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David & Lori's Travel Journal Sharing our favorite memories from two decades of travel and counting.

Reflections on Travels in Laos Over the Past Decade

LAOS | Saturday, 26 October 2019 | Views [37]

As Lori and I get ready to leave our home in Laos for the past three years, naturally, we've been reflecting a lot on our Laos travels over the past decade.

Laos left such an impression on the two of us the first time around in 2012 that we decided to move here in 2016 with our 3-month-old son. We've had some amazing adventures across the length and breadth of this very special corner of the globe, having had the unique opportunity to revisit so many of our favorites over the years.

This month, we'll be moving our young family (now, with two young sons) to Phnom Penh for the foreseeible future. But we won't soon forget the country where we've observed so many of our milestones together (honeymoon, our kids' first birthdays, first steps, etc.).

Here's a look back at some of the highlights of traveling across Laos.

Lori and I got married in June of 2012 and promptly set off on a six-month backpacking trip across East and South Asia. Among the countries we visited, Laos was our favorite. We entered Laos via slow boat down the Mekong from the Thai border, arriving in the atmospheric UNESCO world heritage designated city of Luang Prabang two days later. We could have stayed indefinitely in this magical place, but the road south beckoned. Fortunately for us, we've had the opportunity to visit Luang Prabang several times after moving to Laos in 2016, with backpacking trips farther afield to stunning Nong Khiaw and remote Mong Ngoi.

On our first journey south on Route 13, we chose to bypass the then-party-capital-of-Southeast-Asia Vang Vieng, but made up for the miss several years later, visiting half a dozen times in three years. Vang Vieng has become one of our favorite weekend trips from Vientiane, not for the party scene (which has long burned out), but the natural beauty, relaxation, and endless outdoor activities.

In 2012, we spent just three days in the capital, Vientiane, but had a feeling we'd be back for a much longer visit. Vientiane isn't the most exciting place to visit for a few days, but it makes for an excellent place to live, particularly with young children, for a couple of years.

The highlight of our first backpacking journey through Laos may very well have been riding a motorbike around the 350 km Thakhek Loop circuit in Central Laos (with a unique subterranean boat adventure through Konglor Cave). Riding the Loop in 2012 was very different than riding it today. Then, a fair portion of the route was unsealed — nothing more than worn footpaths in some places. We retraced the Loop in 2017 and were astonished to find the entire route is now beautifully paved. Still very much worth the time and effort, but maybe not as big of an adventure as it once was. I'm confident most riders will welcome the improvements.

Seven years ago, we headed south into Cambodia, stopping in Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands) for several days to do what comes naturally here, chill and unplug. Si Phan Don is one of those special places that you hope won't change too much over the years, though change is inevitable. It's also one of the few places we haven't returned to, so we still have a certain image of the place in our minds. 

Laos as a whole is undergoing relatively rapid changes. Fueling those changes are three enormous projects: The dozens of hydropower dams being constructed across the country; the high speed rail connecting China with Thailand via Laos; and a number of highspeed expressway projects across the country.

One of these days we'll return, and who knows what we'll find. We hope the essence of the culture and places will not be impacted for the worse, but we've also seen enough to know that's unlikely to be the case. Hopefully, Laos somehow remains an outlier in that respect.

Tags: backpacking, expat life, laos, motorbiking, southeast asia, trekking


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