In LAOS (not) ALONE

I did it! First time abroad alone. Almost 24 hours traveling by bus and I saw different life and quite different culture. But let’s start from the beginning.
By the 17th of April I had only the bus tickets, HANOI-LAOS-HANOI, and one booked hostel. I knew I was going to Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos. I have always been organized and plan every detail. But not this time.

On Saturday, 18th April at 5.pm I was waiting for a bus to Vientiane in the Travel Agency where it was supposed to start from. Finally we set off at 6.30 p.m. from the suburbs of Hanoi, where I was picked up.
Southeast Asian long distance buses are usually ‘sleeping buses’, that means you lie on a mattress or folded seat during travel. Lying next to a Japanese girl and sharing one blanket was a funny experience for me :D. It was opportunity to get to know a new friend. After that we were sightseeing in Vientiane together.

The road on the way from Hanoi to Vientiane wasn’t good, passengers were shaking on their sleeping seats all the time. So I wasn’t surprised the bus got a puncture. The driver and his helpers were very smart and experienced, so they changed the wheel in 20 minutes.

First impression of Laos-> It’s hot! Above 40 degrees. I’m not used to that temperature.
When we got off the bus at 6p.m. the next day, the first words I heard were “tuk tuk! tuk tuk!”. There were a few more backpackers with us and we took one tuk tuk together to the same hostel. Driver charged each of us 20 000 kip ($2,5) and in 15 minutes, driving through the small and meandering avenues, we reached the destination. The next day I realized that our hostel was near the bus station and I could walk there in 15 minutes.

Vientiane is the capital city of Laos. Located on the banks of the Mekong River near the border of Thailand. In my opinion it’s quite well arranged and clean. I was really charmed by that place. I regretted there were no beaches to sunbathe at the riverside.

Life in Laos is closely tied to Buddhism and almost every monument which I could see there was connected with this religion. I went sightseeing in Vientiane: Patuxai Park, That Luang, Wat Sisaket, That Dam, Buddha Park. I had plenty of time so I was walking almost everywhere and I enjoyed it.

What about my Japanese friend? We stayed in the same hostel and dorm. She was traveling through Asia and stayed in Vientiane for two days. She didn’t speak English so we were supported by English-Japanese dictionary and communicating by using hook-words. Despite that she was very nice company. She went to Cambodia and I think we will never contact again.

After three days spending time in Vientiane, which was too long I think, I took a sleeping bus overnight to Luang Prabang- 390km to the northeast in 12 hours. At the bus station I met a guy who was French and traveling through Asia by himself because his girlfriend had broken up with him before the trip. He told me a very scary story, which had happened in Cambodia a few days before his arrival in Laos. He had met there local people who invited him to their house and encouraged him to go to the casino and play cards. He hadn’t expected he would have been robbed. He had, and went to Laos without his smartphone. After this situation he read on the internet that had happened a few times before and someone had been killed. It sounded like a thriller.
We arrived in Luang Prabang at 6.a.m. on the 23rd of April. I said goodbye to my French friend and went to my hostel. I didn’t take a ‘tuk tuk’ this time.

On the way I saw for the first time in my life the TAK BAT Buddhist ritual.The morning monks’ alms round is traditional for the people in Luang Prabang. It is a ritual of offering food to monks. Before I came to Luang Prabang I had read a biography book about ‘famous’ monks there. It was quite interesting to know that many of them leave the monastery to get married and afterwards come back to be a monk.

I was sightseeing in Luang Prabang for three days: Morning Market, National Museum, That Chomsi, Wat Prah Buddhabat, Wat Pha Khe, Wat Xieng Muan, Bamboo Bridge, Kouang Si Waterfall, Elephant Village, Night Market.

On the way to the Elephant Village I had a very interesting conversation with the local guide who I was talking to about ‘wisdom’ and Buddhism. He explained and described to me the four stages of enlightenment and Nirvana.
I heard about Buddhist monks that:
– they are allowed to collect, receive and consume food between dawn and midday (taken to be 12 noon). They are not allowed to consume food outside of this time
– they mustn’t touch any woman, including their mothers, and nothing can be passed by women to the monk. If it happens they have to wash themselves ritually
– we won’t talk about love with monk
– we mustn’t step on a monk’s shadow, a shadow is a souls reflection
– during formal contact with a monk our head should be in a lower position to the monk’s to show a respect
– they practice meditation a lot
– monks who are highly-experienced in meditation can take their mind out of the body during their practice.

What about touristic attractions? I can say that Elephant Village was the best place I visited in Luang Prabang. Four hours spent with these animals, riding on them, washing in the river and feeding was an unforgettable experience.
Price depends on which agency you choose, I paid $30 (lunch provided).

In the hostel where I stayed I got to know a guy from Byelorus and we talked about the social situation in this country, international partnership and policy. He was very interesting because he had decided to quite the job in his country, not work anymore and travel through Asia without money but with a guitar.

Three days passed and I had to get the bus back to Hanoi. This one took 27 hours. At the bus station I met two men from China who thought I was Chinese. They didn’t speak English at all but showed me photos of their family and agricultural business. It was very nice. I was surprised when suddenly one of them took out money and wanted to give me some. I didn’t know why and didn’t take any. It was funny.

On the way to Hanoi I got to know a girl from Germany whose parents were Polish. We spoke in Polish. It was very nice to have a conversation in my mother language.

Thank you my friends who I met during this travel! Wherever you are ❤ 🙂 🙂
Why I think Laos and Vietnam are different? First, in Laos people use forks not chopsticks 🙂 Second, Laos is not crowded, less motorbikes and traffic. Third, unfortunately people were not as friendly as in Vietnam, they wanted to cheat me and I had to be more aware about everything. Fourth, the climate is different. Fifth, in Laos I saw well arranged and clean places which in Vietnam are not obvious 😉
Practical information:
– visa to Laos $33 (for Polish)
– bus Hanoi- Vientiane $25, Vientiane- Luang Prabang $20,  Luang Prabang – Hanoi $45,
– bus stops every three hours with one longer break in the middle of travel
– currency of Laos is kip ( $10= 80 000 kip)
-in Luang Prabang to get to Buddha Park is better to take a local bus no. 14 ( from the central bus station) which costs 6 000 kip/ one way. Travel agencies offer trip to Buddha Park for 70 000 kip
– entrance tickets to Museum/ some Wats/Waterfalls: 20 000- 30 000 kips
– Hostel in Vientiane : Funky Monkey Hostel $5/ bed in a dorm (16 beds)
– Hostel in Luang Prabang : Khammany Inn Hostel $5/bed in a dorm (16beds)
– daily food: less that $10
– visa to Vietnam $60
– helped me: Lily’s Travel Agency in Hanoi
– TUK TUK – must bargain
– souvenirs- must bargain

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