VIENTIANE -- It is Saturday afternoon in tourist high season, and Vientiane is very quiet. Most shops are closed for the weekend. A couple of Asian tour groups ascend the Patuxai, the Laotian capital's answer to the Arc de Triomphe. On every floor, stalls are packed with five-year-old photocopies of the Lonely Planet guide to Laos, fake antiques and communist flags, while its female vendors relax in deck chairs.
Down the road at the government tourism office, things are a little more animated. Staff are preparing promotional material for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Tourism Forum 2018 in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, where Laos had a booth in late January.