My last blog post in South East Asia left me off in Chiang Mai, Thailand. And from Chiang Mai I SLOWWLLYYY made my way to Luang Prabang, Laos by boat…the slow boat that is. I fell in love with Laos, and it was probably my favorite country, overall, out of all the countries I visited on my trip. I thought it was an absolutely beautiful country, the food was delicious, the people were lovely, and I had some of the best experiences of my entire trip when I was there. It’s a country you definitely should not skip if ever visiting South East Asia.
I was really excited to get there because it was a country I really didn’t know anything about (besides loving the food at Thip Khao, one of my favorite DC restaurants). I really enjoyed Thailand, but there is something so special about Laos. It is less built up than Thailand, the locals seem to live a much simpler lifestyle, it actually seems to be a little cleaner (trash wise), but still terrible pollution, and the locals here are really lovely and try really hard to understand you. There is a sense of community, hard work, and love in Laos.
My trip to Laos started with a 3 day trek on a slow boat from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. There are a couple ways to get to Laos from Thailand, but I really wanted to experience the slow boat. I had no idea what I had signed up for besides a boat trip on a slow boat, but for about $53.24 USD It in included a mini van to Chiang Khong, accommodation for a night as well as dinner at YOLO bar (which ended up in a debauchery of a night-I’ll get to later), breakfast and lunch the next day, a tour guide that helps you through the entire visa process as well as passport photos and exchanging money, a taxi to the border, a taxi to the slow boat, and then the slow boat for 2 days. Not a bad deal!
What I also didn’t realize was the package included three days with the best group ever. A group that quickly became family.
I couldn’t tell if I kept getting lucky in the groups I was put with, or if there were just amazing people all around me all the time. Coincidentally Alex, who I met in Chiang Mai, was in my van to Chiang Khong, and we ended up being on a very chatty bus in which everyone exchanged facebook info. Little did I know I would be running into these people and hanging out with them for the next couple weeks all over Laos.We stopped at the white temple, Wat Rong Khun, which I had already seen, but still just as amazing the second time, and made our way to Chiang Khong, a small town that literally has 2 or 3 restaurant/bars.
We had our dinner at YOLO bar and that was the beginning of the family friendship. The night ended up being a night of many free tequila shots, a drinking pool game, cards against humanity- the UK version, and immediate connections and friendships.Mostly backpackers in their 20’s and 30’s like myself, but also a son bringing his 70 something year old mom on a vacation in Laos, and she quickly became mom to all of us.
The following day, heads a bit foggy, we made our way to the border, applied for our Visas, and headed to the slow boat..beer in hand, obviously. Beer Lao is THE beer in Laos.
There are a couple other beers sold in Laos, but this is the main one you see everywhere. And I actually like it! I like it so much I found myself craving it every day. It’s not too hoppy or yeasty, and it has more flavor than Singha and Chang in Thailand.Apparently it was low season so even though the boat ran out of seats, they still piled us on this very old wooden boat with removable bus seats. A group of us got put in the room with the engine and all the luggage for the next 6 hours, and even though it was so loud and pretty smelly, we made the absolute most of it. That might actually be an understatement. We really did have the best time. We played card games, sang, listened to music, and drank rum and beer, once we found out there was a toilet of course. I found myself connecting with a group of strangers I would probably never even have talked to at home. I had to get away from the cigarette smoke and engine fumes so I found a comfy spot on top of the luggage near the window and ended up taking a lovely nap as we sailed across the Mekong River.
We spent the night in Pak Beng , which is an even smaller town than Chiang Khong, and half way between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang. Even though it caters to tourists who are coming through on the slow boat, it doesn’t have much more than a couple food stands, some guest houses, a few restaurants (which are usually owned by the people who live in those houses), and one bar. I enjoyed my first Laotian meal and a night out drinking shots of rum with the restaurant owner, but I managed to go for a beautiful run the next day to get a better view of how the locals live.
After our second slow boat ride, in actual seats this time, we made it to Luang Prabang. We wanted one last ‘family dinner’ together and decided to eat at the night market and make our way to the very popular bar/lounge called Utopia. We THOUGHT this was our last night together, but again, little did we know we would just keep running into each other over and over. for the next 2 weeks.
The night market in Luang Prabang was heaven to me. Multiple “buffets” of every kind of vegetable, noodle, and rice, and many different types of barbecue. It’s exactly what I imagined a food market in Asia would look like.
That 3 day trek was something so special to me. And getting to know these people from my group individually over the next two weeks is something that changed me and my trip completely. I grew such strong feelings and friendships, learned so much from each person I met, and even though it’s always so sad to say goodbye, I can only hope we stay connected and meet up again in this life or the next. I never would have thought that this “hippie” (even though he swears he’s not) standing in front of me in line at a rest stop with elephant pants on would become someone I will never forget for not only making me laugh so very much, but for opening my eyes to non judgmental friendships, finding myself (not in Pai- apparently EVERYONE finds themselves in Pai), and for making me believe in happiness more than I ever thought I could. His free spirit and charisma were contagious, and I hope to emulate those traits some day. And he’s just one of the many from that group that will forever remain one of the greatest parts of my travels. Memories that will last a lifetime.