Tourism has been booming in Laos for the last 10 years. Trying not to fall into the traps of rapid and intensive tourism (which has for example ruined one of the most beautiful places in South East Asia, I am speaking about the Along Bay in Vietnam) the government and the many NGOs and foreign aid agencies present in the country are doing their best to promote ecotourism together with community development. And during our time here we did our best to be as close as sustainable tourism as we could be.
For instance, whenever possible we chose to stay in family-owned guesthouses, used sustainable transport (i.e. bicycle, public transport, our own legs or even those of an elephant), hired the services of local guides, chose eco-friendly activities (e.g. exploring Konglor Caves with villagers rather than doing tubing in Vang Vieng, etc.). And it is certain, being directly in contact with local people is the best way to discover the world they live in, trying to understand their challenges, the choices they often don’t have when it comes to nature conservation, their wishes for a better life (like the one they can see on satellite TV ).
Indeed, we often have a romantic view of remote communities living in harmony with nature but the truth is they often struggle for survival and suffer from extreme poverty (including malnutrition, diseases, high infant mortality, low education, children labour, etc.). Nature conservation is very low on their agenda unless they can get real benefit (i.e. dollars) from it and without delay. That is why environmental initiatives can only go along with sustainable community development initiatives.
No place is frozen in time, even in the most remote jungles of Laos. Change happens and development – for better of for worse – is ongoing. Tourism is a significant part of it and we shall do our best to leave a positive trace during our short incursion into the world of Laotians.