Why I will NEVER go back to Laos – the ugly truth

I’ve been debating a lot with myself whether or not I should write this article. I decided to do it. If feels like it’s my duty as a travel blogger to share with you not only the good parts of travel but the ugly parts too. As much as I love sharing incredible places with you, I also need to warn you about potential scams. So here it is.

I will start by saying that Laos is a beautiful country, well known for it’s jaw-dropping mountains, its beautiful waterfalls (especially Kuang Si Falls) and the Vang Vieng all time favorite – tubing.

Laos nature

Laos is full of beauty and breathtaking scenery but there is an ugly part to it too.

I love traveling and in my one year of full time travel around the world a lot has happened to me. I understand and I know that travel is not always easy or fancy. I’ve been through a lot of challenges during my trip, I’ve been scammed and I’ve hit rock bottom a few times.

We planned to spend one entire month in Laos but after what we’ve experienced, we’ve shortened our trip to only 10 days and that’s only because we didn’t manage to find plane tickets earlier.

Below are the reasons why I will never go back to Laos. Please note that this article only reflects my experience. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will experience the same things.

1. I got scammed. Many times

I haven’t been scammed in one year as much as I’ve been scammed in Laos in 10 days. And it’s not the traditional scams, the ones everyone is used to. You might expect to be asked to pay double the price or to be tricked into paying for a more expensive bus but this is not what happened to me.

I know how to avoid these typical scams but Laos is at a completely different level. Let me tell you a few stories.

The Airport Taxi Scam

Laos taxi scam

After a tiring flight from Yangon, we finally landed in Vientiane. Our hotel was just 2 kilometers away from the airport. Giving the fact that we were tired, we decided to take a local taxi since our beloved Grab App is not available in Laos.

We headed to the official airport taxi counter where you’d expect to find fair prices. And when I say fair, I was expecting somewhere around $2-$3 for the 2 kilometer ride. Well, guess what? The prices were fixed and we were asked to pay $10!

I would rather walk 2 kilometers with my 17 kilograms backpack than pay $10! It’s outrageous and disrespectful! Even in New York the taxis are cheaper than the $5/ kilometer Vientiane fare.

We finally decided to take the bus which was around $2 per person. Still a lot for a bus ride but better than falling into the Laos taxi scam.

Bus scams all around the country

When I say “bus scams” you’d expect the typical things – being asked for more money or paying for a luxury bus while traveling with a standard one. Well, in Laos things are different.

Apart from the fact that most buses are always late, when getting close to your destination they will leave you in the middle of nowhere. Be prepared to be left in the middle of the road or 2 kilometers outside the city in a place with no taxis or tuk tuks. The bus drivers do this to determine you to pay a couple of dollars more to get to the actual bus station.

It’s lame and it happened to me a couple of times. I refused to accept this scam. In Luang Prabang, the bus driver stopped somewhere on a narrow street, in between local houses, about 3 kilometers away from the actual bus station in heavy rain. He then asked for $2 each to take us to the bus station. I walked. I was lucky I had an umbrella.

Another time, when arriving in Vang Vieng the bus driver stopped somewhere 2 kilometers away from the city, in the middle of nowhere. There were no taxis or tuk tuk drivers nearby and it was 11 pm. I walked again.

I refuse to give my money to people whose only obvious intention is to scam me even if this means that I have to walk through pouring rain. Unfortunately, bus scams in Laos are extremely common.

Motorbike Scams

Laos motorbike scam

Before arriving, I’ve read a lot on the internet about motorbike scams in Laos. I’ve read stories when people rented a motorbike and the owner had a spare key and “stole” it back. Of curse, the one who rented the motorbike had to pay for it.

I’ve read stories where people were asked to pay for scratches that were already there before renting the motorbike. I’ve read about people being blackmailed that they won’t receive their passport back unless they pay for “damages”.

Yes, it all happens in Laos and it’s not as uncommon as you might think. Knowing all that, we still decided to rent a motorbike for our half day trip to Kuang Si Falls. We were confident that “it can’t happen to us”. In the morning we went straight to the reception and asked for a motorbike ($15 per day) and when the guy came, he asked for our passports.

We offered to pay around $150 deposit (under no circumstance we were going to give him our passports) but he started laughing and asked for $2000. Of course we didn’t agree and we finally took a minivan to the waterfall.

Tip: Don’t ever leave your passport when renting a motorbike. Not in Laos, not anywhere else. It’s just not safe and your passport might become a means of blackmail.

There are scams in Laos at every step and some of them are pretty hard to notice. Keep your eyes wide open and take precautions!

2. The tuk tuk prices are outrageous

Laos tuk tuk scam

If you’ve been traveling around Southeast Asia before, you probably know that tuk tuks are usually the cheapest means of transport. Well, not in Laos.

Expect to be asked to pay $15 for a 15 minutes ride. Of course, you can try and negotiate but guess what? That won’t get you anywhere. Tuk tuk drivers in Laos think that tourists are gold mines. No matter if you’re a backpacker living on $20 per day, you’re expected to have money and pay the price.

In Vientiane for example, tuk tuk drivers prefer to stay under the hot with no customers than driving for a fair price. This is mind-blowing considering the fact that Laos is not the richest country on earth.

As an alternative, for Vientiane at least, we used the bus. The connections aren’t great, it’s still expensive but at least I chose not to support the tuk tuk business.

3. We almost got robbed

Laos hotel theft

Vang Vieng is known for partying, tubing and drinking. It’s the Mecca of YOLO. Again, I’ve been reading a lot on the internet about hotel room theft. Apparently, it happens a lot in Vang Vieng, especially because everyone gets drunk and forgets about how much money they have.

There are tons of stories on the internet like this one, this one or this one. Because we visited Vang Vieng during the rainy season, we decided to skip tubing so for a couple of days we just wandered around the city and slept a lot. Knowing that things get stolen from hotel rooms, we took all our money and gear with us at all times.

It was uncomfortable carrying everything with us but better safe than sorry. On our last day, when we arrived back at the hotel from lunch, the hotel owner was sitting right in front of the entrance. He seemed to be waiting for somebody so at first noting seemed unusual.

When he saw us, he immediately turned and made a very specific, loud whistle towards the hotel stairs. Our room was at the first floor and as we were climbing up the stairs, his wife was just coming from the direction of our room. There were no other rooms nearby.

We knew she had nothing to steal because everything was with us but we were angry and disappointed. We’ve been staying at hostels, hotels and guest house for the past year all around Asia and we never had such experiences. We never felt so violated and unsafe as we did during our trip to Laos.

This was the tip of the iceberg, the moment when we decided to get out of this country as soon as possible.

4. Be prepared for everything

We arrived in Laos after our one month trip to Myanmar. Words cannot express the respect and admiration I have for the people in Myanmar. Their kindness has no limits and during the entire trip we felt welcomed and at home in Myanmar.

Once we landed Laos, that was about to change. For me, when traveling to a country, the people are one of the main reasons that determine if I love it or hate it there.

Although the nature is incredible, Kuang Si Falls was a delight and we had the chance to be close to elephants at the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary, I would never go back to Laos. The people, at least the ones in the tourism industry, are only looking for new ways to scam tourists and make more money.

I know that money is important, especially for countries like Laos but everything comes at a cost. I’m afraid that the cost for Laos is going to be less and less tourists in the future if nothing changes.

5. Final thoughts

Even though my experiences in Laos were not the best, this doesn’t mean that the country has nothing to offer. As I’ve already said, there are plenty of incredible natural wonders around the country.

Go visit it with an open heart and mind and create your own opinion about it! Let me know if you liked or not Laos in the comment section below.

For me, being scammed so many times in Laos was a complete turn off.

May the travel bug bite you!

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Why I will never go back to Laos

 

 

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21 Comments

  1. Delia Bivolaru
    February 8, 2019 / 12:43 pm

    Very useful article Aura! While travelling to South-Asia you do expect to get scammed but with minor thing not like someone robbing your room or be left in the middle of the nowhere at 11pm! Not going there for sure!

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 9, 2019 / 4:11 am

      Well, I think you should go and see how you’ll perceive Laos. Maybe you’ll see things differently. My experience doesn’t have to reflect your experience :). Go with an open mind but take precautions!

  2. February 9, 2019 / 2:23 am

    Damn. I have not done much research about Laos, but all my friends that visited (to be fair, this is more than 10 years ago) loooved it. It is so sad to hear the scams have become so common. Before this, I had only heard good things, so it is helpful to know the other side of the story. Having said that, I would probably pay the $2 for the bus. I’d be mad about it, but I’d probably still pay.

    I felt the same in the big cities in Morocco.

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 9, 2019 / 7:25 am

      I also heard good things before visiting. The truth is that I don’t react well to scams and I refuse to fall for them. I love leaving tips and giving extra money to people while traveling but only when I am not forced to do so. But again, my experience doesn’t have to reflect other people’s experience. For others, Laos can still be fun 🙂 I think it’s best to know about the dangers and be prepared.

  3. February 9, 2019 / 2:24 am

    Wow, rough trip. I can’t believe how many times you encountered scams in Laos!! It’s really unfortunate that Laos left you with a sour taste in your mouth. I love reading all accounts of travel so I’m glad you shared your story even though it is a negative one, it’s just as important (or more!) than the glowing reviews. Really helps people be prepared for the reality on the ground instead of just pretty photos.

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 9, 2019 / 7:26 am

      Thanks so much! That’s why I decided to write this post. Yes, it only reflects my experience but so are all the articles about how awesome X place is. It’s good to know both sides. 🙂

  4. February 9, 2019 / 2:30 am

    It will always be controversial to post something like this, but sometimes it needs to be said. I actually had a very similar feeling towards Cambodia, and had to avoid so many elaborate scams. It was particularly hard as so many people had told me how much they loved it and I felt I just didn’t get it at all!

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 9, 2019 / 7:30 am

      Travel is different for everyone. I always like to write about my honest thoughts and experiences. When a place is incredible, I write about how incredible it was but when I get scammed, I feel that it’s my duty to write about it. Even though some people might go to Laos and not experience the same things as me, at least they will know how to take precautions against such scams. It’s good to express our feelings even if not everyone understands 🙂

  5. Caitlin
    February 9, 2019 / 2:49 am

    I understand the frustration here with people trying to get more money at times than what is deemed ‘fair’ for the rest of SEAsia. But beyond the fact that it seems nothing bad actually happened to you, I think we need to remember how these things come about. Laos, as you mentioned, is renowned for its partying. Partying beyond reason. Mushroom shakes, excessive drinking. When I was in Laos I met someone who had been arrested for peeing on a temple. A TEMPLE. Recently I met someone in Thailand recounting how his friends had been high and gotten arrested in Laos, I didn’t quite catch the reason. Point is, backpackers are so often pure shite and leave an awful impression on the people of the country. I understand that travel can be exhausting and it kind of sounds like you hit Laos at the point of your travels when you were fed up with it all, but I’d encourage you, next time you see this kind of behavior towards foreigners, not to run away but rather to try and engage positively with the people. The more of us who can leave a good impression might allow more people not to leave foreigners on the side of the street in the middle of the night in the pouring rain. I do believe it works.

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 9, 2019 / 7:35 am

      I always positively engage with locals but I can’t just act like they’re not trying to scam me. Backpackers are everywhere and I agree that some of them are not the most educated people around. However, how come in other countries such as Myanmar nobody tries to scam tourists? In countries like Myanmar, I always pay extra the local tour guides or at restaurants just because their prices are fair and they don’t try to scam me. It’s not about the money in the end, it’s about the attitude.

  6. February 9, 2019 / 4:47 am

    I get you 100% I had really similar experience in Switzerland. I am brown and I constantly kept facing a lot of blatant racism. I couldn’t get out of their fast enough. I feel it is hard to write such posts as a lot of people cannot understand that you can have a different experience than them in the same place. And they tell you, oh you are wrong and exaggerating. It is really annoying to not only have a bad experience, and then have some tell you, oh no you are wrong.

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 9, 2019 / 7:38 am

      I am so sorry that happened to you! I’ve decided to write this because it is the truth, the truth about what I’ve experienced. However, my experience might not be the same with other people’s experience but that’s ok. When researching about a place, I like to know both about the good and bad aspects. It’s all part of the journey!

  7. Jonathon
    February 9, 2019 / 4:53 am

    Well, there is no way I would feel sorry for you. No matter how little money you have you will always have more than the ‘locals’. Serves you right for being so mean and you were left to walk—with your attitude and lack of humour you were an easy target for the locals to squeeze a few extra dollars from you. Just pay up and enjoy the ride. How stupid to say ‘I will never go back there because I got scammed’—you didn’t loose thousands of dollars, just loose change.

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 9, 2019 / 7:47 am

      I appreciate your opinion. Firstly, my money is earned with hard work and I am entitled to spend it as I wish. I choose not to give my money to people who are trying to scam me. I choose to give to people who are hard working. Whenever I encounter hard working people (waitresses, tour guides, etc) who are not trying to scam me, I always pay more than the asked price. I am doing this because their services are incredible and because they don’t try to take advantage of me. I refuse to encourage scammers in any way.

  8. February 9, 2019 / 4:57 am

    Wow and wow! Scams I have never even dreamt off. You certainly didn’t take the easy road in fighting them. Well done.

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 9, 2019 / 7:49 am

      Thank you! My only hope is that this article will make people be more careful when visiting Laos. It really is a beautiful country. 🙂

  9. February 9, 2019 / 6:09 pm

    So sorry you had those bad experiences, the hotel one is shocking! Traveling is not always easy…

  10. February 9, 2019 / 6:52 pm

    I’m glad you shared this, even if it was negative. I was planning to go to Laos, having done Vietnam and Cambodia recently and having loved both. I’ll do Laos anyway but will be careful.

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 10, 2019 / 6:23 am

      Laos is a very beautiful country and it has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty. Taking precautions is always a good idea. 🙂 Take care!

  11. Megan Indoe
    February 10, 2019 / 6:01 am

    I’m sorry to hear you had bad experiences. We had the complete opposite experience over 2 months slowly traveling the country. I think a lot of your problems happened because you only visited the cities that for Laos have been overwhelmed with tourism and just like any city that sees a lot of tourists they have more scams. Vang vieng is the worst for this because can you really blame the locals for hating what tourists have done to that place? It’s much tamer now but still people go here and treat their home in this beautiful town like it’s the Las Vegas Strip. People were dying from doing too many drugs/getting too drunk and drowning when they were tubing. They actually had to start enforcing there because of drunk idiots. I don’t think it’s very fair the paint with a broad stroke that you shouldn’t expect kindness from locals. We had SO many locals in Laos go out of their way to be kind. Multiple times a day. A family selflessly saved us from the side of the road where we were pushing our motorbike because the gas line broke. He waited pulled over with his wife and child and saved us and helped us get it fixed within 20 min of seeing us. This is just one of many memories from our trip. I hope one day you are curious enough to go back and give them another chance.

    • dailytravelpill
      Author
      February 10, 2019 / 7:06 am

      Hi. Thanks so much for your comment. The plan was to go deeper inside the country, to more remote areas but honestly, we were afraid after everything that happened. I agree that some tourists are not respectful but if the people in Vang Vieng hated tourists, why do they still have parties and so many bars for drinking? They like tourism because it brings them money, even if there is a cost. However, this doesn’t give them the right to scam people. I am so happy that you had a good experience and I am sure that many others loved Laos. This article is only about my experience in the country :).

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