As we get back into the swing of things post holiday break, it's good to know that this is a big year for Laos. In 2016, Laos is hosting ASEAN, which, if you don't know, stands for the Association for South East Asian Nations. It's kind of like the Asian G20 and is about fostering economic partnerships and development in the region, investments, new business, employment and that sort of thing.
For Laos, as one of the poorest countries in Asia, ASEAN provides serious opportunities. It's also a big deal to be the host country, a badge that you're doing something right. Laos is relatively safe, easy to navigate and its traffic is remarkably well behaved. People are friendly, there's banks and ATMs, the food is varied and tasty, it's easy to get around the city, and it's clean with relatively little pollution.
Along with other major international meetings - the G20 (hosted by China this year) and APEC (by Peru) - ASEAN is comprised of a series of smaller meetings that go on throughout the year, culminating in a summit at the end, attended by all the heads of state. In fact, there is a "summit season" of 1-2 weeks when heads of state go from one international summit to the next. ASEAN has 10 member states made up of south east Asian nations. There's also the East Asia Summit which revolves around ASEAN that includes the US, Russia, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and China. It's all a bit complicated. There are a staggering 1,200 ASEAN meetings per year. They happen all over the region but many will be held in Vientiane.
Just like hosting an Olympic Games, this event won't come cheap. But there will certainly be a peak in business in September. Every existing hotel in Vientiane has already been completely booked out. Construction on new hotels is underway though it's hard to imagine that some of them will be finished in time. Road markers have been freshly painted, hedges trimmed, and flags are flying everywhere.
Delegations bring hundreds of people with them. President Obama will arrive in Airforce One - the first US President to ever visit Laos. It's a pretty exciting thing for Vientiane, though we'll be appreciating it from home; there will likely be a curfew in place or the city will simply shut down for a few days. The traffic-halting and siren-wailing VIP motorcades through the city will be exhausting enough so you may as well just stay home. Or better yet, leave town.
Most importantly, what does this mean for food lovers in Vientiane? Well, if you live here, you can't help but notice the new cafes and restaurants popping up like mushrooms all over the city. I've got my hands full with reviews. There's the new MK and Miyazaki restaurants, there's are half a dozen new cafes, an Irish pub, and even a Hard Rock Cafe in the (newly finished, just) ITECC building. And behind the ITEC building is a (half finished) aquatic theme park (Vientiane's first).
Watch this space for lots of new Vientiane restaurant reviews!
The feature photo is of the Chinese-built National Convention Center, where the majority of the meetings will be held. It's north of the city, not far from Rimping Supermarket. At least they can pop down the road for some hot soup, fresh salmon heads, or a selfie on the Rimping love seat. Whatever your fancy.