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Published: October 11th 2010
My first impression of Laos was not the best. I knew to expect the country to be less touristy than Thailand and that the language barrier was going to be more of an issue but I wasn't prepared for such a noticeably different reaction from the locals. When Marie and I arrived we were overcharged our visa entry and when they returned our passports, they gave us the wrong ones. There was something a little bit lax about the whole thing. We were really late for the bus but no-one else seemed to care. As we grabbed our stuff, one of the immigration guys hugged me. Not only was this strange but he held on for an awkwardly long time! I guess this was the first time I really felt that being a woman made a difference to how people treat you. We rocked up to the bus station and it made all the previous bus depots look like heaven. The ground was really dusty and the place remote. The bus looked really rickety but the letters 'VIP' were emblazoned across the front. This is not uncommon in South-East Asia. Somehow there is an idea that if they write this on a mode of transport that we, the paying customer, will somehow see past the crap and uncomfortable seating, lack of leg room and strange sounds and smells and actually come out of the journey feeling that we are indeed Very Important People. If I was a cynic, then perhaps I would think that it could also be that they don't give a shit once they have taken our money! However, soon enough, Loas won me over.
We met a group of northern lads from back home who were staying at a hostel in Luang Prabang, and so I ended up staying with them. It was a cheap gaff but I'm not going to lie, it was pretty dire accommodation. The rooms were so hot and the mattresses had springs poking out of them. When I asked where the shower was, I was shown a unit outside the front of the hostel which had just a shower curtain separating me from the rest of the world... It was interesting to say the least. That day went to a waterfall and then at night, took to the local drinking holes. This involved a bar that shut at 11 and a club that shut at 1. Thailand this was not! We did our British rep proud though and drunk as much as we could. We also busted some shapes with a couple of locals- these two Laos guys in particular took an interest in our group with a few reports from both men and women that they had been groped at some point.
The next day we went to the heart of tourist Laos, Vang Vieng. Anyone who has been there will know what a wonder this place is, albeit for the wrong reasons...First-off; accommodation. We stayed in a hostel called 'Spicy Laos.' This place is the stuff kids' dreams are made of. The entire set-up is all made of bamboo- the dorms, chill-out area and bathrooms. Each dorm has a bed are with a mosquito net and a mattress. It's pretty basic and I can imagine some finding it a bit too close to nature but I loved it. It was exactly how you would want a tree house to be. It even came with hammocks! The best thing about the place though was the people. Cringe I know but it's true. Marie and Tom didn't stay there but hung out with us. Also Chazzy came along as did the northern guys and Angelica from Luang Prabang. There were so many awesome traveller types there. Everyone was just really chilled out and we all just wanted to have a good time. The occasional dick-head would appear but most people there were just wanting to meet new people and get drunk.
Other than the people and general promotion of booze and partying, the main attraction to Vang Vieng is tubing. This is a 'sport' that is as ridiculous and dangerous as it sounds. When partaking however, one is more consumed by fun than fear (most of the time anyway!) It basically involved getting in a rubber tube and floating down the river, stopping at bamboo-hut bars en-route to the end. The workers pull you in using a large plastic bottle attached to a piece of string and of course, there you will drink some more. At some of the bars there are swings to jump in the river but most of them are content with having a flow of alcohol and an area for bikini-clad girls to dance. It does resemble a somewhat B-Movie version of an MTV video (with the obligatory Jack Wills and Hollister types for good measure.) It's sooo much fun but can get pretty scary when it starts getting dark. The current is strong and there's no complete finish to the circuit. In theory you could keep on floating for an infinite amount of time and I'm sure some people do. When I first got to Spicy Laos, I saw many a drunken fool return from tubing and so when it was my turn, I finally understood how easy it is to be so wasted by 7 p.m. I remember rocking up to the hostel after tubing and trying to converse with the sober lot who hadn't come with us but I just ended up abandoning all attempt and crashed out by 9. I stayed in Vang Vieng for 4 nights but wish I'd stayed longer. It was a great place to meet people though and I'm meeting up with some of them again.
I spent a day and a night in Vientiane which was a bit of a shocker. It was the first time I had been anywhere on my own and it was hard to believe that this was the capital. I went for dinner and had the most foul tasting meal ever (fish soup) before catching up on my other journal. As I was finishing my Beer Laos, the waiter brought me another, courtesy of the guy sat to my right on the next table. Now, don't get me wrong, I appreciate that there was a sentiment there and that I should have been flattered but I just felt really embarrassed and to be honest a bit repulsed. This guy was old enough to be my dad and I guess all I could think was 'Do you honestly think you have a chance?' He apparently did though as he stared at me for the rest of the night and when he left, he winked at me before handing me a business card. Smooth as you like!
The next day involved getting the us to Vietnam. This was by far the worse bus journey as I had paid for a sleeper which was apparently made for a dwarf. No leg room on a bus for 16 hours does not a happy Nikki make but I won't bother re-living it too much. I got to Vietnam safe and sound, met some cool people and although once again I was overcharged and objectified at the border, I got away relatively unharmed. So, Vietnam is is then.
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