Well, it’s been a few days since I left Laos – ironically I seemed to have more opportunities to post when I was in country than now, even though I am currently surrounded by laptops and free wi-fi. Given the rate of development, it seems that every year most South-East Asian nations become easier and easier to travel to – there is now basically no travel amenity that they lack. I expect that this will be increasingly the case – even now the guide books look out of date. When I travelled to Siem Reap in Cambodia a few years ago the books warned that there were no ATMs, but I found several that could give access to foreign bank accounts. Hotels can be booked on-line and paid with cash or credit cards, visas can be purchased on arrival at the airport, taxis are reliable and reasonably honest, English is spoken by an impressive number of people – in fact, I imagine some travellers would now consider the experience in Vientiane to be too easy, and would insist on immediately leaving the capital for Luang Prabang, Vieng Vang or somewhere more remote.
Despite the influx of tourist dollars, most of the population remains very poor, but seemingly eager to learn skills that wll help them prosper. If you would like to help this happen, it is very simple – they and the people who are willing to teach them need money. All the resources that are required for teaching are available from within Laos itself, so it would be innefficient and counter-productive to try to send materials such as books from outside the country. Instead, I recommend that you look for programs in the country that, if given financial support, can then in turn support local markets by purchasing supplies internally. One such program is Big Brother Mouse, a group who create English language text books that are tailored for Lao children learning the language – more information can be found at bigbrothermouse.com. Also, as I mentioned earlier, one of the owners of the Rivertime Resort conducts classes for local children and even produces his own text books – I’m sure he would be happy to put any donations to good use furthering the program he has started (the resort’s web site is at rivertimelaos.com). Another way to contribute is to visit and teach in a village – this seems to be quite easy to organise. And of course, your presence as a tourist will contribute to the local economy, which will then support development and education, so you can even help just by exploring the country and having a good time.
I won’t be writing anything more, as this was just an experiment based around my week in Laos, but I will post some of the real photos once I’ve made it home and processed them. In case you were wondering, everything you see at this site so far has been written on and photographed with my iPhone. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing for you.