of sustainable development that doesn't rob Laos (and Vietnam further down the Mekong) and the planet of it's richest resources. I am not a fan of a country abusing another's natural resources for it's own selfish gain. I get the feeling Laos will not become super rich from this.

#3 Bowner has been a member since 10/1/2013. Posts: 11

Posted by MADMAC on 10/2/2013 at 02:08

Laos won't become super rich from this. But they will benefit. Eveyrone who is a fan of sustainable development (or better yet, telling others how to spend their investment money) and the ones not doing the investment. It's easy to tell other people how they should spend their money.
The Chinese are the ones who are putting up the cash, so they get a vote on how it's spent. To date, Mekong development and hydro power has not had a major effect on the Mekong. It's flows remain pretty much unchanged. Meanwhile Laos HAS (IS) earning real cash selling power to Thailand (like the power for my house).

#4 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Bowner on 11/2/2013 at 22:05

The future will tell. We'll see if the money coming into Laos will significantly improve the infrastructure, health and literacy or whether the people at the top will benefit to the detriment of the natural resources of the country.

#5 Bowner has been a member since 10/1/2013. Posts: 11

Posted by squarethecircle on 12/2/2013 at 05:54

Myanmar has blocked the building of at least one of these Chinese dams, and ASEAN economic community is being formed partially to make a strong counter-Chinese presence in SE Asia. Many people in Myr/Laos/Thai/Vietnam are weary of China's growing influence in the region, as they are not widely seen as good stewards or business partners.

#6 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by Rufus on 13/2/2013 at 04:06

I certainly agree with you Mac. It seems it is always the "haves" who criticise when the "have nots" try to improve their lot.
I think STC means wary, not "weary". Whether the Chinese are good business partners or not is debatable; certainly a lot of nations want to do business with them.

#7 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 13/2/2013 at 09:55

The Chinese bring the money. By definition, that's a good business partner. Whether or not the socio-politial system in Laos will allow serious benefits to your average Lao Joe remains to be seen. But what we do know is that without foreign investment, Laos is screwed. It's land locked, not good growing country, not well educated - nothing going for it to make money. Money is necessary if you want things like medical care.

#8 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by squarethecircle on 13/2/2013 at 13:41

They're a good business partner for the people that are bribed - not a good business partner for the average person. Look at the multi-million dollar casino projects in Myanmar and Laos, where the children of generals or businessmen consume hundreds of dollars of whiskey a night while surrounding folks work to scrape together a few bucks. The locals remain poor while the fat get fatter. Also Laos doesn't seem like a "nice cheap place to play". Seems like almost everything there is more expensive than on the Thai side, or at least anything that's imported from Thai.

#9 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by exacto on 13/2/2013 at 15:28

Average folks remaining poor while the rich get richer isn't exactly unique to Laos. It happens everywhere. But I have noticed in my travels to Laos, which span from my first visit in 1993 to my last trip in 2010, that the average person on the street seems to have a bit more material wealth to show for their trouble. Better transporation. Better clothes. Better food. I'd say that things have improved, at least from my casual observations.

It also isn't unusual for prices to be higher for imported goods than for domestic goods. The only time that isn't true is if the producing country is subsidizing exports or levying high taxes on domestic consumption. So I'd expect prices to be higher for Thai goods in Laos than for Thai goods in Thailand.

#10 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,606
 Where has exacto been? 

Posted by squarethecircle on 13/2/2013 at 15:55

Agreed exacto. I was simply pointing out that Mac's idea that people purposely keep Laos cheap doesn't really make sense.

#11 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by Rufus on 13/2/2013 at 18:16

"They're a good business partner for the people that are bribe." Evidence please or this this just another meaningless post?
" Also Laos doesn't seem like a "nice cheap place to play" What is this supposed to mean?

#12 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by squarethecircle on 14/2/2013 at 14:24

"They're a good business partner for the people that are bribe." Evidence please or this this just another meaningless post?

Quick to find by google...according to Jan 30 2013 article in businessweek, ""While the three countries have varying degrees of influence over Laos, they do not have dominant influence to the extent that they can steal natural resources," said Guo Yu, a senior Asia analyst at Maplecroft. But due to the "opaque" contract bidding process, their companies "can and do subvert Laos's national governance processes and economic priorities by bribing key ministers and officials," he said."

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/KI19Ae01.html

Not that this type of "business" doesn't happen everywhere (much more below the surface in countries such as the US but still very much present), but it seems applicable to the OP.

"Also Laos doesn't seem like a "nice cheap place to play" What is this supposed to mean?"
Well Mac claimed that people purposefully want it to stay cheap, yet I recall day-to-day things, hotel rooms and the like, generally being cheaper (for the same quality) across the Thai border...except for petrol and booze...though perhaps he's referring to property values.

#13 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by Rufus on 15/2/2013 at 00:21

Where is the evidence - who, where and whom?

Just a question STC; is English your native tongue?

#14 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 15/2/2013 at 05:32

"Sometimes I think people would like to see the Laos stay poor so they can keep a nice cheap place for them to play."

Generally speaking, when a nation is poor, services are cheap. That's not to say materials are cheap, but services tend to be. Also, perhaps I should have mentioned the nostalgia factor. A lot of tourists like the idea of going to Laos as it was and if Laos develops and becomes a modern state, that nostalgia factor is lost.

#15 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by squarethecircle on 15/2/2013 at 07:07

Where is the evidence - who, where and whom?
Just a question STC; is English your native tongue?

Chinese do very well in countries that have bribery heavily entrenched in systems of governance - as in Africa, SE Asia, and it seems like Nepal as well. US/European companies are typically subject to home prosecution if they do this. There is backlash in Myanmar as the people there do not want to become the next Tibet, like slaves to China. This sentiment will probably grow in Laos as well. A couple of more links for the OP:

http://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/bribesincreasing-01272010151246.html
http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2012/07/mekong-river

#16 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by exacto on 15/2/2013 at 09:45

If English isn't STC's native tongue, he's very good with it as a second language.

#17 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,606
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Posted by squarethecircle on 15/2/2013 at 14:01

"If English isn't STC's native tongue, he's very good with it as a second language."

STC is a highly intellectual robot trained to fool humans into thinking it's a person.

Anyone know how the dam on the Nam Ou between Luang Prabang and Nong Kiaw is coming along?

#18 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by MADMAC on 15/2/2013 at 20:48

Well, so far damn construction in Laos has had some limited negative environmental effects and provided and influx of cash into the economy. Even where graft is heavily present, such influxes do have a positive effect for the bulk of the indigenous persons. Particularly in the case of dams, I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

As for Chinese malfeasance, we can whine about it until the cows come home, but the Chinese are here to stay. They are almost one sixth of the worlds population, have become a serious economic factor, and given their size and power, relatively benign to the nations around them (look at it from an historical perspetive).

Pick any very large state (the US, Russia, China) with a large economy and you can find room to criticize it's foreign policies somewhere. That's because they are pervasive. But it's easy to criticize and easier still to overlook their positive influences.

#19 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Rufus on 16/2/2013 at 03:09

"STC is a highly intellectual robot." leave out two adjectives.

#20 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by Kurtz on 16/2/2013 at 05:40

Posted from within Vietnam.

I was up in north Laos recently. I was a little dismayed by the Chinese influence in terms of crappy Chinese style buildings, Chinese signs and a feeling that Laos is China's lapdog. How much Chinese investment will improve the common peoples' lives? Selling the energy from the dams to China and Thailand will probably only line the pockets of the ruling elite.

There wasn't too much construction going on in regards to the dam on the Nam Ou, but it was full-steam ahead.

On a more travel related basis, I though Luang Namtha to be grossly overrated. The town is pretty dismal, the kayak trip involves paddling next to a road with excavators dumping loads into the river, and the jungle hike was pretty lame. I didn't like seeing the Western outfits getting the bulk of the business, while the locals with their simple shops and no internet were struggling. Just my personal thoughts. I would have liked to have tried a trek in the Muang Sing or Long areas.

Nong Khiaw is a mind blowing place, but I wonder how long it will retain its charm for. There seems to be a lot of group tours happening in the north; I don't appreciate my dining experience being destroyed by geriatric Germans yelling at the humble staff to clean the table, nor do I like being pushed out of my decent accommodation due to tour groups fulling booking it.

Was a good trip but more planning or suffering is required to escape the masses. Perhaps the south next time.

#21 Kurtz has been a member since 15/10/2012. Posts: 20

Posted by MADMAC on 16/2/2013 at 05:51

"I was up in north Laos recently. I was a little dismayed by the Chinese influence in terms of crappy Chinese style buildings"

As oppossed to crappy Laos-style buildings?

"Chinese signs and a feeling that Laos is China's lapdog"

Laos is Vietnam's lapdog. And has been for some time. But it will take investment from wherever it can get it - especially a nice communist neighbor.

"How much Chinese investment will improve the common peoples' lives? Selling the energy from the dams to China and Thailand will probably only line the pockets of the ruling elite."

The ruling elite spend money within the economy. Thus it has a benefit to everyone. Maybe not as much as some would like - but hey, it's a single party state.

"I didn't like seeing the Western outfits getting the bulk of the business, while the locals with their simple shops and no internet were struggling. "

Well they could throw out all the foreigners. That approach has historically worked so well in other economies. Of course, then the backpackers couldn't go to see the unstained Laos environment because they're part of the stain that's been banned.

"Was a good trip but more planning or suffering is required to escape the masses. Perhaps the south next time."

You want to escape the masses, go where they aren't. I can give you a suggestion right now - Saimun, Yasothon province, Thailand. I would be surprised if you met a single non-Thai person there for however long you chose to stay (within reason). If you go to places that are "Amazing", well then you will have to deal with geriatric Germans. Or you could go to Chaiyapum provine in Thailand. There are some impressive views, nice resorts, pretty quiet and a huge national forest. For reasons I haven't figured out, it's on nobodies must see list.

#22 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by squarethecircle on 16/2/2013 at 13:03

"As oppossed to crappy Laos-style buildings?"

The Lao ones got style.

"The ruling elite spend money within the economy."

Except when they go on extravagant shopping trips to Tokyo or Paris...

"Was a good trip but more planning or suffering is required to escape the masses. Perhaps the south next time."

I had a nice week or so 1 hour west of Luang Namtha in a village called Vieng Phukha. Muang Long and out to Xieng Kok is also nice; that valley has a character a little like the "wild east", due to the difficult in governing it from the central capitals of the various nations that have formed the region over the years. Probably not worth it to go out of your way for, though. Perhaps someday it will be possible to loop through Myanmar into Laos from there, but the region isn't quite under the control of the respective central governments (BKK/Vientiane/Beijing/Napyidaw) at the moment. I'm curious what people say about Phonsavan besides the environmental destruction. The geography in N Laos makes it so people are funneled between Huay Xai, Luang Namtha, LPB, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane. Seems like the simple geographical facts make it easier to get "off the beaten track" in Thai as Mac recommended.

I don't know about the S of Laos so much, but you can go almost anywhere in Thailand and find good fairly priced accommodation, and if you're off-the-beaten track the local populace will be surprised to see you there. Also the public transportation network is thorough, particularly if you can speak a bit of Thai.

"I can give you a suggestion right now - Saimun, Yasothon province, Thailand."

But you say in your review of Yasothon province that it's boring and the only club has a mostly homosexual clientele!

#23 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by MADMAC on 16/2/2013 at 21:02

"The Lao ones got style."

Hmmm must be different from the multitude of Laos shacks I've seen that look like - shacks.

"Except when they go on extravagant shopping trips to Tokyo or Paris..."

Sure, but what they do with most of the money is what most people do with a lot of money - they invest it into something that makes more money and usually puts people to work. You can't have a middle class without rich. And without rich, poor are poorer still. Something to consider. I'm not a fan of the Laos socio-political system, but let's be honest. Chinese investment will benefit most - some more, some less. But most will reap some benefit.

"But you say in your review of Yasothon province that it's boring and the only club has a mostly homosexual clientele!"

And Saimun is 30 km from even that - although it does have two little karaoke bars with the normal naughty girls associated. The restaraunts are mostly awful (although there is one I like). And there's beyond that nothing to do. Which is why no tourists go there.

#24 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Rufus on 16/2/2013 at 22:23

" I'm curious what people say about Phonsavan besides the environmental destruction."
rofl. There now to buy some land and yet to see any "environmental destruction". It is amazing what rubbish some people post.

#25 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 17/2/2013 at 00:48

Rufus, do you detect hypberbole?

#26 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by Rufus on 18/2/2013 at 18:20

Yes as usual. By the way Mac, we found it interesting that the cost of land in Phonsavahn has also sky-rocketed. I guess I should have bought land there 5 years ago. Also the place was full of Vietnamese.

#27 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by MADMAC on 19/2/2013 at 02:35

"Also the place was full of Vietnamese."

They won the war in Laos.

#28 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by enday on 20/2/2013 at 20:02

Another boring rant from Rufus and Madmac. I don't know why I bothered to look at this forum.

#29 enday has been a member since 12/9/2012. Posts: 30

Posted by Rufus on 21/2/2013 at 04:27

We don't know why you bothered to post rubbish. Are you practising to be another squarethecircle?

#30 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by somtam2000 on 21/2/2013 at 04:37 admin

@Rufus -- you want to tone it down a bit please?

Thanks.

#31 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,436
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Posted by Rufus on 21/2/2013 at 18:12

Perhaps you should warn Squarethecircle and the above poster as well, Somtam? After all, neither of them print any valuable information about Lao ever, unlike Mac or I.

#32 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by squarethecircle on 22/2/2013 at 06:04

"Perhaps you should warn Squarethecircle and the above poster as well, Somtam? After all, neither of them print any valuable information about Lao ever, unlike Mac or I."

All I see is Ad Hominem attacks (on your part) and islamophobic drivel (on Mac's). I agree with your sentiment, Enday.


#33 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by somsai on 22/2/2013 at 09:26

Most of the new development avoids any type of oversight by being financed by private Chinese companies. No World Bank or Asian Development Fund environmental impact statements. They learned that lesson from Nam Thuan II. It's going on throughout the country and far from leading to development and a higher standard of living it's impoverishing the citizenry. Thousands are forcibly relocated with no compensation whatsoever.

Private companies build new roads by being given hundreds of meters of road on either side which they resell after construction. The original inhabitants are moved and given compensation at a fraction of a percent of the original value. Bribes are very cheap in Laos. The Lao government is perhaps given a small share of the profit after the original cost of dam construction is paid off some time in the far distant future. The electricity doesn't go to Laos. People in Laos are still without electricity.

It's happening all over the country, and everyone knows it. It's a mess and there's no fixing it.

#34 somsai has been a member since 1/3/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 567

Posted by enday on 22/2/2013 at 19:37

Somsai, I am so glad you added forced relocation and environmental impact to an otherwise one dimensional thread of comments.
Squarethecircle, thank you for your support of my sentiment. When a forum for communication becomes a place where people are treated without respect (as was the case in this thread) it loses all utility and people will simply stop coming by. It would be a shame if that were to happen here on Travelfish, an otherwise awesome source of travel information.

#35 enday has been a member since 12/9/2012. Posts: 30

Posted by Rufus on 23/2/2013 at 23:02

People need to earn respect. Neither you nor STC have done so.

#36 Rufus has been a member since 22/4/2007. Location: Laos. Posts: 973

Posted by squarethecircle on 28/2/2013 at 05:46

"People need to earn respect. Neither you nor STC have done so."

Enday's correct. Travelfish is otherwise an awesome site, but allowing disrespectful posters to have free reign on the forum kills the site's utility.

#37 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by Kurtz on 28/2/2013 at 09:22

Posted from within Vietnam.

In an attempt to increase the quality of the posts on Travelfish, I'd like to see a weekly/monthly quota put on members of this site, this might stop bored expats using Travelfish as a social outlet or as a form of entertainment.

#38 Kurtz has been a member since 15/10/2012. Posts: 20

Posted by MADMAC on 28/2/2013 at 22:35

Kurtz, the site makes it's money from advertisers, so the more hits you have the better. Limiting access or discouraging people from posting at all (an eventual outcome) is probably better. Stuart does a good job regulating the site.

#39 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by squarethecircle on 1/3/2013 at 02:02

"does a good job regulating the site."

There's next to no moderation/regulation of the site. Hence the complaints.

#40 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by MADMAC on 1/3/2013 at 10:07

"There's next to no moderation/regulation of the site. Hence the complaints."

Square, I have to disagree. I have seen posters banned for bad behavior, and I have seen threads locked for questionable material. But Stuart has to walk a fine line between keeping it civil, and inhibiting peoples right to express themselves while maintaining a large number of hits required to keep advertisers happy and himself in operation. I personally think he does a good job with this balancing act.

#41 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by squarethecircle on 2/3/2013 at 05:52

"But Stuart has to walk a fine line between keeping it civil, and inhibiting peoples right to express themselves while maintaining a large number of hits required to keep advertisers happy and himself in operation."

Rants and insults are in fact allowed in many threads on this site, and I fail to see how this keeps the site in operation. You likewise have excused similar posts and rants. Actually this is the only site I post on that allows this sort of behavior. There's nothing civil about it and it's a bit disappointing since it seems like the site could become viable competition against LP or similar projects. In fact, if this is how the site is run, I refuse to make free contributions and in fact will make my "vote" by instead contributing to the competition.

#42 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by MADMAC on 2/3/2013 at 06:12

Square,
It is not the critic that counts. Stuart has been running a successful site for a long time using this current methodology. Nobody forces you to contribute.

#43 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by squarethecircle on 2/3/2013 at 06:19

"It is not the critic that counts. Stuart has been running a successful site for a long time using this current methodology. Nobody forces you to contribute."

And the sexpats win.

#44 squarethecircle has been a member since 19/10/2011. Posts: 133

Posted by billytheliar on 2/3/2013 at 16:00

My cynic side insists : personal insults indicate that a dialogue between dissenting people becomes sincere.

#45 billytheliar has been a member since 3/4/2012. Posts: 48
 Where has billytheliar been? 

Posted by somtam2000 on 2/3/2013 at 17:47 admin

Just to chime in here before I lock this thread off, there is actually quite a bit of moderation, mostly either of blatant spam, commercial posts or reported posts. I do though try to keep moderation to a minimum as I have other things I need to do with my time.

The problem with a post like this is that is starts off interesting and relevant to Laos then goes sideways. That leaves me with three main options:

a) Check in every day and moderate anything that is not exactly on topic
b) Delete the post
c) Check in occasionally and tell people to calm down (as I did above) and which resulted in Rufus toning it down

I generally go with the latter as I have only so many hours in the day and I work on the assumption that you're all grown up enough to get on with it -- of course that isn't always the case, but generally, it works.

I'll be the first to agree this isn't a perfect solution, but it is the best I can manage for now.

As for there being rants and abuse across the forum, I don't feel that is the case but, there is a little red X at the end (lower right) of every post that allows people pit off by particular posts to report them, so please feel free to do so. Very very very few posts are actually reported.

At a glance, the vast majority of the posts that are on the front page at the moment have had contributions by neither Madmac or Rufus so I'm not quite sure how they're "killing the site's utility", but each is entitled to their opinion.

Lastly I don't really get the sexpat line -- as regular members would know, that scene is not a conversation topic on Travelfish -- they're are plenty of other sites focussed on that niche.

Anyways, I'll leave it at that. If you've got ideas on how the working of the forum could be improved, feel free to start a new thread in the About Us section -- happy to discuss it in more detail there.

Cheers & enjoy your Sunday all.

#46 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,436
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