High inflation puts damper on Lao New Year celebrations

Local merchants try to push up prices to take advantage of the national holiday.
By RFA Lao
High inflation puts damper on Lao New Year celebrations A Lao vendor waits for customers at a market in Vientiane, Laos, in early 2023.
Xinhua via Getty Images file photo

Ongoing double-digit inflation in Laos has put constraints on Lao New Year celebrations, the first public observance of the holiday in the country after it was put on hold for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Southeast Asian nation has experienced drastic price increases due to inflation of more than 40%, so that ordinary citizens must spend more money on holiday-related food and goods.

The one-party government has been unable to get surging inflation, growing external debt and the devaluation of Laos’ currency under control in the largely impoverished country.

“The New Year rate of inflation has increased due to the rise of the Thai baht because Laos imports goods mainly from Thailand, followed by Vietnam and China,” said an official who declined to give his name so he could speak freely. 

The price of goods from Thailand is higher than the price of goods from Vietnam because of the strong Thai currency, he added.

Pork, a staple meat, now sells for 80,000 kip or U.S. $4.63, per kilogram, up from 70,000 kip, or U.S. $4.05, per kilo before the economic crisis hit, he said.

Authorities patrol streets and markets to control food prices, but when they are not around merchants will sell what they have for what they can get, the official said.

Laotians in the capital Vientiane and other parts of the country told Radio Free Asia that prices of beef, fish and imported consumer goods from neighboring countries have also shot up. 

A Lao merchant who imports goods from Thailand said prices are higher than they were before because of a strong Thai baht.

“We import goods from Thailand where the price is already high, and we sell them in Lao markets where prices are higher than they were before,” she said.

A Lao trade official, who also requested anonymity to be able to speak freely, also said merchants are taking advantage of the holiday to push up prices even more amid the current high inflation.

People eat and drink more during the Lao New Year, and each household buys more food for celebrations with their families and friends when they gather for traditional blessings of each other, he said.

Despite the rise in prices, tourists—mainly Chinese, South Korean and Thai — have flocked to Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site popular for its outdoor night market and ancient Buddhist temples, during the Lao New Year, which runs April 14-16. 

Celebrations there and in other Lao towns include elephant parades, Miss New Year competitions and parades with traditional music, Buddha blessing ceremonies at local temples, song contests, and baci celebrations where strings are tied around participants’ wrists for good luck, prosperity and happiness in the coming year.

Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA Lao. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.


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