Saturday, August 27, 2016

SOLO BACKPACKING SERIES: LAOS Pt.1

I've been solo backpacking for 3 years now. From my travels, I've encountered many others travelling by themselves. It is the norm for westerners to take a gap year and explore more of the world - even lone females. 

When I recount my experiences to my friends here at home, I am often met with a plethora of responses ; surprise, intrigue, criticism, curiosity, etc. 

Maybe it's just not an Asian (or Malaysian) thing to travel alone, especially as a girl. That being said, many who are considering doing the same have implored me to write about my numerous experiences so they will have a guideline of some sorts of what to expect. I'll be writing about my travels in parts.

***
This is a recollection of my solo backpacking journey to Laos in July 2014. 

I've previously written about my solo backpacking experience in Padang, Sumatra. You can read it here:
http://cherished-me.blogspot.my/search/label/Padang

***
I didn't know where Laos was, what language they spoke, what the topography of the country was like (mountains? coast? desert? forests?), or what currency they used, but one day I saw that AirAsia was having a promo for Laos. 

I immediately went
   " Yup, I'm going to Laos! "

I promptly booked my tickets before even looking it up on the map. (note: my return tickets for KL - Vientiane cost Rm250).

In my defense, I did go and do my research after I'd booked my flight.


Facts about Laos
  • It is bordered by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Myanmar.
  • Most of their population's livelihood revolves around the Mekong ; most if not all of the major towns / cities are located alongside this mighty river.
  • Currency used in Laos is the kip. (When I went mid-2014, MYR:LAK was 1:2500, however it has now dropped to MYR: LAK roughly 1:2000). 
  • The capital of Laos is Vientiane.
  • The old capital / ancient royal dwellings is Luang Prabang.
  • Vang Vieng, a small sleepy town between the former two is a popular stop for backpackers.
  • The south of Laos receives sparse attention from the government with regards to civil infrastructure and support, resulting in lower exposure and interest from the public. Not many backpackers go down this route, preferring instead to head north to Vang Vieng / Luang Prabang.
  • If you ever get out there, try to avoid the months between May-September as this is the rainy season - days are gloomy with the ever imminent threat of a pouring rainstorm happening at any  time. 
***

Day 1: 

I flew in to Vientiane and immediately jumped on a double decker bus to Vang Vieng. The trip from Vientiane to Vang Vieng took 4 hours. The bus stops at a station out of town, then everyone gets onto a truck which takes you into the centre of VV.


Along the way.

First thing I did when I got into town was look for accommodation. I find it's always better to show up and book rather than advance booking for two reasons - 

1) You almost always get cheaper rates.
2) You get to check out the rooms first (internet photos can be so deceptive) before confirming and putting down your money. 

I walked round town a bit and came across this guesthouse. One of the boys hanging round the compound informed me it was LAK35,000 (about RM17) per night for a single room with queen bed and private bathroom.


Souksomboun Guesthouse, owned and run by a Korean couple. I asked to see the room and bathroom first.



Pretty satisfactory, so I agreed and unloaded my stuff.

They had WiFi, free drinking water, hot shower, and the room + bathroom was clean and comfortable. No air conditioning, but I was there during the rainy season anyway and the weather was cool all the while.

Next agenda was to get something to eat as I hadn't eaten that day (not even before my flight out from KL) and it was already early evening.


Lemon chicken chop and rice.

After I'd gotten some sustenance, it was time to walk around and explore Vang Vieng.


Only dirt roads in VV.


Random temple I wandered into.


Serpentine dragonish figurine at the temple entrance.

***
As I was walking around town, I crossed paths with a couple. The girl was a little way ahead and the guy was strumming a ukelele, singing out loud. He gave me a wide friendly smile when our gaze met.

I couldn't help but smile back and enquire where they were from.

They introduced themselves as Charles & Madelyn from Alberta, Canada, and told me they were heading to the Blue Lagoon - would I like to join?


Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng.
(Image grabbed off the internet, it did not look like this at all when I was there.)

We jumped into a tuktuk, and were off. It was late in the evening and the weather was gloomy when we got there so I didn't get good pictures of the lagoon. Thanks to the rain earlier, the lagoon was more brown than blue.


Sign nearby the lagoon.

After taking a swim in the lagoon, we proceeded to hang out nearby with some other Italian backpackers while waiting to dry off before heading back to town.

A weird local guy came with free alcohol for everyone and tried to get us to drink with him. When we didn't really oblige, he proceeded to drink  himself happy then attempted to get friendly with the girls, but the guys quickly set him straight on that.

Day 2:

Woke up late and had brunch at one of the riverside restaurants. FYI, one thing very interesting about VV is that all the tvs in the bars and restaurants are continuously running episodes of 'Friends' and 'Family Guy'. Apparently they started doing it a number of years ago to cater to all the mostly western backpackers.


Riverside restaurant I ended up frequenting most of the time in VV.


Most restaurants have a river-facing section, which was where I sat most of the time. Ahh the view!

My breakfast, yum yum! Oats, coffee, and poached eggs.


Poached egg looks so good it's almost obscene.


Baguette section of the menu, found number 6 amusing.

Walked round and explored town some more after brunch.


One of the numerous bus services about town.


Flowers.


Friendly little dog crossing the bridge.


 Steps leading down into the river.


Street food.

Oh by the way, one thing I loved dearly about Vang Vieng was their baguettes! Really good, really tasty, and cheap. Every few hundred metres there's a baguette / pancake stand and they are pretty damn yummy.




SO DAMN GOOD.

In case you're wondering why baguettes are so commonly rampant in this under developed Asian country, it is because Laos used to be ruled by the French, which in turn influenced them in this culinary aspect.

***

Alright, here's where I stop. Will continue blogging about VV in another post, bye!



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