Our poor wanderer, Emily Ross. She can’t catch a break in Laos. She’s encountered everything from the flooded Mekong to buses in the mud and food poisoning…..
How will she salvage this little landlocked country? Here she plays go-fish and discovers…..dry:
Oh, readers, you have no idea how happy I am to be in Luang Prabang.
How shall I describe Laos? Now that I am nearing my final days here (we leave for Chiang Mai on Friday) I think I can confidently say that Laos…
Has been a bit of a fail.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Laos’ fault! I feel quite sorry for it. The country’s gorgeous landscapes, friendly people and zingy cuisine pretty much guarantee a positive experience…unless you have the terrible luck we have these few days. Oh, Laos. It’s alright. Everybody has an off day. Or twelve.
Unfortunate Incident 1: Pakse
Oh, Lonely Planet praised it so. Built up our expectations! Raised our hopes to divine heights with their speak of pillowy soft naan and moreish tikka masala. But no, the diarrhoeal consistency of the curries at Jasmin Restaurant (we ordered three different dishes which all tasted exactly the same.) and the crunchy toast pretending to be naan left us wondering what the Laos Lonely Planet dude was ON when he wrote that recommendation. As we later learn, turns out a plethora of potential substances.
*As a side note, I know not to have high expectations of food that is not a local specialty. I weren’t born yesterday, bie (a little of Emily’s Bermudian for you). But even by South East Asian standards of Indian food, this was terrible. AND it was owned by an Indian guy. They gave us ketchup to dip poppadoms in. Ketchup.
Unfortunate Incident 2: Don Det (the 4000 Islands)
Now, the 4000 Islands were personally my favourite part of Laos. Robyn described them as ‘a trip back in time with no electricity’ and she was right. They were beautiful and laid back, the perfect place to sit back in a hammock and watch the world go by. We had a few incidences of torrential downpour (which would become a more than familiar occurrence over the next few days) but our few days there were still beautiful. Now, in Don Det at least, they’ve become quite eco-conscious (probably as a counter measure against the tourists, we’re in the slow season but I’ve heard this island in particular can get very busy) and have numerous stations where you can fill up your water bottles with filtered water rather than buy new bottles. Unfortunately for my British travel companion, she forgot her wallet on the table next to the water container. By the time she realised it was gone, it was gone. Long gone. At least we were on an island with no ATMs or card readers? Oh, and did I mention Laos doesn’t have a British embassy? Thankfully I also have a British bank account so my friend was able to transfer money to me and now I’m her walking, talking ATM. It is amazing how painless losing everything can be sometimes. Just don’t lose your passport!
Unfortunate Incident 3: The Road to Vientiane
Food poisoning. Horrific food poisoning. All of us. And bumpy roads. I was on the top bunk of the sleeper bus (they’re like proper beds! That was a nice touch) but couldn’t sleep as every bump I was literally thrown in the air (I’m not exaggerating – I was clutching onto the side rails for dear life).
Unfortunate Incident 4: Vientiane
Oh, and rain.
Unfortunate Incident 5: Vang Vieng
Ah, Vang Vieng. Notorious party town. Heaven for the hedonist. Your liver’s worst nightmare. Robyn explained it well. Our hostel, run by a father like expat, had a handy advice booklet in each room, reminding us that ‘there are no health and safety regulations in Laos’ (tubing claims at least one life a year, this year somebody has already died) and warning us of the dangers of opium and opium tea. Yes. Opium TEA. I thought opium disappeared in Victorian times, dude!
But (I’m not sure how unfortunate this really is, now that I think about it) the town is currently experiencing the worst flooding in decades. Even the elderly were crowded around the river in awe…so you can imagine the extent of how bad this really was. Thankfully there was no tubing – the river was moving quickly and was FILTHY. We met a guy who had just recently recovered from a dangerous parasite born fever caused by swimming in the river with open wounds (this includes mosquito bites). One of his travel companion’s feet had swollen to five times its size due to parasites.
Unfortunately, with no tubing there is literally nothing to do in Vang Vieng – it did not stop raining for the two days we were there, not even for a few minutes, and all we could do was watch Friends in the numerous Friends Bars. Yes. The bars play Friends ALL. DAY. Now I love Friends, the choice of show wasn’t really an issue for me personally, but I can understand why a few backpackers had that crazed ‘get-me-out-of-here’ look in their eyes.
Buuut it’s not that easy to leave Vang Vieng. And so we move on to Unfortunate Incident 6….
Unfortunate Incident 6: The Road to Luang Prabang
So we decided to escape a day early to Luang Prabang. Easier said than done. We were concerned as we’d already heard that the way to Vientiane was blocked due to landslides caused by all the rain. And you have to understand that we had to get to Luang Prabang – we have a flight on the 1st July and can’t miss it because we’ve been trapped in Vang Vieng. So we join the many evacuees. The ride was smooth enough…until the first landslide. And then the next. Our six hour journey was lengthened to a whopping seventeen hours. I was amazed we made it to Luang Prabang without spending the entire night on the bus. Late at night on a mountain, waiting for the largest of the landslides to be cleared (it was 9pm, some people had been there since 8am – thankfully we arrived at the Big Boy at 4pm), we played cards. What else could we do? Don’t worry about the lack of food or the possibility of being crushed by a mini mountain of mud as you wait for another to be cleared….go fish.
But we made it, readers. We made it. And a miraculous thing happened in Luang Prabang.
It’s stopped raining.
I feel strange.
I think it’s called dry.
I can’t remember anymore.
So Laos, I feel sorry for you. We chose a bad time to visit, didn’t we? Don’t worry, I won’t take it personally.
At least Luang Prabang has yummy cinnamon rolls.