Pakse Laos – Some lessons learned from a very unusual shopping trip


After our five-hour hike on the Boloven Plateau the previous day, we decided to have an easy day and check out down-town Pakse.

One of the arms on Marilyn’s sunglasses had become loose, so we needed to find a shop that was able to tighten the tiny screw with a specific sized screwdriver. This was a true challenge.

We were being sent to dozens of shops and vendors but no luck as most of the time they did not understand our request and to be polite or helpful just pointed somewhere, anywhere. Please understand we were in the local market, the largest in Southern Laos; it’s huge, with streets of local vendors selling everything from chillies to second hand motor-bikes but, of course, they don’t wear sunglasses!

We could see we were wasting our time, as there didn’t seem to be a sunglasses shop nor anything that resembled an optician. The chicken lady couldn’t help, nor the fish-stall and the pharmacy sent us to a jewellery shop that had a very small stock of sunglasses but couldn’t repair them – that was about the closest we got! We continued walking around this market trying not to trip over the live produce, chickens, ducks etc. that were roaming the street and awaiting their fate.

Open this link for some of our best photos visiting Pakse market. Of course, you’ll have to use your own imagination for the noise and smells!

[For hundreds of colorful photos on Pakse Market in the public domain, open this link].

For foreigners, the difficulty in Pakse is language or effective communication. English, or in fact any foreign language, is not widely spoken. Usually, we would ask the question, ‘Do you speak English?’ and ‘Yes’ is often the extent of their vocabulary. Alf reminded Marilyn that in the Far East, ‘yes’ is a polite reply, irrespective of it being the truth.  In China, we had learned the trick asking for our hotel or restaurant address to be written in Mandarin. We tried doing the same in Laos and had things put in Lao script but soon realized that many people, especially tuk-tuk drivers, did not read.

We then moved on and went to the travel shop to discuss a tour for the following day. Whilst there we were recommended to the local mall for a repair man. We located the vendor who sold glasses along with other lines but he didn’t do repairs. He recommended us to a man in a kiosk – we showed him the glasses and he tightened the screw in a second but would not accept payment.

Although extremely poor, the Laotian people are very proud and particularly honest. Most Lao people are practicing Buddhists – in Pakse we saw traditional alms being given to the monks by spiritual local people (this was very different to the tourist fiasco that we had witnessed in Luang Prabang, Northern Laos).

Pleased to have achieved success at last, we went to celebrate, with lunch at the DaoLin Restaurant. This had become our favourite and only restaurant apart from our hotel (with it’s outside restaurant overlooking the Mekong). The first time we went to the DaoLin, the owner had confused our bill and overcharged us; she sent somebody running down the street asking for us to return – she apologized and handed back half the money, we’d paid for lunch. As an aside, a two course dinner at the DaoLin plus a beer and glass of red wine would cost less than GBP8 (or 100.000 Kip). It’s easy for a Westerner to be a millionaire in Lao currency, so we would not have noticed the overcharge anyway.

Another day, we went on a boat trip to see the famous Irrawaddy dolphins but there was a misunderstanding about the cost and the boatman, who was probably very poor -he handed back to Alf the excess cash that Alf had paid by mistake.

So what are the lessons from this story? Firstly, remember that ‘yes’ could mean anything in the Orient, so avoid ‘yes’/ ‘no’ questions to prevent a disappointment. Secondly, persevere with your shopping and don’t expect to find things where they’re to be found in Europe or Western countries. Thirdly, despite being an extremely poor country, Lao people are Buddhists and are incredibly honest, proud and charming.

Our next blog continues with our trip in search of the Irrawaddy dolphins, the very rare fresh- water dolphins to be found in parts of the Mekong near Cambodia.



One response

  1. Pingback: 4000 Islands Mekong – One of Lao’s most beautiful natural treasures « Discover the Orient

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