When planning our Vietnam itinerary we never thought of stopping off at a beachy place. Vietnam and beaches never really seemed to go together in our minds but it turns out the country has it all: over 3,000 Kilometres of coastline, highlands with mountains that saw snow this last winter, beautiful countryside and scorching, bustling cities. So, we left Hoi An on a Vietnamese 'VIP' sleeper bus to explore the beaches of Mũi Né.
So far, Laos has been our cheapest country to travel in, costing nearly £5 less per day than its closest rival Indonesia. We spent 44 days travelling in Laos altogether; about four weeks during November in the north of the country and another two weeks during February in the south. Overall, we had quite a chilled out and relaxed time in Laid-Back Laos, visiting plenty of waterfalls and temples and although the country is land-locked, we still managed to find time to see some islands! Here's what we spent during our six-week stay in Laos.
Despite being so close to Thailand, Laos is a whole different animal when it comes to getting around. For a start, there are no trains in Laos, the roads are very often just dirt paths and most buses are rickety, old and crammed with locals, luggage and livestock. We had some of our worst journeys while travelling in Laos, here’s how we got around the country.
It’s been a year since we turned our lives upside down and left the UK. Those twelve short months have felt like a lifetime in which we’ve learnt, seen and achieved so much. It’s the first year out of thirty that we’ve spent away from the country we call home – a mere blink of the eye - yet throughout this year I’ve been unexpectedly struck by powerful waves of longing for home.
One of the best ways to catch a glimpse of life in Asia is to take a ride in a tuk tuk. As your driver speeds dangerously and weaves through stationary traffic you’ll experience the true sights, sounds and smells of Asia. It’s likely that you’ll be assaulted with the smell of exhaust fumes, rubbish rotting in the sun, meat cooking on open fires, incense and fruits from market stalls; your ears will be filled with the sounds of beeping horns, the calls of market sellers, the thrum of music from nearby shops, monks chanting, the crowing of roosters and the barks of stray dogs.
There’s something I need to finally admit here on the blog; a somewhat shameful secret that may well brand me as a ‘bad’ traveller by many. So here it is: I don’t like Asian food. In fact, take away my British and Western food staples and I tend to panic. In short, I’m an extremely fussy eater, so how on earth do I cope as a traveller?
While travelling in Laos we learned the sickening truth about the secret and illegal war the American Government waged on this small, impoverished country. We saw the scars left by a merciless nine-year bombing campaign and met people who, despite having suffered so greatly, still welcomed us into their country with smiles.
Causally throwing a banana chip into my mouth I leaned out of the stationary tuk-tuk and craned my neck up towards the cave above, waiting for the million-strong swarm of bats to flood out of its entrance into the gathering dusk. A boy of about eight or nine, bare-foot and messy-haired, wandered past our vehicle and I smiled as our eyes met. My banana chips captured his attention and for a moment I began to stretch my arm out to offer him some before remembering: we’re not supposed to give things to kids, especially not here in Cambodia where child-begging is such a problem.
Always get to the bus station early if you’re travelling in Laos; if not you’ll end up squashed into a fold-out isle seat amongst bags of rice, backpacks and live chickens. On the nine-hour bus journey to Luang Prabang I found myself wedged into a single seat above the wheel, my legs cramped into an uncomfortably raised position while the giant German man next to me kept falling asleep, his head periodically whacking my shoulder. Despite the fact that I was sore, headachey and extremely fed-up by the time we finally arrived in Luang Prabang, I felt a huge smile spread across my face as I took in my first views of the city.
After our three-month stay in Thailand we were itching to strap on our backpacks and journey onwards to a brand new country: Laos. Although it’s only a short hop, skip and a boat ride across the Mekong we saw an almost immediate difference between the two countries; in stark contrast to the industrious buzz of Thailand we were totally charmed by the laid-back vibe in Laos and we learned to finally relax for the first time on our trip.