I’m too old for this shit

I’ve heard people lament and complain about how touristed Thailand has gotten. Even Vietnam and Cambodia, to some extent. But everything I’ve heard and read about Laos claims it still feels like the promised land. Uncorrupted locals, an authentic way of life, gorgeous scenery…

Do you know what Laos reminded me of? Ethiopia.

In the sense that someone once told them, “Hey, you should try out this thing called tourism,” but they haven’t quite figured it out yet. Luang Prabang is an obvious exception, but I don’t feel like Vang Vieng or Vientiane (Laos’ capital) are.

My last post was filled with reasons why Vang Vieng wasn’t the place for me, but I was surprised to learn that neither was Vientiane. We checked into Sihome Backpackers Hostel and immediately felt out of place. Now, I know I was never enough of a “people person” to really feel at home in a hostel (we had a private room here, by the way), but this was more than that – they made me feel old. But in a good way.

I’m sure the hostel was fantastic for 18-to-21-year-old, socially apt people, but for a 24-year-old nearing the end of a 3-month trip, it was rough. Everyone around me was young, loud, and forgive me if I sound rude, but a little bit ignorant. The things they loved about Laos were the very things I struggled to cope with in Ethiopia.

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I went to Laos and all I got was bacterial conjunctivitis

Well, it didn’t take long for the Laotian feel-good vibes to fade. Actually, that had already started in Luang Prabang.

You see, what I only slightly touched on in my last post was that while we loved the festival and the people we met, Luang Prabang was damn expensive. Like, not slightly more costly, colossally more.

The room at our guesthouse was barely lit, we shared a bathroom with seven others, the walls were paper thin, and it was still one of the most expensive places we’ve stayed during this trip. The owners were quite lovely though, so we didn’t feel too grieved about all that.

Let’s move on to the food. Nowhere is as cheap as Bangkok, we learned that the hard way, the day we left, but food had steadily been costing more, the less developed the areas we went to. The all-you-could-fit-on-your-plate in Luang Prabang was a good deal, if you prefer your food cold, but restaurants were pricier than we were used to.

And then the souvenirs/knick-knacks…you don’t even want me to get started on those. The Handicraft Night Market had good prices, but the shops themselves were atrocious! We watched a woman pay $130 for two small figurines (and that was after bargaining!). We’ve long since learned that if we’re being quoted in dollars, they’re trying to rip us off.

Anyway, we’d heard Luang Prabang might be a little more upscale, so we were looking forward to chilling in Vang Vieng for a few days before moving on to the capital. Only, I woke up around 3 am on the morning our bus was to leave with pain in my eye that felt like a rock was in it. And not a little pebble either – I almost shouted at Chandler (after I had woken him up – I know, I’m a terrible girlfriend), when he couldn’t find anything in my eye.

About an hour later I fell into a fitful sleep. When our alarm went off a short while later, I awoke to the same pain. After Chandler did some more digging around in my eye (stupid on our part, in retrospect), he voiced his fears: pink eye. I immediately thought of the snot-nosed kid downstairs and started cursing.

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A first glance at Laos

It was a crisp, clear evening, not a cloud in the night sky. And while the boats, covered in candles, sparkled down the Mekong river, hundreds of paper lanterns were released into the sky.

Foreigners and locals alike participated in the tradition of Bun Awk Phansa…

Paper Lantern 1~*~              ~*~              ~*~              ~*~              ~*~              ~*~              ~*~

A few days earlier, we had flown into Luang Prabang just after 6 pm to find the entire airport shut down. Luckily, the guesthouse we were staying at – Manichan Guesthouse – had a pickup service. We saw the sign with “Ashley Tangerine” and heaved a sigh of relief.

After dropping our stuff in our room for the next four nights, we decided to venture out and get our bearings. We wanted to check out the local handicraft night market and find something to eat! It worked out well that we had no money on us, otherwise I’m sure we would have purchased everything in sight. Instead, we made our way to our much beloved Joma Bakery – figuring we’d be more adventurous foodies on another night.

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The following day we decided to further our wanderings through the Buddhist temples and monasteries that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Luang Prabang. Our first stop was at the National Palace Museum (just a note, make sure to arrive early, they close 30 minutes before they say they do both in the morning and afternoon! It took multiple trips before we finally had time to see everything).

The temple outside the museum is pretty cool, and there’s a collection of vintage cars as well, but there’s not a lot worth seeing inside the museum itself. That is, until you get to the final room…it’s filled with gifts that have been given to Laos over the years and contains four moon rocks, given by President Nixon (it was shocking to see his name in a positive light, after seeing so much anti-American propaganda in Vietnam!).

Royal Palace MuseumLater on that day, we weaved in and out of temples – Wat May Souvannapoumaram, Wat Sensoukaram, and Wat Pahouak were some of our favourites – before coming to the most famous of them all: Wat Xieng Thong. Each village in the region has a temple in Luang Prabang, explaining why there are so many of them!

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SE Asia Itinerary

Because my boyfriend and I don’t know how not to plan…and because I knew everyone who reads my blog was dying to know…here’s our SE Asia itinerary. The real itinerary took months to plan…I’ll give you the highlights : )

Qatar:

  • Doha – Al-Corniche, Souq Waqif, and the Museum of Islamic Art

Museum of Islamic Art

Thailand:

  • Bangkok – Banglamphu neighborhood, Siam Ocean World (I’m dating a guy obsessed with aquariums – who knew?), and SHOPPING…hey, I’ve spent the last two years in Ethiopia
  • Koh Tao – Scuba certification and beaches!
  • Phetchaburi – Tham Khao Luang Cave and Tham Khao Bandai-It Monastery aka bats, bats, and more bats
  • Kanchanburi – Death Railway Bridge aka Bridge Over the River Kwai (which we all pronounce incorrectly, thanks to Hollywood)
  • Bangkok (again) – Ko Ratanakosin and Thonburi neighborhoods for the Grand Palace, National Museum, the Amulet Market, and countless stunning wats (temples)

Koh Tao, ThailandWat Arun, Bangkok

Vietnam:

  • Hanoi – Water puppets (can’t wait to find out what exactly this is), Women’s Museum, Hoan Kiem Lake & Temple, Temple of Literature (because how could two people as nerdy as me and Chandler not go?), Old Quarter, and the Perfume Pagoda
  • Halong Bay – Kayaking, rock climbing, and island exploration, especially Hang Trong (aka Drum Grotto) and Dao Titop
  • Phong Nha-ke Bang National Park – Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Cave, and the Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail (wanted to see Hang Son Doong, the world’s biggest cave, but it costs about $3,000 and only 200 people can enter each year)
  • Hue – Imperial Enclosure and the Royal Tombs
  • Hoi An – Historical Old Town
  • Nha Trang – Louisiane Brewhouse and the Oceanographic Museum. Can you tell which of us chose this town? : )
  • Mui Ne – This stop was all me though, motorbiking through sand dunes
  • HCMC – Jade Emperor Pagoda, Fine Arts Museum, and the Tao Dan Park
  • Can Tho – Phong Dien Floating Market

Halong Bay, VietnamPhong Nha Cave, Vietname Continue reading