Where to start with Laos? It’s crazy to think that we’ve been here a month, and this is the first time that I’ve found to write anything about the place. And it’s not like things have been mad-hectic busy either. We’ve properly relaxed into travelling, and have really only stayed in three places. But that kind of sums up the country. Everything here is so beautiful, everyone is so friendly, all the food is so tasty, and the beer is oh so cheap, that there really is no incentive to charge around. We’ve started taking time to sit on a balcony and read a book, or to watch the sunset. It’s like being on holiday.
I think that the most startling thing we’ve seen happened about ten minutes after we’d cleared immigration. Travelling in the back of a truck, we arrived at a roundabout, and the driver actually went around it, properly and everything. And what’s more, everyone else was using the roundabout properly too. Even the mopeds. This is the first place where traffic regulations are actually respected. And there doesn’t seem to be a massive effort to enforce them, they just happen. And they’ve got pavements, that you can actually walk on. We haven’t seen either of these things in any other country we’ve visited. And the streets are clean, with everyone taking responsibility to clean the patch of road outside their house or shop. It’s all just terribly, errm, civilised, and completely stress-free. With none of the hassles, taking a slow stroll around a town is more relaxed here than we could ever have imagined. And the country is full of great places to sit down, have a drink and soak up the atmosphere. Three hours to have a sandwich for lunch? Not a problem. Read a book for an hour whilst having a coke? Carry right on. Sorry, we’ve messed up the hotel bookings, and you can’t stay tonight, how’s about you pop over later when you’ve found somewhere else to stay and have some free food and beer instead? Sure thing, we’d love to!
All of this relaxing has taken its toll on my waistline. After a very healthy and practically vegetarian existence for six months, coming to Laos and discovering that as well as leaving a majorly beautiful architectural legacy, the French also left behind the recipes for the most perfect bread and cake and coffee and cake and cheese and cake has meant that my weight has ballooned. But I’m unable to help myself. I really have turned into the proverbial fat kid in a sweet shop.
It’s not all been lounging around though. We have managed to tear ourselves out of the hammock for the occasional adventure. The most exciting thing was clearly the Gibbon Experience, and this should be on everyone’s bucket list. The pictures on their website are stunning, but they don’t come close to showing you just how magical the place is. The view from the open air shower, 40 metres up in the canopy as the sun was setting behind the mountains is something that will stay with me forever. I spent the three days alternating been pure, white knuckle terror, and complete euphoria, and even as I type this, the thought of some of the zip wires is making me sweat. The kids were completely relaxed about everything, and I’m sure that this is something that will stick with them for many years. And we even saw the critically endangered gibbons. They turned up for breakfast and stayed for ages, charging through the trees and singing to each other and everything.
Next stop was Luang Namtha, up in the hills near the border with China. It’s a very spread out sort of place up in the hills, with not very much going on. Well, I say that there’s not much going on, but we managed to stay there for over a week without getting terribly bored. We cycled through the surrounding paddy fields and villages, hired mopeds and buzzed through the most magical jungle covered mountains pretty much all the way to China, we kayaked and surfed down the Nam Ha river into the pristine jungle of the Nam Ha National Protected Area and had lunch in a tribal village. And if that wasn’t enough, we spent two days hiding from the weather, as a cold snap hit the whole of South East Asia. With no heating in the hotel or any of the restaurants, we were so cold that the only option was to go back to bed and hide for the morning. It was down to nearly 14 degrees… Brrr…
After Luang Namtha, we headed east to Nong Khiaw. It’s a stunning journey through brilliant countryside, but alas, we didn’t get to see much of the view as Evan had his head in a sick bag for most of the six long hours that the journey took. Floss also failed to hold onto her breakfast, and Sam only clung onto his breakfast waffle by shutting his eyes and putting his fingers in his ears every time we had to crack open another sick back. Find a happy place… Find a happy place…
The journey was worth it as Nong Khiaw is perfect in every conceivable way. The sunsets are out of this world, the mountains are magnificent, and it’s got caves to explore, jungles to trek through, lots and lots of waterfalls to climb and swim in, more kayaks to paddle and the cutest and friendliest pack of stray dogs anywhere in the world. It’s even got a choice of curry houses. Anyone who doesn’t fall in love with this place has no soul.
And finally to Luang Prabang. The epitome of laid back sophistication, where we landed and all just let out a long, deep breath. Six months of excitement and adventure has left us pretty knackered, and this place rubbed our collective shoulders, muttered soothing words and fed us coffee and lots of cake and ice cream. We didn’t do a great deal while we were here, filling the days with pottering about temples and villages, and avoiding the worst of the mid-afternoon heat by eating cake and ice cream.
We’ve only got two days left in Laos, including a single day in Vientiane before flying out to Hanoi. We’re really excited to get to Vietnam as we have so many brilliant memories of being there in 2003, and we’re meeting up with the Anderson family, which will be a complete blast. But I am really going to miss Laos. More so than any other country we’ve visited, it has welcomed us in, slowed us down and recharged our batteries.