Expat life can be full of changes, discoveries and surprises…and being an expat in Laos is all of this at the same time! Sometimes funny, annoying or beautiful, here is my top 10 of the WTF daily life situations when living in Laos:
1- Beer bottoms-up, with ice
So here is a first shocking revelation for any “beer purist”: here, we drink Beerlao (or any other beer) with ice. And yes, as expats in Laos we actually get used to it, and even appreciate it! You also should know that during a party in Laos, your glass should NEVER be empty, and you will have to toast and scale your glass every 5mins. So this why lao parties usually don’t last too long!
2- Driving license in Laos, an abstract concept
Laos is such a chill-out and peaceful country…but not when it comes to driving! A recent “study” has shown that only 20% of the drivers had a driving license, and it shows when on the road. I don’t count anymore people passing a crossroad on their motorbike, while actually watching some videos on their smartphone, of course without a helmet on. But there is come kind of improvement, as now people can pass their driving license. The only problem is that they pass the test on a special empty circuit. Recently, a girl succeeded in having a “car crash” on this circuit during the test…she was allowed to pass the test again a few hours later and got her driver license. So yeah, if you are an expat in Laos, don’t expect to have a relaxing drive!
3- Celebrate your wedding or your birthday in the street
Why bother organizing your wedding or birthday in a private venue when you can put all the chairs, tables, sound system..etc directly on the street ?! It is usual to see a road closed because people just put, on the sidewalk and the street, tables with white cloths, chairs, buffet and everything they need for party ! It is surprising and very cool !
4- Chicken legs for the guest of honour
When you are invited to a party or a special event with lao people…you sometimes have the chance and the honour to get the chicken legs in your meal. Here, it is a very special delicatessen product, so, grilled or fried, enjoy every bit of it! Sometimes we have fried chicken legs at work, with snails and other deadly spicy dishes…I am still not used to all these special dishes, but I guess it is still better than having a Kinder Bueno for tea break!
5- The 8th plague of Egypt, Lao version
Imagine that you are really comfortably installed on your couch, watching a movie before going out for dinner. When, suddenly, you hear a strange buzzing sound…and you notice at least 50 to 100 flying insects flying in your living room ! And while you think you have an issue inside your home, you see that there are a million more of these creatures flying outside around the streets. At this moment you really feel like in a horror movie, with these insects sneaking in your hair, your clothes…but everybody around you seem to think it’s normal. Then we learn that it was usual to have this female thermites invasion from time to time during this time fo the year, and that it only lasts a night in Vientiane. Being an expat in Laos is never boring !
6- Rocket festival, or the craziest event of Laos
The end of the dry season, in April, already is a festivities marathon with the Pi Mai, the Lao New Year. But then comes May and BOUN BANG FAI, the rocket festival, a Buddhist tradition supposed to bring rain and celebrate fertility, usually between may and June, at the beginning of the rainy season.
This rocket festival doesn’t take place in Vientiane anymore, for safety reasons – and you will see that they are a lot of reasons – so, to celebrate Boun Bang Fai, you have to go to Nason, Natham, Thongmang, Kern, Pakhanhoung…and a few others villages around. This festival also takes place in others cities and villages in Laos, don’t hesitate to ask for Google’s help on that matter!
So Boun Bang Fai, or the rocket festival, is made of Buddhist processions, traditional dances and music performances…but also of men dressed as women and women dressed as men, wearing a huge wooden dildo around their waist! And if they find a man they like, they can let him know by rubbing him with the wooden dildo…charming, right ?!
But the true entertainment during this festival is the launch of huge handmade rockets in the sky, lighted by drunken people, because it is even more
dangerous fun this way!
7- Slings and arrows of translation
There is a really famous sign in Vientiane: the one regarding driving safety, indicating “Drink Don’t drive”. When we know how much lao people like to party and drink, this is funny. Instead of “If you drink don’t drive”, they wrote it in a way that can actually encourage people to drink, but to not drive….and we love this kind of message! When you think about the number of people supposed to approve this kind of sign before putting it on the streets, this is quite amazing that no one figured out there was a translation issue. A few months ago, a coffee shop had the same issue : the owners of the coffee shop put a big banner outside saying they were searching for new staff. They might have used Google translate as the banner indicated ” we want a nice white skin staff” …the least we can tell is that this banner created the buzz on facebook over the community of expats in Laos !
8- Expat in Laos : getting random and unexpected public holidays
When working in Laos, you know that some public holidays are mandatory and some are not. And sometimes, the government likes to mess it up even more. This summer, one day before the national woman’s day ( The second of the year…I didn’t really understand why!) the government sent a notification saying that all women won’t be working on the next day, and that it was mandatory for every company. Being a woman, I was pretty happy about it!
9- Never take electricity for granted
It is quite usual, when you are an expat in Laos, to be chilling at work in the dark after 30 minutes without any electricity…and every time it happens I figure out how amazing it is to have such a reliable electrical system in developed countries! And I am not even writing about the unlimited fiber internet…this is something that doesn’t exist here yet.
10- A post office, but no postman and no addresses
In Laos, we have the “Société des postes Lao”. Yes, that’s its name ( thanks colonialism). So the post office is similar to the ones you could find in France…40 years ago! And even if there is a post office, there is no postman, and a lot of places don’t have a “real” address. So if you want to find a specific place in Vientiane, it better be on Google map or you’d better get the geolocalization. Plus, the google car came a while ago so you can get some surprises on the way : streets that disapeared, others that don’t have connections anymore…so much fun when on the motorbike!
So if you want to live the magic of a total change of scenery and daily new discoveries…then …