. The country’s debt to China was estimated to be 45 percent of the country GDP in 2019. Earlier this year, unable to meet its debt obligations, the government of Laos signed a 25-year concession agreement that allows a majority Chinese state-owned company to build and manage a large part of the country’s power grid.
At the time of our arrival in Luang Prabang, the sun was setting behind the steep mountains that surround the former royal capital. Minivans were waiting at the exit of the station to take us towards the city center. As I stepped out of the train, a lady who travelled in the same carriage tapped on my shoulder. “Laos is strong, isn’t it?” she said proudly. I gave her a big smile in return and nodded.
It is not clear how Laos is going to pay off its debt to China, but for almost two hours on the EMU train it seemed that everyone, including me, had forgotten about the railway’s financial implications and felt they were witnessing a milestone of Laos’ modern history.