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Are Laotians Lazy?

And old saying goes

“The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Lao listen to it grow”

city streets

Indeed, Laotians might just be the most “relaxed” culture we’ve ever come across. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people laying around, seemingly enjoying doing nothing – simply meandering about.

Getting someone’s attention in a restaurant can be a feat unto itself. I recall one time when I was looking to get the bill, and saw no less than 8 waiters standing around chatting. After about 5 minutes one of them finally looked over at us (we were one of two couples in the entire restaurant) an came over. This was an upscale restaurant by the way.

Perhaps I should have gotten up?

While relaxation is one thing, the Laotians seem to take it to a new level. I never see anyone reading – ever. If they’re laying in a hammock, or on a couch, or on the ground, it’s never with a book. Often, during midday, you will pass by a restaurant where someone is sleeping. I wonder, is he sleeping because he has no customers, or does he have no customers because he is sleeping?

One of the most intriguing things is that Laotians don’t seem to be motivated by money. On the one hand I applaud this attitude – it’s something we could all learn to do better, myself included. On the other hand, it can be quite frustrating/perplexing. For example, on one occasion we had hired a driver for a group of 8 of us to take us 3 hours away. The price was $10 a person. This meant that the driver would earn $80 over the course of six or so hours (because he would have to drive back afterwards, and let’s assume he picks no one else up for the return journey). By Laotian standards this is a phenomenal deal. It’s easily a week’s pay for a driver in the countryside, maybe a month’s, all done in one – full day’s work.

After arriving 1 hour late the driver picked us up. Instead of driving us the full way, he took us 1 hour closer to the next town, and then found a new driver to take us the rest away. He settled for 1/3 of the total, which was fair for the amount of work he put in, but a lot less than he could have made. It is no doubt that the driver could have made a great deal more money, but for some reason would rather hand us off to another gentlemen and take a fine sum of money for 1/3 the time investment. You can say that he has to pay for gas or that he doesn’t get all the money if he rents the car or things like that – but none of this makes it any less desirable to take us the full way as opposed to only part of the way. In fact, the second driver did the same thing, handing us off to a third driver after another hour (when his incentive structure was exactly the same)!

Could it be that there is some odd 2 hour time limit involved, or is it more likely that they just didn’t feel like driving for more than 2 hours?

Whatever the case, if you’re heading to Lao, prepare to be late, delayed, held up, what have you because nothing, NOTHING starts on time – it’s just not the Lao way.

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10 Responses to Are Laotians Lazy?

  1. Laos is probably the only country I’ve been to that I just didn’t enjoy. I was there a few years ago and wonder if they just hadn’t grasped the concept of tourism yet… seems like not much has improved.

    Izy Berry June 6, 2013 at 5:41 AM Reply
    • We actually liked Laos quite a bit BUT it probably helped that we had already been through Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma so we were used to SEA ways

      Dave and Vicky June 6, 2013 at 11:45 AM Reply
  2. Perhaps they’re just spreading the wealth around. Instead of one guy taking all the money, a few friends share in it. The Western view of punctuality and efficiency is, obviously, quite different from much of SE Asia, and especially Laos apparently. It’s just how it is.

    Talon June 6, 2013 at 6:21 AM Reply
  3. This case with the drivers reminded me that chinese drivers used to do almost the same.
    Though they would drive us all the way, but at the end will try to pass us to specific driver, if we needed to continue the journey.

    We think in Laos you’ve discovered a drivers network 🙂
    It means all drivers are in agreement to share the job between them.
    If the driver will be too greedy, like you expect him to be, nobody will share the work with him in the future.

    Gadi and Tun June 6, 2013 at 7:28 AM Reply
    • That’s interesting – there must be some explanation for it

      Dave and Vicky June 6, 2013 at 11:44 AM Reply
  4. I think Lao was definitely not ‘customer service oriented’ while we were there. It took awhile for us to let go of our expectations. It helped when we slowed down and asked ourselves ‘what are we in such a rush for? do we really need this right away?’
    As a tourist we got used to tourist-oriented service, and we’ve definitely been frustrated like in your story!

    Heather June 7, 2013 at 10:07 AM Reply
    • I’m definitely OK to take my time, but if something is leaving 1.5 hours late, well, that’s pushing the limit for me

      Dave and Vicky June 9, 2013 at 11:37 AM Reply
  5. Hmm…my 2 cents on the driver thing. Here in the Phils, for public jeepneys, if the driver has a long-distance route (let’s say, his route spans 5 towns in the provinces), and then he notices that for the 4th & 5th town, there are only a few passengers (say less than 5; a typical jeepney could carry around 20 passengers), he will sometimes move aside and ask the few passengers to transfer to another jeepney which is fuller. Then he will go back to the original town to pick up passengers at the terminal again. That way, he saves on the petrol for the 4th & 5th towns (because he feels that it’s not worth the petrol & the effort to go the whole way bcos he has only few passengers – their fares won’t probably cover the cost of his gas). I don’t know the case for “hired” jeepneys, though, if they’ll cut their trip and share it with another driver. Maybe it’s as the other commenter said – they cut the trip so that they spread the income (and to foster camaraderie with other drivers who can give him more trips in the future). Btw, I just got back from my holidays in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and Brunei, so if you need some tips re: those places, I’ll gladly help. And it seems like I’ll still be here in 2014, so if you visit, we can arrange a meet-up. I’ve some questions for you re: Thailand and Cambodia, but I’ll send them in an email (and I hope you could help). Congrats on earning almost 10K last month! Cheers and happy safe travels! 🙂

    Katie June 8, 2013 at 7:42 AM Reply
    • Interesting, but in this case it was an entirely full car (8 people for the whole trip) so a good deal all the way. And the other ones we transferred to were empty lol!

      Yeah all of those are slotted for 2014 but that’s not as far away as it once was – really just around the corner. We’re going to reply to that email soon.


      Dave and Vicky June 9, 2013 at 11:36 AM Reply

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