In my last post I mentioned something about running off to Laos with a boy, and somehow my parents managed to refrain from sending me prying emails about this mystery guy. Does that mean that I’m a grown up now? Or no, they were probably just waiting for me to blog about it.
After visiting family in the U.S., England, and Norway, I returned to Chiang Mai to spend six weeks with friends there before heading out for some solo backpacking. I didn’t really have much of a plan for my time in Chiang Mai though, so when Dan, who had time off from his job at the NEED farm, invited me to join him in Laos for two weeks
I couldn’t think of an excuse not to go I of course said yes!
With Laos being a former French colony, its capital Vientiane is basically Paris (well, basic being the operative word there): lots of baguette, pastries, wine, and pretty architecture. It even has its own version of the Arc de Triomphe – Patuxai Arch!
Dan took these photos, so no need to get too enthusiastic about them in the comments. Except somehow he didn’t take a photo of me standing in front of the arch, which is of course super important for a travel blog. Luckily I visited Vientiane a few years ago and already had the obligatory tourist shot, phew.
I would post a photo of Dan too, but I respect his privacy so I’ll only put up photos of him with his face obstructed.
We didn’t get to go up to the top of Patuxai because it was closed when we went, but here’s what the view looked like a few years ago!
After four days in Vientiane we hopped on an incredibly cold overnight bus and arrived in Luang Prabang fresh and ready to start the day!
Okay not quite.
(I was kidding about not showing Dan’s face on the blog – just wanted to make my mother sweat.)
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang boasts a quaint mixture of glittering temples and French cottages, countless riverside restaurants, and of course many, many tourists. It feels like more of a grown up destination in Southeast Asia, not wholly ruled by the elephant pants wearing backpacker crowd (though don’t worry, they’re there too!) and a fair degree more polished than the rest of Laos.
I had already been to Luang Prabang on my last trip to Laos though, and Dan was going to go back there in a couple of weeks when his mother visited, so we only stayed one night – just enough time to wander through town, sit by the river, eat more baguettes, and have a delicious dinner at Lao Lao Garden. It was a perfect last taste of fancy French Laos before we headed up to smaller towns and villages farther north.
Okay, French pastries, riverside restaurants, shaded boulevards, giant fountains? I know what you must be thinking, but sadly Laos is not all romance.
Flying a bit under the tourist radar of its neighbors, Laos is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and has a far from peaceful history.
Now a socialist republic, Laos was a French colony from the late 19th century until 1953, though French policy focused on administering the colony at minimal cost, which in effect did nothing for the country’s economic development or social welfare. But while France did little to help Laos, it was really the United States that dealt the country lasting blows. What’s that – don’t remember talking about Laos in U.S. history class? Funny, me neither.
One afternoon in Vientiane Dan and I took a break from stuffing ourselves with croissants to visit COPE, a local nonprofit that provides orthotic, prosthetic, rehabilitation and advocacy services for survivors of accidents from unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos. At the visitor center we watched a documentary about these unexploded bombs left from the United States’ secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War.
The U.S. government dropped more than 2 million tons of cluster bombs and other heavy artillery on Laos in efforts to combat the far-left communist rebel group Pathet Lao, whose members were trying to, and eventually did, take control of the country. These attacks made Laos the most heavily bombed per capita country in the world.
Dan, who’s British, politely refrained from giving me serious side eye as we watched video clips of several U.S. presidents denying any involvement in Laos. Ahh America!
The war ended in vain with nearly all casualties civilian, and left much of Laos contaminated with UXO that continue to explode and injure people today. You can read more about COPE and the situation in Laos here.
We stayed at Mixay Paradise, which had nice clean rooms and a convenient location downtown by the river. We paid 100,000 kip ($12) for a double room.
We took the overnight seater bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, which cost 150,000 kip ($18) per person. I’d definitely recommend paying the extra 25,000 kip for a sleeper bus instead. And bring lots of sweaters!
In Luang Prabang we stayed at Liberty Guest House, which had beautiful rooms and an incredibly sweet and helpful manager. We paid $20 for a double room.