Laos, the country between Vietnam and Thailand, was another stop on my international travels. So, I decided to make a last-minute trip to this SE Asian locale while hopping around Asia like a rabbit during 2019.
I honestly did not know much about Laos beyond the association with the Vietnam war. However, I had been in Hanoi for a month, and my visa was about to run out. Quite frankly, I was ready to move on to another country and wanted to go somewhere else before eventually going to Bangkok, Thailand.
I wavered between going to Laos or Cambodia but decided on Laos. While I was not exactly dying to get there, I was in a position to visit another country close by and thought to myself, “Why not?”.
From what I remember, Laos mostly won out because it was easier to get to from Hanoi by bus. If I was still in Saigon, Cambodia would most likely have been my next destination due to proximity. My month-long visit included three weeks in the capital, Vientiane, and one week up north in the beautiful mountainous region of Vang Vieng.
By this time, I had already fully emerged into my digital nomad life. Therefore, I will use this time to talk about some of the highlights and cons of my 30-day journey in this relatively quiet SE Asian country.
In general, SE Asia can be characterized by having hot semi-tropical weather. Laos certainly fits the bill of having hot weather, but I never found it overbearing - even though I was there during the summer.
Compared to Southern Vietnam and Thailand, the hot weather in Laos overall just seemed more temperate. During my 30 days of summer in this country, I enjoyed abundant sunshine and only a few rainy days.
One climatic difference was noticeable when I went to Vang Vieng. This city is further north and in the mountains. There appears to be a tad more humidity and dampness here.
So much so, that some of my favorite jeans got molded in my hotel room. Quite frankly, the same thing happened to me in Hanoi. I had no idea clothes could mold, but southeast Asia taught me this lesson the hard way.
Based on my experience in the capital, digital nomads can rejoice about reliable internet. The only time my accommodation lost internet power was for one hour due to a very vicious storm. Whenever I hunkered down in one of the clean cafes around the city, internet service was also reliable and free.
Unfortunately, while Vang Vieng is a great place for outdoor adventure and feasting on greasy banana pancakes, I did not always have reliable internet there. I would recommend this town as a calm, natural getaway, as opposed to a place where you’d want to base yourself for online work. If you are a photographer, however, you will have no problem capturing beautiful scenic views.
As I mentioned before, Laos was a last-minute trip, but it still changed my travel life in a significant way. Before journeying to Southeast Asia, I was adamant about avoiding hostels.
The idea of sleeping in a room with questionable sanitation and an assortment of strangers just did not interest me. My research for local accommodation was highlighted by the amazing reviews at a place called MyBox Hostel. So I took a leap of faith and booked an initial one-week stay. Low and behold, this hostel became my home-away-from-home for three weeks.
It would be an understatement to say that the place was clean, comfortable, and provided beds that felt like a mini-private room. Each bed comes with a privacy curtain, soft mattress, clean linens, individual lights, and sockets for your devices.
The shared bathrooms include private shower stalls with hot water that does not run out before you finish - mind you, I took many LONG showers there.
You can even get an extremely light breakfast of coffee and toast. I have nothing but kind words to say for the amazing, professional, and accommodating staff. This place opened my mind to the world of hostels, and I eventually utilized more of them as I continued my journey in SE Asia.
Laotian people are seriously some of the most chill people I have met in all my travels. As an African-American, sometimes you will get stared at in certain places - particularly in Asia. During my 30 days here, I don’t recall getting stared at or having anyone attempting to sneak a photo.
I was also never under the impression that anyone was saying something nasty about me in their language. Trust me, even if you don’t understand another language, you can tell when someone is talking about you.
The people here seem to mind their business and go with the flow. Maybe this is why I ended up seeing more of a range of foreigners than I was expecting. I guess more and more people are curious about Laos than I thought.
The worst person I encountered was an idiot guest trying to start an issue at the hostel so he could get a free room. Then, there was a well-dressed American who came into the hostel and tried to get the front desk to let him borrow $100.
He claims he needed it for a visa for Vietnam and would send the money back - from Vietnam. Don’t ask me why he thought the hostel was a bank or a loan shark.
Ah, my culinary experience here started so well. But unfortunately, it went from grand to relatively mediocre. After my 24-hour bus ride from Hanoi, all I wanted to do was eat, drink, and lay down in a real bed.
As mentioned above, the hostel provided fabulous sleeping arrangements and was only a few steps away from one of the best burger joints I have ever eaten in. After chowing down on a juicy cheeseburger, fries, and a bottle of Laotian beer my first night, I walked away extremely satisfied and eager to feast upon more authentic local delights throughout my trip.
Disappointingly, I can’t bring myself to praise Laotian food. To me, the food was just a bit lackluster. While I hate to make this comparison, most of the stuff I tried felt like bland Thai food. This was one place where I ended up eating more non-local options than I would have preferred.
To add insult to injury, when I finally did find a local dish I absolutely loved - a delicious soup, it ended up making me sick. I rarely get sick during my travels, but this food issue resulted in a week-long stomach illness where I completely lost my appetite and forced myself to eat an apple a day.
I must say I never had a problem finding fresh fruit or freshly prepared fruit salads at a fraction of the cost you would buy in a western country. There are many coffee shops throughout the capital and some in Vang Vieng.
While Vang Vieng molded some of my clothes and had so-so internet, I must give this town praise for inconspicuously hosting one of the best pizza joints I have ever encountered in my life.
Vang Vieng also has several roadside food stalls that sell their famous banana pancakes, burgers, and more. While the banana pancakes are tasty, they are not necessarily healthy.
When you arrive in the country, you can get a visa-on-arrival that will cost you about $40 for a 30-day stay. Mind you, it is not a multiple-entry one. Honestly, a two-week stay would have been perfect for me. Since I paid $40 for this visa, I wanted to get my money’s worth. So I made sure I used up every day of this visa with no shame.
I watch my back wherever I go in the world, but I must say that I felt safe in Laos when dealing with people. With that said, based on what I witnessed on the street, I would be extra careful around cars in Vientiane. I noticed not one - not two - but three car/motorbike accidents right on my block during my first week there.
I was also almost a victim of a freak accident. As I walked down one of their spacious sidewalks on a beautiful sunny day, a gigantic tree branch crashed down to the sidewalk and missed my head by about two seconds. Don’t worry, I still love nature - especially trees.
Overall, I would rate Laos as a very laid-back country with nice people who will not treat you like a space alien just because you’re not from there.
The local food is relatively lackluster, but you do have options from other countries depending on what city you are in.
If you want a taste of nature and outdoor sports, don’t hesitate to go north to Vang Vieng - you may want to bring a dehumidifier for your clothes.
Just remember, if you get tired of the food offerings in Laos, you’re surrounded by two countries that will make your taste buds breakdance, sing, and shout - Vietnam and Thailand.
Author: Lettecha Johnson
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