The best, the most memorable, the most important reason to travel is to interact with the people of the country. We enter a country with hope, certain expectations and a curiosity about the place. We make plans upon, and save our money just to see how other people: live, work, play and celebrate.
That original eye-opening, horizon-building purpose is washed away when a place becomes too touristy. The road just too well traveled waters down the mystery and excitement of discovery, or at least steals the thunder out of our travel stories. That’s not to deny a country or a certain place their fair share of the tourism pie, but there is a point where tourism becomes just a business; cold and corporate.
That’s exactly where Vientiane, Laos is headed. I don’t know exactly what happened. Perhaps it was the UN money pouring in for development, or the rapid urban expansion resulting from hosting the SEA games. Perhaps, it went out with the dirt roads, or teak structures. Perhaps, they are tired of foreigners running all over their city.
But whatever it was, gone with it is their once beautiful, infectious smile. I miss it.
That brings up responsible tourism. Should responsible travel be limited to Ecotourism? Just because Vientiane is the capital city of Laos and not a fragile, pristine rainforest, does that mean we can descend on it like hungry flocks? The solution is we can take the responsibility upon ourselves to purposely save touring to the off-season, thereby spreading out the impact and income of local communities. Then maybe the Lao smile will return.