Published: February 18th 2008February 9th 2008
This is what the village looked like
I am leaving Laos with very mixed feelings for the country. Mostly I loved it. The beautiful nature, friendly people and the easy-going life here was something I have never experienced before. The locals could mostly not speak English more than a couple of words which made it hard to communicate, but with enough pations and a smile on my face I mostly got what I needed.
There was a few locals we met that could speak English well enough for a conversation. In a restaurant we met e 23 year old waiter who told us that he studies until 3 pm everyday and after that he works until the restaurant closes. He has to pay 60 dollars a year for studying and 30 dollars for the dorm where he lives and he said that is a lot of money for him. I felt a bit bad thinking that We've just spent 70 dollars on a trekking tour! Another guy we met told us that he in the morning works at the market, in the afternoon at the post office and in the evening in a guest house! This guy was probably not an exceptionally hard worker, I think that
Anna in the village
is the way people live here. On the other hand they didn't seem to bee too stressed about their work, not the way we are anyway..
Our first stop was Vientiane, the capital, where we stayed one night because we needed to get a visa to Vietnam from the embassy. Vientiane is a small city with 300 000 people and there wasn't much to see. We rented a motorbike and drove around, saw some temples and a park with a lot of Buddha statues and got lost a couple of times. We had a great time!
Luang Prabang was our next destination. To get there we took a local night bus which was the weirdest experience I've had so far, in a good way though. Our bags where thrown up on the roof and in the bus there was people sitting in the corridor on plastic chairs as well. The bus stopped all the time to get more people in and at some point I started to get a small panic attack when there was a guy almost sitting on my lap. I had to remind myself that even if I'm Finnish and used to have my own
Children from the village
space, I have to get used to local habits and just stay cool. The funniest thing with the bus ride was the Thai karaoke they put on. Anna and I had a great time trying to follow and sing along! The bus drove trough the mountains and 300 km took 10 hours. It was the most winding road I've ever been on and even if it was fun in a way, I wouldn't want to do the same trip again. At some point I woke up during the night and got really scared when I looked out. The mist outside was so thick that the driver could not see more than a couple of meter ahead!
Luang Prabang is listed on UNESCO Heritage List and I understand why. The city was absolutely amazing! We ended up staying there for 6 nights the longest time we've spent anywhere so far. There wasn't much to do in the city, but we did a one day kayaking tour and a two day trekking tour. In the days between we hang out in cafes, went to massage and steam bath and in the evenings we spent time shopping at the night market.
A big beautiful pile of concrete
The two day trekking was a fantastic experience. We started early in the morning with a 1,5 hour elephant ride. Of course I've known that elephants move slowly, but it still surprised me how everything seemed to be in slow motion. We had lunch on a riverside watching children play in the water and then we started the trekking. We walked trough fields and forest and after maybe 1,5 hours we had a pause and our guide told us that next we have to walk uphill to a village. At first walking uphill wasn't that bad but pretty soon it got quite tough. It was at last 40 degrees in the sun, a lot more than I can take! At some point I got so tired that I started to feel homesick wondering why I ever left Finland! Anyway, I did it and afterwards I felt really proud of myself.
We continued the trekking to the next village, where we stayed overnight. I can't in words explain what the village looked like, but I hope you get some idea from the pictures. In the village there lived around 70 families, the lived in the houses you can see on
Riding the bike
Anna and our bike
my photos and there was no electricity. After it got dark our tour guides put on a bonfire around which we sat for a while. I'm not sure if I've ever experienced such darkness before and before that evening I've never realized that light is not something you can take for granted! We couldn't really do anything because of the darkness so at nine o'clock in the evening we went to bed. Next day we did a short trekking to a waterfall and after that a 3 hour kayaking back to Luang Prabang.
What I'm trying to say here is that the Laos I saw in Luang Prabang and around it, I loved. But my so far biggest culture shock was the one I got when we came to Vang Vieng. And it wasn't the Laos culture that shocked me, it was my own culture, our western culture. Vang Vieng looked like Canary Islands and people behaved the same way. Everywhere you walked there was bars and restaurants and the only thing everyone seemed to do was drinking and watching TV. The first evening we saw at least 10 guys running around with bikinis and I couldn't help but
The city centre
wonder why they had to come all the way to Laos to behave like idiots. Can't they do it back home? Or somewhere else were the local culture approves and understands this kind of behavior. Laos is after all a very conservative country and the locals don't appreciate people walking around with almost no clothes and drunk idiots.
We wanted to get out of Vang Vieng as fast as possible but when we tried to book bus tickets to Hanoi we bumped into a small problem. Because of the Chinese new year there was according to the travel agency, no buses to Vietnam for a hole week! It seemed absurd that a whole country could shot down like that, but the only thing we could do was to take a bus back to Vientiane and try to get somewhere from there. What happened to us after this I will tell you in my next travel blog.
Laos was not an easy country to travel in. The roads were very bad and buses were far from comfortable. But once you get yourself somewhere to the countryside, you can find the most beautiful wild nature. Only thing that bothers me
is that I didn't see more of it!
There are more photos below