My first station was an eco lodge near the capital Vientiane, directly at the Mekong river ( http://www.rivertime.com ). It was rainy season and somehow I was the only guest. But I didn’t care, respectively it made my stay even more relaxed. I lived in a simple but nice wooden bungalow along the Mekong, surrounded by lush shrubs and used the rainy and unhasty time to watch documentaries and to read books I had not found the time before. I also visited some small local villages nearby and talked a lot to the owner, originally from the UK. All in all it was a very rural and interesting start to my Laos experience.
Laos is a one-party-ruled socialist republic in Southeast Asia. Geographically it is situated between Thailand, mainly bordered by the Mekong river, and Vietnam, bordered by the mountains. Agriculture dominates the country's economy. Beside that, tourism is the fastest growing industry and plays a vital role. With this in mind, projects like the rivertime lodge are extremely important to preserve nature and local culture.
After a few days at the eco lodge I headed towards Vientiane, the capital. Actually I was on a mission there: Before I went to Laos I did some volunteer service at a school in Thailand and lived with a Thai family at a small village in the northeast of Thailand. When I left, my hosthmother -a very vivid and cordial elderly woman- gave me her only photograph she had of herself; her standing in front of the famous stupa in Vientiane, because she knew that I was about to go to Laos next. Not only that it was the only hardcopy photograph I could see in the entire house, I also knew that she must had been very lucky that she once could travel to Laos and might not be able to do it ever again. So first I wanted to refuse the gift, but realised that would be highly disrespectful. I was so touched how devotedly she gave it to me (with a personal note in Thai letters on the back) that I took the photo and promised her with my hands and gestures (that’s how we communicated with each other due to the lack of a common language) that I will visit the same stupa and take the same picture of me in front of it and that I will make sure that she will get the hardcopy of it. Yes, that was in time of no smartphones – at least for her and me.
So I went to Vientianne, visited all the temples and stood in front of that particular stupa. After I came back from the whole trip I got in contact with our local coordinator from the teacher project in Thailand and told him that I will send him a letter and hardcopy photo to bring it to my hostmother at the village. I'm sitting on my laptop right now and can hardly believe we did it that way - still love it, the good old post-mail.
I then left the city and loved watching the scenery on my way to Vang Vien by bus. But I did not like that place at all, unfortunately. After the peace at my first place I was very disappointed how touristy Vang Vien was. Not that I always prefer to be the only guest but what was going on there seemed simply wrong to me; the main point for young people to go there was a silly tyre race down the river. Could be nice and adventurous you may think. But the trick was to drink as much alcohol as possible on your way down umpteen times. In the evening, the drinking went on in the numerous bars and everyone was trying to overtop his tyre story. I was glad to leave this place the next morning – without my own tyre-experience. Many years later I learnt that they have stopped these activities after several severe accidents happened. That was good to hear because the scenery there is really amazing.
My last stop on my short Laos trip was Luang Prabang. And there I arrived. I just felt being at the exact right place. I had no programme, no plan, no rush and felt entirely ok and relaxed. In Luang Prabang I found a very nice simple hostel in the outlining area next to the Mekong. It was again a very lovely bungalow, made from wood. Simple but cozy.
Luang Prabang, the ancient town in the north of Laos was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and there is plenty one can do. E.g. get up very early in the morning and watch the monks, collecting their alms along the streets from the local people – a very devout and beautiful tradition. Or one can visit the refreshing Kuang Si waterfalls nearby for a swim. Back in town, there are numerous temples and museums to visit. With my interest in indigenous people and history I particularly loved the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center.
But most of the time I did simply nothing – except sitting next to the Mekong, next to the Buddha statues or along the street, watching the local people. My whole life felt incredibly decelerated. It’s a place to arrive, to slow down and to stay – as long as possible. Or to return.
I did not even keep up with my notes while I was in Luang Prabang - I really did almost nothing there, "just be and enjoy" was my motto - but I'm glad that I took at least some pictures....
Enjoy - and get in touch if you like to exchange some more experiences from Laos or elsewhere in SouthEastAsia.