Vientiane, Laos to Vang Vieng, Laos
As an incredible two-week journey north through the beautiful country of Vietnam ended, a new journey through Laos began. We headed into Laos with a mission to get our Thai volunteer visa sorted out at the embassy in Vientiane but also managed to get in some adventure while there.
To start with the worst part, the bus ride from Hanoi to Vientiane was pretty unpleasant from the get-go. There was a huge lack of organization (more than normal for SE Asia), and it was just ridiculously long and uncomfortable sitting in the very back where we were told to go. Not to mention, going through the border to Laos was a really weird experience. After going through the Vietnam departure point, we had to walk about 1km to the Laos border, passing several old, unused official buildings on the way. It felt like a scene from The Hunger Games.
In Vientiane things were better. We did, however, spend most of our time at the Royal Thai Embassy, filling out our visa application one day and waiting hours to pick it up the next. James wasn’t feeling well so we didn’t too anything too crazy but did make it out for a night walk to grab dinner and see the night markets. I went on a couple other walks just around the area we were staying, near the Mekong River, getting the best feel for the small, Laos city that I could. I wouldn’t call it a pretty city and won’t necessarily recommend people to go there unless necessary, but it was very friendly and laid-back which I really enjoyed.
Now Vang Vieng is where the real fun happened. Just about 4 hours north of Vientiane, this town has a reputation for being the “backpacker party town.” In recent years, however, it has cleaned up so we were able to enjoy the incredible landscape around it without too much hoopla going on. We rented a motorbike one day and rode to Elephant Adventure Village, which has multiple caves and gorgeous scenery for visitors to enjoy. The motorbike ride itself was great because of the amazing landscape surrounding Vang Vieng. Everywhere we looked there were striking mountains and lush, green land with the river or a stream nearby. It made for a very peaceful setting and some remarkable views.
Despite the entry fee for every attraction at Elephant Adventure Village, we found it to be an awesome experience as well. We got to check out a couple caves and the “Blue Lagoon” there. At the first cave we visited, the “Water Cave,” we got to use a tube to float through its long, narrow passage. Because it was pitch black, we were given lights to wear on our foreheads. It was a tad scary floating through water when it’s that dark and everything echoes, but also really cool to be able to explore a cave like that.
At the Blue Lagoon, James and I were the only visitors. The family who worked there stared and laughed at us as we used the rope swings wrong and I splashed straight into the water trying to use them. They must’ve liked us though as they gave us a free Beerlao to split and showed us some YouTube videos they were watching. We exchanged names at the end of our drinking session together and then went back to our very different lives.
On the ride home, we stopped on the side of the road where we saw a pretty large party going on, with a band playing and all. At only 5pm everyone there was definitely intoxicated, jamming to some loud, Laotian, rock-n-roll type music. A girl on the dance floor gave us some of her beer and then we “escaped” to where the men were launching miny rockets they had built. These things were so loud and went so high. It was hilarious seeing the Lao men shoot them one after the other and obviously in some kind of competitive spirit. Before we left, I made sure to snag a beer and head back to the dance floor to dance with some crazy Laotians while James watched rocket after rocket. That party was hands down the highlight of Laos- what fun people.
As I write, we are headed over the “Friendship Bridge” from Laos back into Thailand. It has been just over five weeks since we began our backpacking trip in Bangkok. My heart is full thinking back on all the places we’ve been and people we’ve met in between. Coming back into Thailand, I already feel like a different person with so much more cultural knowledge and experience behind me. I can only imagine how I’ll feel when I leave SE Asia.
The next chapter begins tomorrow as we head to Phrao, a village near Chiang Mai, Thailand, to do volunteer work with a non-profit organization called Warm Heart. The plan is to live and work in Phrao for two and a half months before heading home. As always, I am so incredibly excited for the adventures and challenges ahead. For it is in these experiences I gain the confidence to be myself and the power to achieve my truest dreams.