This is my first time traversing a land border in Southeast Asia. It felt surreal to cross over the Mekong River for the first time and end up in a completely different country. While our entrance might have been met with various difficulties (scams and long lunches and lines alike), our spirits were no less dampened in the end as we arrived in Vientiane.
It is very easy to observe the different cultural echoes in Laos. Facets of the city's architecture, borrowed from the French, was to me, the most striking. We rapidly discovered that we could navigate around with our knowledge of Thai and little bits of Laos. Adjusting to the inflated kip was definitely a process (a meal can cost up to 50,000 kip).
While I enjoyed my bit of time in Vientiane, and sad to leave the other volunteers behind, I absolutely adored the city of Luang Prabang, which is this really Romantic city nestled among a chain of soaring verdant mountains. The atmosphere is very different from the other tourist spots I've ventured, catered to a different kind of crowd. The sidewalks were cobbled with brick, lamp posts alighted the night (most of them did not work, which is part of its charm), and the food was absolutely amazing, ranging from French to Indian to the local cuisine. Every day was a culinary triumph, from chocolate croissants and crepes for breakfast, baguettes for lunch, and godknows what for dinner. My most intimate souvenir from Laos can probably be measured when I stand on a weighing scale.
I loved traipsing around the city, hiking to the top of Wat Phou Si to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and the mountains, visiting the nearby waterfalls and having drinks by the Mekong River with an amazing view of the sunset. These are a few of my favorite things!
Matt and I headed to Vang Vieng to check out the views of the river beside the craggy limestone cliffs. While the scenery was incredible and dramatic, it was just tarnished with blaring techno music or overplayed Journey to fuel the hordes of tubers. It's like all the clubbing culture of Western Europe, not just transplanted itself, but bulldozed the beautiful riverside town of Vang Vieng. Suffice to say, we didn't really enjoy Vang Vieng as much as Luang Prabang. We did however, befriended a local who eventually sold us some popcorn when we got caught in the rain exploring an off-track village. We sat with her and conversed with our little bits of Thai, and commented on the unexpected downpour.
Matt, Trish and I wanted to pursue a different homecoming route from Laos, by going to the border town of Thakhek which is on the opposite side of Nakhon Phanom. However, due to some financial difficulties, we decided to head straight to Nong Khai from Vientiane instead. I enjoyed Laos and hope to return to Luang Prabang, but our journey, replete with mud slides, overpriced bus trips and food and fees, made our homecoming in Thailand much sweeter.
Some pictures for your viewing pleasure: