Jul 6, 2008

A warm 7-Up in Laos

I took advantage of my proximity to Lao Bao, one of the few border crossing areas between Viet Nam and Laos, to add another visa to my somewhat barren passport. I only had time to visit Houayloua, the first town across the Laotian border.

Although I've heard great things about Laos, this particular village was dramatically poorer and considerably less well-kept than similar villages in Viet Nam. I wandered the main street (the only paved road) and some back roads into the fields and was apalled by just how much trash there was everywhere, including in people's front yards. The squalor was even more striking because of the grandeur of the town's mountain setting. I suppose you could see the same in parts of some towns in the US, but Houayloua is on a major border crossing, it's not some backwater moonshine depot. I've been told that not all of Laos is this way, but every village I visited in Viet Nam -- bigger or smaller -- was considerably cleaner, with nicer stores and a higher quality of goods at the markets.

I stopped by a store in an unsuccesful search for bottled water (it's everywhere in Viet Nam) and chose warm 7-Up instead, the first western food or drink I've had the whole trip. The taste was like hearing a familiar song on the radio; it made my short visit to Laos seem just a bit less foreign.

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