Posted by: Richard Marshall | January 30, 2017

Laos July 2015

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Reclining Buddha near That Luang, Vientiane

My first vacation in 2015 was taken up by preparing for and then doing the two-week orientation course for my Delta, and English teaching course that lasted until December. I was sent up to Bangkok, and although I had to do a fair bit of work I found the orientation stimulating, and managed to catch up with friends and have a good time in Bangkok too.

The next break was in June, and though I was worried about my coursework, I had stayed a couple of vacations in Penang and regretted it – it was very hot and hazy and I had been very bored. So I decided I could take some work with me and head up to Laos, I country in the region I had long meant to visit but had never quite got around to. One of the inconveniences of Penang is that regional flights tend to require flying to KL first and either hanging around the airport all night or booking into the tired and pricey Tune hotel. In fact I decided to stay the night, if only for a shower and a bit of privacy. Early the next day I boarded the flight to Vientiane.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the region and striking contrast to Malaysia. The airport was decidedly sleepy with listless officials in communist style uniforms in no great hurry to get people through immigration. I got into town and checked into an unremarkable hotel. The backpacker area was much like any similar part of a Vietnamese town, and indeed Vietnamese influence is notable in the country. I managed to find a rooftop bar overlooking the Mekong and Thailand on the other side, simmering in the heat, and enjoyed a few Beer Lao. Later I walked along the river to try some riverside restaurants (My Dad had been to one during a conference in Laos a few years previously, and I believe I found the same one). I wasn’t always particularly impressed by the food I ate in Laos, though it is true that I was mostly in very touristy areas and probably didn’t get the chance to experience the best versions. In fact, the best food in Vientiane and Luang Prabang was French – whether as a legacy of colonialism or to meet the tastes of expats and tourists. The days I spent in Vientiane I rented a bicycle and rode around in absolutely brutal heat. I thought it an odd city. It has some pleasant boulevards with graceful French buildings, as well as a number of temples and palaces. The most impressive of these was That Luang, a large gold stupa which is the national symbol of Laos.

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That Luang

After a couple of days in Vientiane I headed up north to Luang Prabang, where I intended to take it easy, study Delta in the morning, sight-see in the afternoon and drink beer by the river in the evening. I have done many hideous bus trips in Southeast Asia (and South Africa for that matter), but this one came close to destroying any further willingness to endure such travel for the sake of backpacking! I decided not to stop at Vang Vieng, one-third of the way there, because although it is reputedly beautiful it is also famous as a place where backpackers go wild taking drugs and riding tubes down rapids, which wasn’t the atmosphere I was looking for. So the trip was twelve hours of winding up and down terrifying mountain roads in a dilapidated, noisy, dirty bus. It wasn’t even that scenic, for while the mountains are spectacular the deforestation was catastrophic, with dry rice planted almost all the way up the mountains and great swathes of red earth where the forest had been clear-cut. It as with huge relief that we eventually arrived in Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang is famously one of the most beautiful little towns in Southeast Asia, and it lived up to its reputation. It is obviously very touristy, but the architecture was wonderful and it still retains a peaceful, sleepy character. The main difficulty of the place was the tremendous heat – most days it was pushing 40. This made my plan of moseying around on a bicycle a bit difficult, and I spent an unfortunate amount of time holed up in my (lovely) hotel room, fitfully and inefficiently trying to plug away at Delta. I did manage to explore the little town, however, drink beers by the river and eat delicious French food as well as some local dishes. I would love to go back without work hanging over me and in cooler weather, but I was glad to visit and actually extended my stay an extra night.

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Temple in Luang Prabang

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Luang Prabang Street Scene

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Mountains from Phousi Hill

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View of the town and the river

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Former Royal Palace

The bus trip back was equally horrendous, and confirmed for the idea that I needed to do less solitary, uncomfortable travelling and try to spend more time visiting people and generally taking it easy. With the exception of my trip to Taman Negara I have mostly done this since.


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