The Curious Case of Laos Communism


As someone born in a communist country, I spent much of my childhood observing the strange behavior that this type if governmental rule has on its citizens. Bread lines. Doctors making as much as cab drivers. No private enterprise. Alcoholism to quench boredom. Borders closed to both goods and ideas.

Granted it's no longer 1991, but the communism I saw in Laos surprised me.

Laos officially became a communist country following the Secret War, which was run and funded by the CIA in an attempt to stop Vietnam from further infiltrating its neighbors. At that time, the ruling party persecuted anyone who did not agree with its methods, sending them to "reeducation" camps from which many never returned. But in the 1980s, the government relaxed its communistic stance to allow for some privatization and foreign investment. As such, in 2004, the US ended its trade embargo on Laos, effectively lifting the scarlet letter and showing its approval for additional foreign investment and aid.

So what did we find in 2013? No bread lines, that's for sure. In fact, even in the rural villages we visited, things seemed to be relatively okay when it came to living conditions. Sure there were outhouses and wild pigs and thatched roofs, but there were also wild parties and people hanging out in the middle of the day. Nobody seemed to be particularly concerned with working, and we saw plenty of lao-lao, beer, and karaoke prior to noon.

Some long-time travelers suggested Laos had become a tad spoiled by all the foreign attention and aid. Villagers asked for a new school and here came money for a new school. Same for a boat landing, stairs, pavement, etc. It's like the world was constantly saying sorry and Laos was happy to accept the apology.

The foreign attention also brought in plenty of tourists, and though the attractions were never really crowded, we did get the sense that people who were once fisherman and farmers now ran guesthouses and drove tuk-tuks, making much much more money in the process.

Money. That's when the pseudo communism really bothered me. Seeing as transportation is privatized, busses and boats refused to leave until they were absolutely full. Even though they posted a schedule, it was moot unless the right number of people showed up. So they would wait and wait and wait. This led to two possibilities: transportation never leaving OR five people showing up for one empty seat. In the case of the latter, all five people would be pushed into the minivan and it would depart, three hours later than anticipated and filled to the brim.

To us, the transportation in Laos symbolized capitalism at its worst, with an obsession on profit and a complete disregard for the public. Locals would waste hours each day waiting for a bus to depart, which meant they lost out on whatever wages they could have gotten while a select few, those who owned the bus, profited greatly.

With a laid back mindset as their backbone, no one ever said anything in protest. But it made us wonder how a country where a few benefit at the expense of the many could ever truly compete on a global scale.

Want more Laos?

Read about budget travel in Laos for more on this interesting country.

What do you think?

Have an opinion on Laos' government? Let us know in the comments.