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!