Reflecting on Travel: Laos
With only 2 weeks and zero expectations, I was prepared for something different. And Laos delivered.
Vientiane: A humble capital
I landed in Vientiane after a short flight from Bangkok. The air was fresh and the warm breeze of South East Asia greeted me once again. The airport was rather quiet and after a minor visa issue, I made it through. A short taxi ride to the center and I was already at my hostel, Sailomyen.
After quickly dropping off my stuff, I had a little wander around the city to explore this unknown country. I hadn’t done much research on Laos before I left for this trip but I often relish the unknown as a temporary, modern explorer.
The capital itself has some great things to offer: wide variety of food, a vibrant night market and an open road along the river to walk in the evening for a beautiful sunset view.
Unlike Bangkok, Vientiane is quieter and much more spacious. The traffic doesn’t feel life threatening and the people are incredibly welcoming. The coffee I had here was also some of the best I’ve had in my life. Though it was very hit and miss. Although I really enjoyed this city, there wasn’t much to do in terms of activities or sights so I think 3 days here would be enough.
Vang Vieng: Activity hub
The only thing separating me and Vang Vieng was a 4 hour mini bus journey on some of bumpiest roads I have ever experienced. Oh and did I say it was 4 hours? Well that’s what they advertise, but it took us closer to 6 and a half. I learned pretty quickly that the mini bus drivers don’t care too much about timescales, giving themselves ample time for food and even a quick nap in a hammock at the stops along the way.
A shadow of its former self, it used to be (and still is to a lesser extent) known as being the place to go tubing. Especially drunken tubing (until the Australian government shut it down after so many people kept dying). But this isn’t what people should go there for.
Once I arrived in Vang Vieng, despite having no expectations of the place, I was already disappointed. The place itself is extremely small, a handle of roads, packed with party hostels, restaurants and massage parlours (I didn’t visit any, nor would I recommend them!). I checked into the cheapest hostel I had booked for this trip so far (just under £3 per night) and went to try and find a glimmer of hope in this dusty town. And I found it.
Vang Vieng is host to some incredible mountain views, caving, buggy rides, lagoons galore and much more! If you want are partial to an activity holiday, this is the place to be! Not only did I do all of these things, but I had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people to share those experiences with.
An unexpected turnaround from first to last impressions and a lasting memory.
Luang Prabang: A meditative dream
Another town means another mini bus. Surely it couldn’t be as bad as the trip 6.5 hour trip from Vientiane to Vang Vieng?! Luckily it wasn’t. I was treated to some gorgeous landscape views as we passed through a newly constructed mountain pass, the cold breeze blowing happily through the window.
The arrival in Luang Prabang was a very different experience. The first (and so far only) Tuk Tuk driver to take me part way to my destination and then stop to demand more money, claiming he was confused by the initial fare that we agreed. I’m not sure when he had this epiphany but I refused the extra charge and walked the remaining 20 minutes to my hostel. Not a big deal since the weather was gorgeous and it did me some good to stretch my legs after 4 hours on the mini bus.
The hostel was located near the River Mekong. A very wide and fast flowing river that flows all the way from Laos to Vietnam and eventually to the ocean.
The atmosphere here was very apparent as soon as I stopped and looked around. I felt as though I had arrived at a colossal yoga retreat. The city was at a pace of its own, and the noise and disruptions from construction in every city I had been to beforehand soon disappeared. There is even a great bar called Utopia which is a meditative dream. Situated right on the river, you can sit, relax, meditate, enjoy great food (including vegan options) and simply be.
The best ‘food find’ of my stay in Laos was here. A vegetarian buffet down a small street at the night market, priced at just 15000VND per bowl. You can enjoy a incredible variety of different dishes and feel completely stuffed afterwards. I came back here 3 nights in a row because it was just that good.
It was easy to get used to the relaxing lifestyle offered in Luang Prabang. Very calm without any stress or concern. An escapism so cheap and peaceful that made it difficult to go anywhere else.
For a very short video of this wonderful country, watch here.
A fond farewell
Laos remains a great memory for me. An unexpected joy and a country that I would love to revisit one day. I stayed for as long as I could before the next destination was calling.