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Anywhere but the UK Almost three years of saving and hard work since graduation have culminated in this trip. My inspiration has come from reading inumerable atlas's and watching the quality output of the BBC ever since I was a kid. My route has changed in it's scope and length since my orignial ideas. The theme however,remains the same: to get beyond the shores of our tiny island and to experience and explore the world beyond. Oh and to have a good time and not work for six months!

Shangri Laos

LAOS | Sunday, 10 June 2007 | Views [1281] | Comments [1]

It is almost two weeks now since I crossed the Laos Thai border in the far north and began my journey south, through the valley of the Mekong.  In this time I have discovered what a fantasticly lazy place Laos is.  The people here are great, the scenery is amazing and best of all the pace of life is as slow as Virgin Rail. 

Going to a restaurant is a perfect example of the Laos ethos and an experience unlike that at home.  It can take almost five minutes from sitting down, in a completely empty restaurant, to getting any attention from the staff.  Then if you happen to be lucky enough to be served it will take a minimum of another half hour to receive any food as they actually prepare the food from scratch here, regardless of whether you are paying $2 or $20!  If you are really lucky then you will see the waiter walk out of the restaurant, go to the garden and return a minute later with the fresh ingredients for your dinner.  The other main difference here is that the Laos don’t seem willing to whore themselves out, as in Thailand, to chase the tourist dollar.  When places close in Laos they close and that is their time, it's pretty refreshing. 

Then there are the money games.  At any one time in Laos you can be using three currencies and, as I noticed last night, in parts of Vientiane four currencies.  The Thai Baht and US dollar are ubiquitous and in many cases preferred to the Laos Kip.  This can cause problems as almost everyone will give different rates of Kip for Baht and Dollars.  Therefore whenever it comes down to paying you indulge in the game of bartering over the value of a single Dollar or Baht or, as in my case last night, a Chinese Yuan!  

The cities and towns here are, again, different to the rest of south-east Asia.  After disembarking our slow boat at Luang Prabang, where we idly passed four nights, we have headed south; first to Vang Vieng, a sleepy chilled out town nestled within striking karstic scenery and adjacent to a former ‘secret’ US airbase and then onto Vientiane, the sleepy capital city of the Peoples Democratic Republic.

In Luang Prabang there was a real French influence, a hangover from the colonial era.  The architecture was an interesting mix of French and Laos, but the French had also had an impact in other ways.  Numerous bakeries selling fantastic fresh coffee, cakes and sandwiches dotted the streets and there was cheese available!  On top of this it was possible to ride around the entire town in an afternoon on a bicycle.  A truly novel experience!

Vang Vieng was, again, different; the town thrives on attracting backpackers.  Here I floated down the Nam Song River whilst sitting in an inflated inner tube of a tractor tyre.  This experience was interspersed with drinking and jumping of swings and zip lines into the water below.  On other afternoons I hired a push bicycle for $1 and rode off onto the dirt tracks, called roads, and into the countryside to explore various caves, waterfalls and pools away from the crowds.  All the while I managed to meet the local youngsters who spoke little English, but were willing to try and teach me Laos over a game of draughts played using upturned Coca-cola bottle caps.

Then yesterday I arrived in Vientiane and things have stalled, it is the weekend and nothing is open, the city seems to really embody the Laos spirit. Waking up I wandered to the bakery this morning, a five minute walk, and passed two other people, two of whom were tourists. Quite amazing for a capital city! 

Well I'm leaving soon and I'm a little sad as this truly is a great place.  I never had any intention of visiting this country and did so on a whim clearly I should follow my instincts more often.  I can't wait to come back!

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I understand you. I also enjoyed Laos very much :)

  Thai Cat Jun 11, 2007 2:38 AM



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