Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Introduction: Laos, Top to Bottom (January 2016)

Last January, I went to Laos with my friend Mariana. This is the introduction to a series of posts about my trip (links to the series will follow at the bottom of each post, including this one, as I publish them).

Really, the first thing I have to say is: WOW. It's a beautiful country, and I daydream about being here often! Especially the North... sigh. 🙏

Even here in Vietnam, countries that are neighbors for a loooooong stretch of border, I rarely hear anything about Laos, or see any Laotian people. It was a black hole in my knowledge of the region. I was very interested in comparing my experiences in Laos to experiences in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I wanted the food, the nature, and the culture, and I got all three in spades.

We visited the North and the South (leaving out some of the Center, sadly, due to time), and experienced a country rich with tradition and history, just beginning to bloom on the international ecotourism stage... all while dealing with ghosts of the past and pressing modern concerns.

Mariana and I began our tour in Luang Prabang town in the North. From there we traveled by minivan and boat north and spent several days, enjoying river life and the mountains. Afterwards, we journeyed south to Vientiane for a hot minute, then moved on to Pak Se and the Bolaven Plateau, followed by a fascinating and relaxing night in the 4,000 islands region (Si Phan Don), nestled among the Mekong just kilometers from the Cambodian border.

Our basic trip path (starting in Luang Prabang Town, then doubling back through after the North).

Setting the stage: We flew in to Luang Prabang late January, 2016. I had just left my computer in the security check of the Da Nang airport before flying to Hanoi, then Laos. (Oh man, Ben. Seriously?!) In my defense, I wanted to work a bit at night on my vacation, and was suffering serious jet lag from arriving to HCMC from Chicago only 36 hours before, and only 30 hours since my gas oven had exploded and burned off all my arm and leg hair. (NO REALLY. I should do a post about that...!) Needless to say, I was a little out of sorts. (But realllllllly, Ben? Sigh.)

Forced relaxation it was... by the time we landed in Laos, I was ready to accept this and experience this brand new country. I decided to deal with the computer one step at a time, and fill the rest with good travel experiences - I will likely not get another chance to visit Laos.

Also, picked up this book in Vientiane, The Master and Margarita, which I've been wanting to read for a long time (and it was GREAT!).

Sidenote: I eventually got my computer back through a complicated, coincidental, completely preposterous and improbable set of circumstances (of course), which just proves two things: a) I am a pretty lucky guy, b) Vietnamese people are awesome.

Along the way, Mariana and I took planes, boats, minivans, buses, tuk tuks, and motorbikes. We saw ridiculously beautiful waterfalls, snuck up on some majestic elephants, got badly sunburned, and cruised the country singing Taylor Swift and Queen until we were hoarse. We visited temples, caves, and slept under heavy quilts. We saw dolphins in the Mekong! We ate sooooo much food...

We hiked and slept and read and did our own thing. It was a pretty magical vacation, although, at the end of it, I was more than ready to be back at home in HCMC... two months travel is a lot for me!

This post is just a tease...! In the next month or so, stay tuned for posts about:

  • Luang Prabang Town: A Worthy UNESCO Addition
  • Luang Prabang Day Trips: Kuang Si Falls & Pak Ou Caves
  • Rural Northern Laos: Nong Khiaw & Muang Ngoy
  • Mid-Southern Laos: Pak Se and the Bolaven Plateau
  • Southern Laos: Si Phan Don (4,000 islands region)
  • Food and Drink in Laos
See you soon!

Have you been to Laos, or have any questions? Please comment here or on facebook!

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Hi! Thanks for speaking up! :) - Ben