The “Point of View” series presents a range of perspectives from the CCES network. This month Associate Professor Andy Johnson* writes about his time in Laos.
Last year I worked in Laos on three different occasions, in three different locations and in three different seasons. Whilst the weather and the locations varied, the people remained a positive and constant with their wonderful friendliness and hospitality. Wedding invitations, playing the popular Lao game, Petanque (an addictive and social game not unlike the Italian game of Bocce), and socialising with our Lao work colleagues made Lao a favoured destination.
Laos is a land locked developing country that is transitioning very quickly into another Asian economic power with current growth exceeding that of China (around 8%) in an economy that is encouraging private enterprise and international trade. Much of the growth is driven by the sale of power (largely electricity to Thailand), mineral resources and double digit growth of the tourism sector. Laos, a member of ASEAN, should benefit from a closer trading relationship with their member partners, but faces the challenges inherent in the necessary diversification and reform to continue their current growth rates. I had been looking forward to visiting Laos as many of my colleagues and friends had been there and the reports were all good.
My daughter had lived in Kuala Lumpur for five years and had travelled extensively throughout Asia, always nominating Luong Prabang as the destination she most enjoyed and the place to which she would most like to return. When I asked my colleague and your previous Point of View correspondent Rob Preece for his impressions of Laos, he told me that if he ever goes missing and can’t be found, “start looking in Luang Prabang”.
My first trip was in February to the capital, Vientiane. Rising early the first morning to walk to the Mekong River, the sight of the many Buddhist monks completing their alms rounds was a picture of pure Laos and one I was to enjoy each morning I was in Laos. In many ways this scene encapsulated what I was to find is a nation of gentle, friendly and generous people, proud of their history and culture and demonstrating it in this daily ritual. During the day, like most capitals, the traffic was quite heavy and noisy, however at night the Mekong River was a different place, with a huge night market and many places on the river where shopping and eating options were both numerous and great value.
The second location I worked in was at the heart of the first hydroelectric power source developed in Laos, Nam Ngum Dam, about 80km from Vientiane. The beautiful scenery and available water activities provided enjoyable diversions from the Executive and Middle Management workshop conducted there.
The final destination was the historic and beautiful Luong Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All previous advice received about this place proved to be true with its variety of historical Buddhist temples, French influenced architectures, and natural beauty.
Meeting and working with the enthusiastic and highly capable personnel from numerous Government and private sector organisations in Laos left me with the impression that the economic and cultural future of Laos is assured providing sufficient developmental support and opportunity is provided.
If ever I am missing, you may well find me with Rob…