I Hated Laos
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I Hated Laos

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I Hated Laos


I hated Laos – with a strong emphasis on the ending of that brief sentence. I remember my mug, “intrepid” face as I met people in Northern Vietnam, after spending a little over a month in Thailand and Laos I was a self proclaimed backpacking expert. In the usual conversations with new, one-night-friends, some of them would mention their travel plans to Laos and I’d scoff “ha! I wouldn’t even go back there, it was awful”. Almost two years on, I was scrolling through my photos of Laos and I really failed to find evidence of what I hated so much. Maybe because I’d only taken photos of things I loved, or maybe because there wasn’t really that much I didn’t like about Laos.  Maybe I had just made a mistake.

One of my favourite bars in Asia, Utopia bar

It’s hard, when you travel to new places, not to pigeon hole them. Hoi An, one of my favourite places in all of Asia, became the better version of Luang Prabang and Prague is the much more beautiful and charming sister of Bratislava. In the beginning of all my travels, I was so set on finding my new favourite place, that I forgot to take places as they were. I never arrived in a new city or country with a fresh mind, instead my mind was clouded with comparisons.

Like sniffing ten different perfumes in a row, with nothing to break them up  my senses were overwhelmed.

I needed to find my travel coffee beans.

I needed to cleanse my travel palate: I needed time. [Tweet This]

When I think back to all that I hated about Laos, trivial things come to mind. I didn’t like the food, the horrible food poisoning I got in Vang Vieng, the coldness of the people and while tubing was fun, I hated the tackiness of it all. Drunk, barely clothed westerners using one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve ever seen as their boozy playground. In the dodgy cafes, there was a constant stream of Friends and Family guy reruns and it felt like a place entirely built for disrespectful westerners to get annihilated. But, there was so much beauty there and I am sure there is so much to discover.

After leaving Laos, almost two years ago, I swore that I would never return. There were better places to go, I was certain of it. But now, after so long away, there’s a part of me who is curious if I returned, would I feel the same? As a slightly older, hopefully wiser person, maybe I could find the sparkle there that I perhaps overlooked. So many people loved Laos, and honestly, I wish I had too.


Have you been anywhere that you’ve sworn not to return?

I’m also curious to hear what other people thought of tubing. I had such mixed feelings about it.

30 Comments

  • I hated Madrid the first time I was there. The problem was not really Madrid but the huge problems I had with the airline getting there. By the time I got there, two days late, I was pissed of and stressed out since I had to change my whole trip around.

    I have since been back two more times and really like it now.

    • Izy Berry says:

      My heart sank when I saw that you hated Madrid! It is, by far, one of my favourite cities ever. But I’m glad you allowed it an opportunity to redeem itself. Where on earth where you flying from that could have allowed a two day delay in flights? That’s awful!

  • I was flying from the U.S. and the airline, US Airways, was upgrading computer systems at the time. I had an e-ticket and they said I needed a paper ticket when I got to the airport. There was also weather issues that compounded the problem. There were never able to fully fix the problems and I had a hard time returning home too. It is a crazy story!

    • Izy Berry says:

      Man that just sounds like a nasty hassle. Issues with flights can all but ruin a holiday. Glad that’s in the past though :) and I’m super glad you saw a better side of Madrid, eventually!

  • Naomi says:

    Well, I can’t think of any place that I’ve ever sworn not to go back to….I think it’s because I’m easy to please, and any place new gets a thumbs up in my book, ha! 😉 I haven’t been to Laos and I’m SO excited to go, but while I know I want to see the tubing madness at Vang Vieng just out of curiosity, I’m hoping to take it all with a grain of salt. It sounds like a total shitshow out there, no wonder it leaves a bad impression!! :/

    • Izy Berry says:

      Haha – tubing was interesting. I arrived on the first evening to Vang Vieng to see a bunch of drunk westerners parading around in bikinis and shorts, and I was disgusted! Laos is a very conservative country. They were so drunk and vomiting everywhere – terrible.

      Then the next day… I was one of those people. Not sure how it happened! I did wear little shorts and bought a tubing singlet because I felt AWFUL walking around in shorts and a bikini top.

      A few hours later and few mysterious shots, a bandana with profanity on it and spray paint everywhere, I was one of those horrible drunkards floating down the lake. Afterwards, we went out to dinner with some friends and I accidentally recycled my food all over the grass in public :( it was awful. I was so embarrassed. So while it was fun, it was also kind of horrible at the same time.

      You should go once, for sure! I just don’t understand how people do weeks and weeks of tubing or even days, it is crazy. and dangerous!

  • Wez says:

    Truth be told I hated Paris. I’m not really sure why though. I mean yeah I was only there a day, the people were rude, it smelt funny, and I almost got robbed, but I know there’s a lot of great things and places to take photos at. While its not on top of my list of places I want to go back to, I do want to go back. I think its because I am a bit wiser now, and can see the beauty, and I’m willing to give it a second chance, and hope it can live up the second time around 😉

    • Izy Berry says:

      Oh my gosh! I hated Paris too. Actually, hate is a strong word, I was just overwhelming disappointed with it. I also didn’t expect it to smell so much like urine – most romantic city in the world? maybe if you’re a dog who enjoys the smell of pee, yuck. But, Paris is another place I must return to when I have a cleared head and maybe a platinum credit card… so expensive!

  • Strange, I’ve only ever heard fabulous things about Laos. But I’m sure it’s gotten way more touristy and commercial in the last years. I’d still like to go there!

    • Izy Berry says:

      I guess there’s so many different factors. Looking through my photos I can see that it is ridiculously beautiful, but I just didn’t have a great time there. Maybe next time 😉 !

  • I didn’t like Laos when I went either. I flew into Vientiene from Siem Reap. I was supposed to meet a friend there and I waited for her for a few days in a guesthouse. I was bored out of my brain. The only interesting thing to do was to go down to the river and watch the ladies do 80s aerobics at dusk and eat Indian food. After three days waiting, I got an email from my friend saying her boyfriend had been in hospital with really bad food poisoning and they weren’t going to make it. I thought “Screw this, Laos is boring!” and I hopped on a bus back to Thailand.

    It wasn’t Laos that was boring… it was sitting around waiting for someone to show up for three days that sucked! I realise that now but for years banged on about how boring Laos was.

    I’d definitely go back!

  • I hate it when I sniff 10 different perfumes in a row. Especially when I’ve lost my travel coffee beans :) I’ve heard mixed reactions about Laos…but it does seem that people either love it or hate it. Since I’ve yet to visit, I’ll have to wait before giving my official opinion :)

  • Conrad says:

    Love Laos, hate tubing. Love beers, hate drunks. If everything was as simple as this.

    But then again I rarely think in those terms. But then again I have wild moodswings too. Did I already say I hate tubing?

    :)

  • Alex says:

    I think that a lot of people tend to compare Lao with Thailand as they are so similar. I remember thinking, ‘this food is good, but it’s kind of watered down Thai food’. People always say, it’s like Thailand, but more relaxed. Lao is a very unique place. The Vientiene/Vang Vieng/Luang Prabang circuit has become overrun with tourists, many who are similar to the ‘party crowd’ that tend to frequent Full Moon Parties and Phi Phi Island. They are less interested in experiencing new culture and letting travel transform them as they are about saying ‘look what I did and where I partied’. I tend to avoid that crowd. But, off that circuit, there are some wonderful places: Luang Nam Tha and Udom Xai are very nice. I haven’t been there, but I hear southern Lao is wonderful.

  • Di says:

    Wendy Leach sent me your way. I must thank her. Looking forward to following your stories!!

  • Michelle says:

    I was travelling around Europe in 2010 and went to Venice, albeit only for one day as it was only really a stop over. We stayed at a campsite where the staff were incredibly unfriendly, then tried to get into town and got lost. It was really scary walking around in the dark but eventually we found our way back to the bus station, tired and thirsty because we couldn’t find an open shop. When we got back to the campsite there was a foam party going on and I had to get a girl that I’d met to walk through the foam to get me a bottle of water. I vowed never to return to Venice but maybe in the future I’ll go back.

  • Monica says:

    Wow…. way to judge an ENTIRE country by one place.I travelled the north of laos, the centre, and the south of laos. Eveywhere was diffrent and beautiful.

    I don’t know, the number one rule I tell people is everyone has a different experience when they go places, so take everyone’s word with a grain of salt. I had people telling me Angkor Wat was not that great…. Wait WHAT! Angkor wat was mind blowing, the most amazing thing I have ever seen, especially if you get up really early, you can then get an entire temple to yourself because everyone is watching the sunrise at the main temple. The plain of jars was such a mysterious place as well. Phonsovan, although a bit scary, had so much history. Some of the people there were kind and I had the honor of teaching an english classes to 40 kids.

    It’s the persons mind set and sense of adventure which determines whether they have a good experience or negative experience. I learned a little bit of the language to get me around, I hardly used my lonely planet, and I always smiled to the locals. These three things always helped me on my journey, because I find that so many tourists/ travelers forget that the locals are people too! People who deserve your respect. People who have many things similar to yourself! The beautiful thing about cambodians and laotians that is different from westerners is that they will invite you to their family dinners, their games, and buy you drinks if you are willing to let them even though they have just met you. They are extremely accomodating people,

    • Izy Berry says:

      By one place? I visited three places in Laos and my opinion was based on my experiences; which as you mention very from person to person.

      I don’t think travel is based solely on the “mind set” and “sense of adventure” – I think that’s a very simplistic view. It’s on the people they meet, the places the see and the overall vibe of a place. Yes, mind yet and sense of adventure influence things strongly, but for me it wouldn’t make or break a trip.

      Either way I’d be interested to revisit Laos at a later date to see whether my initial impressions were on or off the mark.

      I’ve heard many people, like you, rave about how much they adored it :)

      Thanks for your thought provoking comment!

  • Jill says:

    I loved everywhere I visited in Laos except for Vang Vieng. VV was a sad little place. I was glad to learn that other areas use VV as a model of how NOT to develop their tourism. On the whole, I’d love to return to Laos and see the places I missed, and visit LP again.

  • Paul says:

    I have the extreme misfortune to have to live in Laos. Its a terrible place. The police are either asleep or eating. The restaurants always “add” things to your bill you havent had. If you want anything as a “foreigner” it costs you at least double. I think the American bombing of Laos was well justified. The government and their “departments” do as little work as they can but extort the most as they can for doing f.all. They dont have a clue about how to drive and only have the mental capacity for steering a water buffalo. Nothing with wheels or engines should be allowed into Laos. They dont know how to build a car or motorbike and have to import them from developed countries. They should be barred and blacklisted. It truly sucks here, apart from the glorious scenery thats it for here. Corruption started in Laos. They even charge for going for a pee. They charge 20,000 Kip for a bottle of beer that is 8000 Kip everywhere else and then scam the foreigners for another 2000 Kip to empty it back into the loo. Sooner I get outa this shit hole and back to civilization and normal people the better I’ll be. DONT WASTE YOUR DOLLARS HERE. Go to Nicaragua or Beirut.

  • kerry ryan says:

    Of all these folk who “Hate these places” really make me ill;they usually are fly-in fly out, spoiled ,young,dumb and full of cum.
    I first went to Lao in 1973 during a lull in the Civil War and had an absolute blast.The Lao folk were the most quiet spoken unpretentious of all the Asians in South Eastern Asia,especially after the LOUD and pushy city folk of Thailand.
    The idiots who make a mockery of Lao culture by drinking themselves legless and “tubing” down the rivers and lakes are the same belligerent Australians who do the same at the Oktoberfest,the running of the bulls in Pamplona and various other venues around the globe that attracts this type of brainless scum.
    If anyone really wants to see things that are forever etched in the travelogues of the mind,go to Central America and Guatemala,the Mayan Temples of Tikal,possibly THE most memorable place this traveller,where on the days I went there were possibly 50 fellow travellers in this absolute marvel of the pre-Columbian era
    I caught a trip up the “Rio Dulce” at the border of Belize and Guatemala to Lake Elizabeth;a tranquil and Garden of Eden feel of that place is one that is also etched in my synapses.
    Of course the secret to getting to and enjoying these places is to travel out of season to avoid all the aforementioned “drones” who slavishly follow one another from place to place mindlessly repeating the same brain-deadening behaviour that is the want of todays X & Y generation. If anyone really wants to experience a place which will totally lay you back,I recommend Afghanistan and the tribal regions in the North,and possibly the worst case of Dysentery I have ever had,of course I am being facetious,but I did experience it pre the twin invasions of the worlds two “Superpowers” who were sent simpering into the neutral corner when they were out smarted and killed at will by the folk whose country it is,the Afghans.

  • […] During my travels I’ve been to a lot of places I’ve really loved – and a few places I really didn’t like, such as Paris and Laos. […]

  • Lani says:

    I am in Pakse, Southern Laos right now and I am hating it. My boyfriend and I have had food poisoning most of the time from food that is absolutely disgusting. Nobody, including hotel staff, can make the slightest effort to speak English. People are cold and rude. It is dry season, and the scenery really is not that amazing. It is dusty and the air is filled with the sickening smell of plastic smoke. I don’t think there is much of a “culture” to learn about, sadly. The language sounds bad and is hard to learn. By Southeast asian standards, it is expensive here. I have not been impressed by Laos. I don’t know where to go now…
    Don Det was highly overrated and just filled with selfish, drunk backpackers. Honestly there is nothing to eat here except baguettes and very strange versions of meat.
    The hotels are pathetic for the expensive price….
    I am being so negative but I really don’t know how to make my last two weeks here enjoyable.

  • Bertha S. says:

    Yes… i am in the same shoes.

    I left Singapore for many years and return after… now i want to leave it for good!

  • John says:

    Day 4 in Laos. Beautiful scenery down the Mekong River but- THE LAO PEOPLE SUCK- cold, unfriendly, un-helpful, unwelcoming, dishonest, liars, cheaters, and looking to screw tourists at every turn. Worst place yet in SE Asia.

  • John says:

    I’ve been to 30+ countries. Never in my life have I encountered so many cold, unfriendly and unwelcoming people concentrated in one place as I have in Laos. The scenery and architecture in Luang Prabang is utterly stunning. Nearly everyone connected to the tourism industry is stunningly horrible, dishonest, unkind and wear a constant frown on their face. I saw more smiles in 6 minutes in Thailand than 6 days in Laos.

    Luckily there is “Big Brother Mouse” in Luang Prabang. This organization promotes literacy to young people and provides a space for tourists who wish to volunteer their time to converse with local students trying to improve their English skills. An incredible organization and a chance to meet wonderful young students. This is the ONLY place during my time in Laos that I felt any warmth. The Hmong kids are especially wonderful.

    Expect any “budget” accommodation to be substandard, overpriced and staffed with people that could not possibly care less that your their “guest.” Food and drink is overpriced everywhere and expect to pay almost double what you would pay in Thailand. Customer service in nearly non existent. You will be ignored and cheated at every turn.

    But for “Big Brother Mouse” I would not have lasted 9 days in this country- the kids stole my heart. I abandoned my plan to see more of Laos over land and opted to fly directly from Luang Prabang to Bangkok to backpack more of Thailand. For my own sanity, I needed to leave this place for a dose of Thai smiles.

  • Pat says:

    Hahaha, John. Being such a narrow-minded person, you made a very big favor not only to yourself but especially to Laos and Lao people by getting out of there as soon as possible.

  • david says:

    I am in Luang prabang right now, trying to cancel everything here and go to Vietnam. I am not going to use the word ‘hate’, instead I am going to say ‘I don’t like Laos’. I did not enjoy it since day one in bokeo. I was a month before in Thailand so that could be a problem because I compare it at all times. If you are organizing the trip, better to start in Vietnam or laos and then go to Thailand. I think with a 4 days in Luang prabang (turist trap) is enough Laos ‘experience’ , I thought that will be better place, and I was wrong. Laos is expensive comparing with Thailand, like double/triple price at least. Everything, accommodation, food, scooter renting (3x ). You normally do not see prices on products,not even in a store, so you feel cheated every time you buy something. Everything here is made in china, like in europe, and after a short trip on the night market you’ll discover that everyone is selling the same crap. I didn’t find anything special here. I don’t like people, very grumpy , even if you smile them you don’t get a smile back like you get in Thailand. Food is nothing special. I enjoyed a little trip to Nong kiaw, the mountains are beautiful and the trip on the mekong with a kajak was really good. Roads are terrible full of holes, very dangerous if you are not careful. I don’t want to come back ever to this country. Very disappointed.

  • Christina says:

    I think it’s super unfair to say someone is narrow minded because they don’t like a place. Sometimes people just don’t like places or other people. It’s an opinion and I think they are entitled to it. I’m Lao-American and as the daughter of a refugee, was on the fence about coming, as family members were murdered and persecuted during the civil war (apparently someone grotesquely bragged about having a blast in). I finally did and I’ve honestly had the worst time more than any other country. It’s insane how corrupt and just broken this place is. There are some wonderful things but they are too deeply overshadowed by the totalitarian government that permeates the landscape with darkness and illogical social/economic systems. The people have also been poor, oppressed and often “re-educated” to the point of coldness and what feels like suspicion/hatred of others. Maybe I’m more open minded to catch these aspects of a damages culture from years of war and violence… But for me I think it’s left me wanting to leave ASAP and be grateful as all hell my father survived and I could be born an American citizen instead.