The trouble with leaving Laos

The Mekong River stretched out in front of me as the sun set over Vientiane, the incredible capital of Laos. My mind drifted just like the waters of the river, thinking over the week I’d spent exploring a country I’d barely known before leaving London. What little knowledge I had was from vague references from schoolteachers when I’d studied the Vietnam War. The past seven days could not have been a better introduction to the landscape and culture that make up this little country.

Our journey had begun in the border town of Huay Xai, a small riverside town where we boarded the long boat that became our home for two days. The slow pace and relaxing calm was perfect for watching rural riverside life. Every so often a small river village, or ban, would peak through the thick jungle forests beside the waterfront. We caught glimpses of their daily lives, revolving around the river – washing their clothes and bathing in the shallows, or fishermen checking their nets. The boat’s wooden windows framed picture after picture, but eventually I learned that my mediocre photography skills would never do this place justice. I put my camera back in my bag and just took in view with my own eyes.

Our small vessel was destined for the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang. After two days of tranquillity and natural beauty, the bustling town offered a cultural and architectural banquet that we had yet to experience. We docked at a riverfront dotted with cafés and French colonial villas and prepared ourselves for the excitement of city life. There is no doubting the French influence in Laos, but Luang Prabang has managed to combine the best of traditional Laotian culture with the colonial architecture. Their inherited love of café culture keeps the street vibrant, as do the colourful darts of the Buddhist monks, dressed in their bright orange robes.

After our river relaxation, we were raring for some adrenaline infused adventure. Our next stop, Vang Vieng promised this in abundance. Surrounded by limestone karts and the Song River, this small town offered all sorts of activities including cycling or rock climbing if you’re feeling talented. I took to the water once more, this time in a kayak, paddling past the huge karsts crumbling with dark green vines. As the sun set, the group reconvened for drinks and discussion of our various escapades.

Laid-back Laotian life simply has to be lived. Travellers can easily seek out some thrills, biking or hiking in the hills, or simply soak up the atmosphere in one of the many cafés. This beautiful country deserves much more than a passing reference – it demands proper discovery.

By Exodus’ Customer Operations Executive, Rebecca Caldicott who travelled on our Discover Thailand, Laos & Cambodia trip.

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