I Didn’t Travel 7,500 Miles to Read a Book or Write a Blog

I had all of the intention to write during my trip. I really did. I was going to take pictures of everything and update my followers/friends with every high and low moment I experienced. I brought my tablet and filled it with books I was going to finish. I was going to find a secluded hammock on a beach and do the whole cliche’ read-on-the-beach-and-fall-asleep-in-the-sand sort of thing. I would then update all the people in my life of what I ate, where I slept, who I saw, yadiyadiya.

For the first couple of days, I was pretty good at staying connected. I wrote my 2 blogs, checked in on Facebook, shared photos on Instagram, and all was well. All was well, until the touchscreen on my phone broke.

Suddenly, I found myself with just a phone. A phone I couldn’t use to call anyone because I didn’t set up an international plan. A phone I couldn’t access my games on. A phone I couldn’t even Google with. Fortunately, there was one undamaged spot on my phone where the touchscreen did work and I was still able to take pictures, but that was it. I essentially had a $600 camera (not even a very good one at that). I was devastated. I thought this blog would die. I thought I wouldn’t be able to capture the special moments of my trip. I wondered how people would know how great of a trip I’m having.

It seems silly now that I am writing all of this down, but these were true feelings I experienced when I realized my phone would be out of commission during my trip. After moping for a day, I stashed my phone away and went about my holiday. It was then that I found myself with more time. I lost track of the days, hours, and minutes. I got lost more frequently and had a blast discovering where I would end up next. Instead of using TripAdvisor to find my next destination, I asked around and discovered the most amazing restaurants, beaches, and sights. I spoke to people instead of mindlessly browsing through Facebook.

Often times, we lose the moment by trying to capture it.

Losing my phone was a blessing in disguise. Instead of trying to memorialize every moment, I experienced it. It was the best thing that could happen to me on this trip.

So, while I was not able to blog during my trip or finish reading The Three Musketeers, I did what I sought to. I experienced life. Of course I still want to share what I experienced, those blogs will come as I get to them. For now, I’m just going to let the memories settle in while I make my transition back home.

Vientiane to Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, and the Prettiest Place I’ve Ever Peed

I spent my first week with family in Vientiane. My second week was where I said my good-byes and began the real backpacking trip. Fortunately, I had a cousin from Luang Prabang that would show me how the locals do new year in Luang Prabang. With her as my guide, we trailed on from Vientiane, to Vang Vieng, and finally Luang Prabang.

While I’ve heard horror stories about the road conditions between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, I just couldn’t justify buying plane ticket. A $15 bus ticket beats a $100 plane ticket in my book, plus we could stop in Vang Vieng along the way. At 6 in the morning, my cousin and I set off!

It was an uncomfortable 3 hours from Vientiane to Vang Vieng. The bus we rode was technically a minivan meant for 9, which we somehow managed to cram 15 people in. It was stuffy and uncomfortable, but the road was fine and there was air conditioning (thank god). Bathroom breaks are a plenty on the road, but sometimes you have to consider whether or not it’s worth battling the praying mantis guarding to the toilet. In my case, it was. Hey, when you gotta go you gotta go.

To go or not to go
To go or not to go

I was aware that Vang Vieng was known for being a backpackers party town, but this was not the experience that I was searching for on my trip. I wanted to see the land, and in the short hours we had in the town, I was able to grow a deep appreciation for the beauty of Vang Vieng.

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Tubing in Tham Saang, elephant caves.
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The natural beauty on Vang Vieng
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Swimming in the Blue Lagoon at Vang Vieng.

The road from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang had to have been one of the highlights of my trip. While it was a 6 hour drive, the views was beautiful (and there was much more room to get comfortable in our mini van). The scenery was lush and green and the road wound beautifully between the trees and hills. Somewhere between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, I lost my breath at the sight of the rolling green hills on our bathroom break. I wish I could remember the name of this rest stop, I highly recommend stopping by for a quick go.

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The view from the toilet, somewhere between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang
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Rolling hills and lush green mountains.

To anyone traveling between cities in Laos, I highly recommend taking the road. There’s just so much more you can see on when traveling on the ground than by air.

4 days in Vientiane

I began my travels through Laos in the capital Vientiane. I stayed with a cousin who had been living there for about almost 3 years years. She confirmed that life here is pretty relaxed. People beat the heat by staying indoors during the peak of the day, and because it gets so hot, most chores, errends, outdoor tasks are done early in the morning or evening. I found it too hot to sleep past 6 during my stay here, so I was up early as well listening to the sounds of pots and pans clanking away for breakfast.

After morning chores were done, I spent the afternoon living the capital city life. This meant running errends and touring the sights. My cousin took me by motorbike to the morning market, thalat sao. Here you can find fresh meats, veggies, candies, packaged toys, shoes, get your hair done, nails did, all that and beyond. Most of the locals shopping is done with vendors who set up shop. Its a wild experience. If you can, try and get here by motorbike, its crazy, there are virtually no road rules, but an experience nonetheless.

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When not running errends, we ate. We ate and we drank. Beer of choice all over Laos of course is Beer Lao. Something about the heat and atmosphere just make this beer so much more delicious. A Beer Lao in the US is just not the same as a Beer Lao in Laos.

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Vientiane was a great place to start and an easy way to make my transition into Laos. While there is still much development to be made, if you hang by the Mekong River front, you’ll see shops, guest houses, and stores that cater more to the foreigner/backpacker crowd. Its interesting to see the transition. A cup of coffee from the coffee chain Joma (which caters more to foreigners and ex-pats) is more than what a local could make in a day. Still, an interesting sight to see.

Ah, onw nore thing, the bugs. My first couple of days here meant I was fresh meat for mosquito’s and fire ants. I made the mistake of forgetting to buy heavy duty bug spray and was immediately bitten all over my face and back 😦 lesson for all you traveling out there, don’t forget to put bug spray on your face before bed.

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“Be Careful”

One thing I’d like to make clear about Laos before I begin; Laos is not as poor, under-developed, or crime-ridden as we imagine. When I announced that I would be taking this trip, the first thing out of peoples mouths were “be careful”. I don’t have people telling me to be careful when I travel for work or leave the house, but I can understand why they’d say this. The unknown can be scary. Fear of the unknown is the oldest form of fear, but as history has shown us, exploration of the unknown leads to amazing discoveries.

That being said, the way of life here is different. There is still much development that needs to be done to the land, but it’s the people who really make this land gold. You’re welcome everywhere you go with a smile. During the new year, people pull you into their parties with a glass of Beer Lao. People were happy that I was a visitor, and were even more than happy to help me understand the language and culture. Family and happiness first, that’s the way of life. Doesn’t sound too scary to me.

Why?

I’m writing this from my room at 5 in the morning in Vientiane. The power just cut out, its 85 degrees, and my tummy is struggling with the fried animal parts I had for dinner last evening. While conditions aren’t necessarily ideal for sleeping, the reason I’m up is because I’m looking for the best answer as to why. Why here? Why now? Why leave your temperpedic bed and pest controlled apartment for a room you have to share with newts?

Well, like any other twenty something year old living the yuppie dream, I had a mid-quarter-life-century-melt-down. This was a solid 2 years after graduating college where I felt like everything sucked and I had no purpose in life. I know, intense right? It seemed like I had it all; a good degree, an awesome new job, an amazing relationship, great friends and family, but there was still that something missing.

For a long time, I couldn’t put my finger on it. I tried to ignore this feeling, but it kept creeping up and taking the form of aggression against the people that mattered most to me. By January, I had hated who I became. It was then that I had a decision to make; I could wallow in my misery, or I could do something about it.

It wasn’t easy. Before making such a drastic decision to travel I had to really evaluate why I wanted to do this and what I wanted out of it. I went back to the 13 year old me. I had such big plans with my life. I wanted to travel, I wanted to own a business, I wanted to be this confidant, sure, smart woman who could command a presence when entering a room. At 13 I knew I wanted to be all of these things, and the best path to getting there included a college degree.

I started prepping for college in middle school, then I started working in high school to pay for college, then I was working and interning throughout college to get a job after college. I spent over 10 years planning for my graduation. After graduating, I thought I would somehow magically become this woman I wanted to be, but the day came and went like any other. School was done and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of my life next. Which brings me here today.

We’ll have moments along the journey where we forget the end goal. We have to remember to look at the bigger picture when taking strides.

Getting my degree was not the end-all-be-all of my plans. There’s still more I want out of life.

I want to see where my family came from.
I want to step where my parents stepped.
I want to eat everything.
I want to learn how to surf.
I want to be able to just spend a whole day by myself.
I want to have a fluent conversation with my grandmother.

This trip has been almost 10 years in the making, I’ve used my job, school, relationships as a crutch to avoid taking this trip, but not any more. We learn from experience, and what better experience can you get from solo traveling a foreign country for a month? Maybe I’ll discover something else about myself. In the meantime, I’m taking this journey one day at a time, first with befriending my new newt roommate.

Takeoff!

Hi all! I’m typing this post from the plane, sitting comfortably in my aisle seat. As soon as service starts, I will try to take it easy on the wine. I am incredibly nervous. This trip came up far sooner than I had expected. All the travel blogs, trip advice guides, and guide books could not prepare me for this very moment. I feel excitement, terror, everything in between. There’s too much going on right now in my head, once. I settle down I’ll get to more posts about my pack, this trip, and why in taking it now. See you all soon!