We spent a little over two weeks in Laos – a short trip by our standards. I hadn’t really known what to expect from Laos – fellow travellers developed a misty-eyed smile when they talked about it, but it doesn’t have the same firm spot on South East Asian travels. Yet.
What few expectations I had for Laos were defied at every step. Bits I had expected to hate (such as Vang Vieng) had been better than expected, whereas I had found other parts such as pretty Luang Prabang could be overcrowded and frustrating at times. I hadn’t expected the scenery to be as rugged, untouched and stunning as it is, and it kept getting better and better as we headed north.
I’ve often heard Laos described as “sleepy”. True, it lacks the frantic pace of Cambodia and the developed confidence of Thailand. But at the same time, it is quietly industrious. Homes generally looked well constructed; people were working during the day rather than taking naps. Coach drivers transported us along winding roads as if they actually wanted to arrive in one piece – unheard of on our travels so far. Understated? Perhaps. But sleepy? Not a word I would use.
One of the things we found particularly uplifting about Laos was the approach of the people to tourism. We loved the philosophy behind the eco-tourism of the Gibbon Experience, and were pleased to see that the residents of Vang Vieng are reclaiming their town from a pack of wasted teenagers. There was a sense of protectiveness and pride in their country and culture, and I really respected that.
Laos people had been described to me as “shy” and even “aloof”. Again, I’m not sure I’d use either of those words. And again, they defied my expectations. Sure, the welcome we got was less exuberant than say, Vietnam, but we actually also had some genuinely fun encounters with the locals – more so than in most other countries we have visited. During a 2-night stopover in Vientiane while we arranged for our Thai visas, we went bowling and met some Laos ladies. We had a lot of fun and had to beg them to stop buying us beers! We also had a great time at Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang, conversing with local students who wanted to practice their English. We found them bright, engaging, ambitious and keen to get involved with education and the tourism industry. Not the attitude of sleepy people who don’t like visitors!
Laos rewards slow, considered travel. This was in part why we failed to get very far off the beaten path in most places – travel between places can be slow, and it’s difficult to “pop” anywhere for a short visit like you can in say, Thailand without gearing up for a fairly epic journey. That said, the epic journeys were sometimes an event in themselves. I will never forget slowly sailing down the Mekong river and often not seeing a soul on the riverbank for hours. In fact, our trip through Laos kept getting better and better. We were indifferent to Vientiane (hence the lack of blog), but found we loved the country more and more as we went along. I think, had we done our route in reverse, we may have opted to extend our planned two weeks in Laos to three, or maybe even four weeks. As it happened, we had made plans beyond Laos which we intended to stick to.
How much does two weeks in Laos cost?
Interesting question. Until we smashed the budget at the Gibbon Experience, we were living, travelling and eating on about £20 per day each. We stayed in private rooms and ate a mix of street food and at budget restaurants. I think you could go cheaper, but whilst we don’t waste money (depending on your feelings on beer) we aren’t (and never will be, with me around) super budget travellers.