I’m sure you can understand why I have titled this post ‘Culture Shock’. It’s been a mix of emotions in Laos so far – fear, excitement, loneliness and a lot of fun! Again I’ve broken down my days below in case you want to skim read. To summarise, life definitely got better when I arrived in Vang Vieng, after very nearly not making it 🙈…
Thursday 9th February – arriving in Laos
I arrived in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, around 10pm on Thursday 9th February. Pretty exhausted from my 12 hour journey, I was looking forward to having a hot shower and getting into bed.
My first taste of Laos was stopping at a cash point and trying to work out the currency. Roughly 10,000 kip is £1 and even using my currency converter I nearly got out £2,000. Luckily it rejected the payment and I went for 200,000 kip (just under £20) instead. Still thinking this was a lot of money I asked someone in the airport if they wouldn’t mind giving me smaller notes 🙈. Such a tool! Finally with my head together I grabbed a taxi to my hostel.
Knowing I’d be feeling a bit spaced out, I decided to book myself into a private room. I made it to the hostel (which was down a back street) to find the receptionist asleep – she clearly didn’t want to be woken up. I was standing there wondering what the hell to do with myself, until a lovely couple managed to track down someone else in the building to sign me in. Eventually I was taken up to my room – turns out Laos has nothing on Japan.
And bring on the moment I nearly lost it. Feeling completely alone, starring at 10 mosquitoes flying around my dirty room, I was so far out my comfort zone. This was my first massive test, but I knew I had to pull it together, so I told myself after a shower I’d be fine and by the time I got into my uncomfortable hard bed (tucked up in my sleeping bag liner, as there was no way I’d sleep on that bed), I was much better.
Friday 10th February – day trip in Vientiane
Tomorrow was a new day as I got up early to explore. Trying to be positive and ready to meet new people, I headed down to breakfast. The few people down there were all on their phones so I decided to sit quietly and eat my meal (billy no mates). After I’d eaten and gotten myself ready, I went to leave the hostel and bumped into the nice couple Rebecca and Tom again. We chatted for a bit and they told me the best places to go (there weren’t many), introduced me to a brand new offline map (thank goodness) and I headed off.
To be honest, I wouldn’t recommended Vientiane for more than one day. I managed to see pretty much all that needed to see by 1pm and I still walked further than need be. The rest of the afternoon I spent with Rebecca and Tom chatting and walking around. A highlight was when I got an amazing mango smoothie 😍. I haven’t stopped eating veg and fruit since arriving – on that Laos beats Japan.
The evening I headed to the markets by the river and had a look around. I also grabbed some food from a stall – soup noodles with BBQ pork, it was 👌. I did however accidentally put far too much chilli in from a pot on the table so started to get the heat sweats. Whilst still eating (and sweating) one of the staff also decided to sit next to me to cut and prepare meat. Hey why not 😂. I then got back to the hostel and had an early night. My experience of Vientiane wasn’t great, but thankfully I was leaving the next day. Overall it’s very dirty/dusty, quite small and not much to do and see. I also got heckled, beeped and approached in the street quite a bit, which made me feel uncomfortable. But that’s the problem with being so fair skinned. I really hoped the rest of the trip wouldn’t be the same.
Saturday 11th February – travel to Vang Vieng
I haven’t been to the gym in over two weeks and it’s starting to show (on my thighs). I clearly must have been thinking about it as I had a very detailed dream about going to the gym. Who does that! After waking early, I knew it was a sign I needed to do something about this extra weight. I assessed the equipment in my room (e.g my 16kg bag for squats and lunges) and did a workout. I felt 100 times better after 👍.
Today was the day I would be heading to Vang Vieng, which is known as the party district in Laos. Wouldn’t say I was looking forward to this, as I’d much rather explore than be drunk for three days, but again needed to be positive.
Similar to a lot of hot countries, Laos runs in Laos time. Being picked up by a tuk tuk from the hostel, I arrived at the bus station after 9am. We were meant to leave at 9.30am, but instead left at 10.30am.
The journey was a memorable one. A few hours in, we stopped at a petrol station. I thought this may be my only chance to go to the loo so jumped off. Coming out of the toilet (hole in the ground), I washed my hands and headed back to the bus. But no, it wasn’t there and was instead driving off without me! In a complete state of panic, I frantically ran after it trying to catch the drivers attention. Everything I owned was on that bus! Very luckily I made friends with a Dutch guy, who at the same time was also running down the bus to stop the driver. Good news – a bit shaken up, I managed to get back on. Telling my friends Rach and Lottie in our group chat, Lottie summed it up perfectly by saying how even across the world I still manage to get myself in these situations 🙈. At the time It was terrifying but now look back and laugh, only me.
I knew I needed to jump in the deep end in Vang Vieng so booked myself into a six person dorm at the Real Backpackers Hostel 2. I tried not to think about what horrors awaited me when I arrived. However when I finally did, I was very pleasantly surprised. The rooms were spacious, the bed was comfy and the people were lovely. Despite 4 out of 5 being asleep when I stepped in around 3pm (they had a heavy night). The one person awake, Annika (who is from Germany) and I headed down to the river to grab a drink, a wander and then to watch the sunset (whilst eating a beef kebab), before going for dinner and having an early night.
Sunday 12th February – tubing in Vang Vieng
I was in Japanese time for a few days in Laos (two hours ahead), so I kept waking up between 6-7am, despite going to bed gone 12pm. Being up so early, I thought why not take advantage of it. Annika had suggested doing an hour and a half yoga class at 7.30am the night before so I jumped at the opportunity.
What a fancy way to start your day whilst travelling 😜. I did nearly get the giggles as the instructor sounded like a posh Arnold Schwarzenegger. However the fanciness didn’t last long as the rest of the day was spent tubing (aka drinking at bars down the river). There was a group of us from the hostel (around 20) who all went tubing together. In previous years there had been a lot of accidents and deaths tubing in Vang Vieng so they had cut down the amount of bars en route. We were on the water for less than two minutes before guys on the side of the river threw water bottles attached to string to reel us in. In the bar, we played beer pong for a few hours. Not meaning to blow my own trumpet, but turns out I’m quite good at beer pong, so I enjoyed it! There’s a video on my Instagram if you want to check out my skills 😉.Another two minutes on the water, we arrived at the next bar. This was my favourite one, as I spent an hour and a half playing football with the boys. England vs the rest of the world! There were quite a few prickly plants so the soles of my feet got covered in cuts and my legs in black bruises (from the tackles). Needless to say, the next day everything hurt. By then it was around 4.30pm so we got back on the water. I hit a fast current so ended up getting ahead of everyone else, who stopped at another bar. I was with new people, so wasn’t that bad. However we didn’t quite realise how much further we had to go. An hour and a half in, after the sun had set it got very cold. I desperately wanted to make it but with 2km left, myself and four Australian guys decided to grab a tuk tuk. Unable to warm up, I was excited to have a hot shower. But no, the hostel had run out! So after a cold shower I put on layers and jumpers and spent the night shivering. I did of course though make it out for dinner and stopped at a bar (but drank aloe Vera water).
Vang Vieng is weird because each of the bars offer free drinks (whiskey and vodka) for an hour. Not sure how they make money off of this! I didn’t indulge.
Monday 13th February – cave visit and hike
My room mates left on Monday, but to be honest I was looking forward to spending a day by myself. I hadn’t explored the blue lagoon and caves so this was on the agenda.
My original plan was to get a bike, but in Laos they try and get money out of you at every turn so I assumed I’d have to pay for the bike, then to park it and probably more to be on it! I was perfectly happy to hike, as I love walking anyway.
The blue lagoon and cave were nearly an 11km round trip so I set off early. On the start of my walk, there was the cutest little puppy wearing a jumper on the side of the road. There are so many adorable dogs here, but I promised my parents I wouldn’t touch them because of diseases, rabies etc, but it’s so hard. Just look at his face! Walking an hour and a half I arrived at the lagoon/cave and nearly turned back – it was full of Korean tourists. That’s one thing about Vang Vieng, for some reason there are more Korean people than even locals. I wasn’t really there for the lagoon, more the Tham Phu Kam cave so decided to still head in.Luckily everyone seemed to be enjoying jumping in the lagoon and zip lining rather than wandering around the cave so it was empty. Annoyingly I had forgotten my torch, despite telling myself that morning I needed it, so used my iPhone instead.
I confidentially climbed into the cave, looking for the route. The further I went in, the darker it got and my light on the iPhone wasn’t cutting it. I knew I should keep going and I tried, but ended up being too scared so turned back. As I was climbing under a rock, a couple (with a very good light) were heading towards me. I pretended I wasn’t on the way out, but instead going in so I could tag along and steal their light 😊. It was worth it as the cave was so beautiful. The walls shimmered with what looked like glitter from the minerals. We walked around the whole cave, which was about a 1km. I actually ended up having a lovely chat with the couple, who were from the Netherlands and after we grabbed a coconut and chatted some more. We went our separate ways as I wanted to go hiking up one of the mountains on the walk back (they also had bikes so wouldn’t have been able to keep up). One minute into my walk, a local man pulled up on a bike next to me and asked if he could join me as he was waiting for his friends to finish work (so they could go for a drink). I was a bit reluctant at first, but couldn’t be rude so let him tag along. He told me all about his life, family, ex wife and even showed me his house, which his ex wife took. I must have a face that people want to tell their life stories too because it always seems to happen, even on the tubes in London, where no one talks.
We walked for around an hour before I saw the mountain where I wanted to hike. The man tried to talk me out of it, saying it was unsafe, but I explained I had hiked bigger mountains so would be fine. He still insisted walking me to the bottom of the mountain, where he said he’d wait for me to come back down. As we walked through a village a little boy came running out asking for money and food. The man I was with explained he couldn’t understand the boy, as each village has their own language, which I thought was interesting. I got out my pack of biscuits to give the boy a few, but he had his mindset on my whole packet. Boy of my own heart 😂.
We arrived at the base of the mountain where the guy told me to be quick (blimin cheek), before I started to head up. It was steep and hot (nearly 30 degrees), so I did struggle a bit. I stopped half way for a drink and met another lovely German girl Sophia. We ended up walking to the peak, as well as back down to the base together. But my Laos friend was gone by then.
On the way back to our hostel, we also bumped into an Italian guy Anthony who funnily enough had left Vang Vieng at the same time as me that morning (although I beat him 😜). It was nearing sunset so I took them to the spot where Annika had taken me a few days before. We agreed to meet again for dinner, so I headed back to the hostel to shower (I needed it) and to meet my new roommates. After Vang Vieng being completely full, it seems everyone had now moved on, so there was only one other person in my six man dorm, Lydia. So I brought her along with me to dinner.
I really enjoyed my little adventure on Monday, in total walking 25.8km (37,803 steps) and burning 3,488 calories. Thanks Disney fam for my Fitbit 😉. Maybe I will burn off this Japan fat.
Well that has been my time in Laos so far. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster to say the least! But it’s been an amazing experience. I’m only in Laos until Thursday 16th February as it was originally a passing point because I was going to get a bus through to Vietnam. However I had issues with my visa so I’m flying from Luang Prabang to Hanoi. Exciting times!
Jessica Storm ✌️