Laos was the first country I travelled entirely on my own, back in 2015 (if I don’t count my solo ten days in Thailand two years previous). Katie and I had been travelling together for two months, around Cambodia and Vietnam and we both had flights booked home from Hanoi in Vietnam. But not ready to go home, I decided to extend my trip and booked myself onto a night bus travelling to Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
When the bus picked me up from our hostel in the evening, it was really sad saying goodbye to Katie because we had had such an amazing two months travelling together! I was a bit nervous to continue on my own and it didn’t help that I had also read some terrible reviews of the journey from Hanoi to Vientiane, blogs saying it was the worst journey/ border crossing they’d experienced when travelling. The first bus that picked me up was quite small and busy, but when we got to main bus station and changed over to the actual night bus it was pretty empty so everyone spread out and took a double seat each, which was nice. The journey was long, it took about about 24 hours but we encountered no problems, even when crossing the border. I had been told the actual border crossing was at midnight so didn’t really sleep because I was waiting up for (dreading) that. In reality we got there at about 4am and just parked up until it opened at 7am! It really wasn’t too bad though, although our bus drivers didn’t speak much English, they were very helpful in assisting us through border security, meaning everything went smoothly and we were back on the bus within an hour.
The scenery was definitely different in Laos in Vietnam- it was really green, mountainous and covered in jungle in the parts we were driving through. You could clearly see it was a poorer country than Vietnam, on par perhaps with Cambodia. There weren’t many towns, and when there were, they consisted of rickety-looking wooden houses on stilts, with children playing happily outside. It was very pretty!
The roads weren’t great, which is another thing I had read in blog reviews – most were like dirt tracks, and really windy and really steep in parts. There were several hairpin turns when the bus would literally rock from side to side trying to stay on the road! In some places, it looked like more modern-looking tarmac roads were being built but they definitely weren’t finished yet at the time of my journey. We drove continuously all day and only made one stop at lunchtime to grab some food. The journey went surprisingly quick though considering, and at 4:30pm we finally reached Vientiane bus station and then finally a truck took us to the hostel. That evening, I mainly chilled out- had a few bottles of Beer Laos and played some card games with a selection of people from all over the world- as you do when you’re travelling.
The following day it was absolutely chucking it down. I took my time in the morning, hoping the rain would pass and when it didn’t, I took a map and headed out. I spent a long time walking in the wrong direction before finally admitting defeat. I headed back to the hostel to dry off before trying again, this time asking for directions first! My Great Auntie had lived in in Laos in the 1960’s, and I wanted to head to the road she lived on to take photos to send to her. I knew the name of the road and knew it was near the British Embassy, so headed in that direction. I then walked to the Paxtuay, which is essentially the Laotian L’Arch de Triomphe. The French had given Laos money in the 1960s to build an airport runway and instead they used the money to build this moment! You can go up to the top but because of the rain, it was closed that day. After a while, the rain stopped and I found the Golden Palace and walked round there, which was impressive. Because the weather was pretty bad and there was no sign of improvement on the forecast, I decided to catch the bus down to Four Thousand Islands in the south that evening (which I will talk about it my next article). A few days later I travelled back up and spent another few days exploring Vientiane, this time in the sun.
On my second visit to Vientiane, I explored with a friend. We hired bikes from the hostel and set off planning the day using a Lonely Planet guide. We visited the Residential palace and with the sun out this time, visited Paxtuay again, and this time walked up the steps to the top and got a birds eye view of the city. It had such a good view! That afternoon we visited the national museum, which had everything you can imagine from prehistoric to modern day. The modern history bit was similar to the Vietnamese history I had read about it in Vietnam- talking of the period when Laos was colonised by the French and then became a victim of US attacks in the Vietnam war and that it was only a sense of national unity and the communist party that got them through. We then visited several more Wats and temples, most of which weren’t very big but they were still interesting because they were in use for monks to work in. That night we walked to the local food night market- there was so much choice and it was sooo cheap- I bought some noodles and got given them in a plastic bag haha. Not the easiest to eat noodles from!
The next day my friend and I visited Buddha Park, a nearby very strange attraction with lots of strange statues. We didn’t fancy paying the overpriced tour rate so we hired bikes to cycle to the local bus station, found the local bus to catch which was so much cheaper and just paid entry on arrival. It was about an hours drive, in the direction of Thailand- it was very close to the border. It was a really cool park designed by an artist with loads of stone Buddhist and Hindu statues, including a huge reclining Buddha and various other weird and wonderful bits. After spending about an hour there, we caught the bus back.
From the bus station we then cycled to the COPE visitor centre, which was a charity set up to help those who had lost limbs due to all the unexploded ordnance littered all over Laos. It was a really interesting place! I learnt about horrific clutter bombs which are essentially big bombs with 300-400 bomblets inside and has a killing radius of up to 30 metres each- one bomb can cover a range of three football fields. The US dropped more bombs on Laos in nine years than all of the allies during world war two. Its so crazy how you don’t hear this in a history class!
My next stop was 4000 islands in the south, which I will write about in my next post!