Laos to me is Asia without really being Asia. It doesn’t have the high-tech feel of places like Singapore or Hong Kong, and isn’t an explosion of sights, taste and sound like Thailand or even Vietnam. To me it’s the Clayton’s Asia, or the Asia you have when you don’t have Asia (quoting a very old Australian advertising campaign). It’s not that I didn’t like Laos, but to be honest I didn’t love it.
To me, visiting South East Asia is about having an experience that assaults my senses in a good way. I guess what made Laos a little ho hum for me was that it was just too quiet in some parts and too much in others.
First stop in Laos was Luang Prabang, a quiet town famous for its Buddhist sites, hundreds of monks that walk through the town each morning and it’s natural wonders. The one thing I did there that I just loved was hire a bike for the day and get out of town to see some of the local waterfalls. I am a notoriously slow cycler, but we made it there and back in spite of me, even after puncturing a tyre.
After watching my (lack of) cycling prowess, my travel companion decided it might be best if we go by boat. So we travelled 25 kilometres down the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves. The cavity of these ancient caves are covered in Buddha statues, so many it was impossible to count them all.
After a few days in Luang Prabang, which honestly was more than enough, my buddy bid me farewell and I travelled onto Vang Vieng. When I now look back, perhaps it would have been a better place for me to visit after living in Bombay, after all one of the things I loved about my recent trip to Burma was the peace and tranquility. What a difference a few years makes!
I had read quite a bit about this town, it sounded a bit like a backpacker and adventure-seekers haven. The four hour bus ride there was a little harrowing, my knuckles were almost white from gripping onto my seat as we traversed the winding road. But once in Vang Vieng, I chilled and settled into the backpacker lifestyle.
Yes this really was the view from my hotel.
One of the popular things to do in this small town was to go “tubing” down the river. This involved driving upstream and jumping onto a tyre and slowly cruising your way down the river and back to town. Sounds pretty awesome doesn’t it?
Well it would have been if the riverside wasn’t covered in bars with thumping electro music and travellers dancing on the banks, wearing next to nothing, spaced out to their eyeballs. I enjoy a drink and a party as much as the next person, but I really don’t get into the drugged out party scene which was clearly all Vang Vieng was about. So with that, I swiftly made my way back to town and out of there.
It made me a little sad actually. From one town that was almost too quiet for me, to another that was like my worst nightmare, I really didn’t love Laos. Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful country, but I just didn’t feel like I could appreciate it the way I have so many other parts of Asia.
Do I need to go back? Perhaps.
Will I? Probably not.