Laos was the most under-developed country in our trip so far and posed a few challenges. At the same time, this also meant that it was the most undiscovered place as well, prime for the best travel stories. After nearly three weeks traversing the country north to south, we did find a sweet spot for Laos. We haven’t been to any other countries quite like it. Our final thoughts and impressions:
His Final Thoughts
Things in Laos take time. No matter what you do, whether it’s ordering food at a restaurant, taking a bus somewhere or simply watching the sunset – it will take its sweet time and there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s nothing you should want to do about it. After all, that is the inherent charm of this place. To come to Laos is to surrender oneself to an easy-going, laid-back visit. Having a tight schedule in Laos means you are pretty much set for failure, as nothing is as dependable and efficient as it is back home. With time, you learn to add at least 1-2h to anything you want to do, and have an open mind because time is an abstract construct.
Transportation was particularly challenging in Laos. With roads in poor conditions and a lack of options, we constantly found ourselves stuck in bumpy and seemingly endless bus rides. In addition to questionable safety, the “never full policy” employed on the roads only added to the misery, with buses that were literally filled to the brim with people and backpacks. On the bright side, the unfavorable situations gave otherwise strangers more reason to bond and laugh about it all. It also gave us some ridiculous bus stories that we will remember for life.
It was hard to stay connected in Laos, as both internet and 3G were spotty and slow. That meant we had problems updating our blog regularly and I also struggled to work remotely. At the same time that it frustrated us (quite a lot!), it also reminded us that there is a whole other world out there (probably a happier world), where people don’t check their messages or emails every five minutes and actually enjoy life as it should be enjoyed. Laos forced us to disconnect.
Finally, given the underdeveloped state the country is in, the highlight of the trip in Laos was undoubtedly its natural beauty. From the Mekong River and Kuang Si Waterfall in the northern mountains to Konglor Cave and 4000 Islands in the southern flatlands, we explored Laos thoroughly and it was one of the most naturally beautiful countries I’ve ever been to. Their tourism slogan is “simply beautiful.” The landscapes and sights really were simply beautiful and, on their own, made the whole trip worth it.
Her Final Thoughts
The most memorable aspects of Laos for me were individual experiences that we had, all of them incredibly unique and unexpectedly great. First and foremost, our day mahout training in elephant village near Luang Prabang – I will remember that forever. Not only did we ride elephants both on the neck and in a howdah on the back, we got to interact with them. Fed them, petted them, bathed them… the elephants were gentle giants and all it took was a baby elephant to warm my heart.
Our wooden carving lesson in Vientiane was also something I never thought I’d do. Despite the fact that I now know I should never be a wood carver (I was terrible!), it was eye-opening to try a local craft with my own hands. Our teacher made it look so effortless and without her, we would have no pretty souvenirs to bring home.
Last but not least, Konglor Cave was simply amazing. It’s hard to describe how cool a cave can be – I doubted it myself even – but I’m so glad we decided to go. 7km of darkness, cruising the wide and twisting river inside the cave, there was nothing more thrilling. I felt like Indiana Jones with a single headlamp, seeing a different part of the unknown every second. We filled our time in Laos with a variety of activities, but those three were by far my favourites.
Cities in Laos were not true cities. Being the city-girl that I am, I went to the largest cities in Laos and felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. It was nothing like the megacities in SE Asia – completely contrasting to places like Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok. I also found much of Laos to be very dusty, especially alongside unpaved roads, which were common. Our masks came in handy!
Food in Laos was mediocre, though I did enjoy the classics such as laap and Lao sausages. Beerlao was omnipresent and a great way to wash down the food while drinking recreationally. I wish there was more variety and originality; we found ourselves eating non-Lao food more often than not.
Laos was filled with ups and downs, as good traveling should be. We went from north to the very south and didn’t miss much (maybe with the exception of Luang Namtha in the far northeast for trekking), so no regrets. It was at times challenging yet also rewarding. Laos definitely gave us some of the best travel stories to date!