Chinese tourists stretch their legs after crossing the border in Laos.
Northern Laos is a pretty remote place. A two day drive from Vientiane and a full day's drive from Luang Prabang, Highway 13, Laos' north-south artery ends at a gravel parking lot in Boten. North is China. And it's China that's reshaping the face of this part of Laos.
China's presence in Laos becomes more evident the further north you drive. From Vientiane to Luang Prabang the highway is filled with heavy trucks hauling stuff through Laos between China and Thailand and mini vans and buses hauling tourists and backpackers from the capital to lovely town of Luang Prabang. But from Luang Prabang to the border the minivans and buses are replaced by super buses, ones that have fully reclining beds rather than seats, hauling Chinese tourists and migrant workers into Laos.
The Chinese presence becomes really evident in Oudomaxy, about two hours south of the border. Signs are in Chinese. Chinese license plates are as common as Lao license plates.
Then there's the department store.
Oudomaxy is home to one of the most modern department stores in all of Laos (possibly the only department store. It's certainly the only department store I saw, but then I didn't spend much time in Vientiane.) It's a brand new, sprawling place, spotlessly clean and virtually empty.
Hill tribe women walk past the Chinese department store.