The changing nature of Laos

Okay, so we have all seen crazy pictures and YouTube videos of how tubing was back in the day in Vang Vieng. However, this was before all the zip wires were removed, and the ‘slide of death’ had been dismantled. So, is it still worth a visit to Laos?

I travelled to Laos late June last year and was expecting crazy and wild things. First arriving in Luang Prubang, this is one of the most beautiful and tranquil places I have ever had the pleasure to travel to. The Kuang Si waterfall was the highlight of my entire trip. Large cascading waterfalls tumbling through the jungle feeding into separate pools for swimming and sun bathing. Laos may not have long, stretched-out white beaches, however the tranquil turquoise waters of the waterfall adequately make up for it.

luang prubang

 

Then the night time arrives. There is no where else to go than Utopia bar, so aptly named. This is the most surreal bar, hidden on the banks of the Nam Khan river. This giant hut, filled with cushions, sleeping mats, hammocks, and fairy lights is the perfect place to meet interesting people. However, just as I was really starting to enjoy myself, 11:30pm hit and we were all asked to go home. Due to the new curfew in Laos all businesses are required to be closed by 11:30. Disappointed, and too drunk for bed I stumble out of the bar only to find crowds of people jumping into tuk-tuks and going to the bowling alley. The bowling alley? I was like, what! But strangely, this location just outside of town has found a loop-hole in which they can legally serve alcohol past the curfew. With the lights on full, cheesy music playing, and people bowling, this really was a surreal night.

Then onto Vang Vieng. Well you can imagine what has changed their since the new laws have taken hold. My first thoughts once getting my tube and walking down to the river was that it was so quiet. I wasn’t naive in expecting it was going to be like the videos I had seen, however this was like a ghost town. It was almost dead. I couldn’t stop daydreaming about what the atmosphere would have been like in the peak of it all. I could almost hear the distance screams and the party. It was quite harrowing to see parts of bars that once were, and half a zip wire handing from a tree. Looking onto the bank you could see the burnt out bars, and knocked down walls, it was quite sad really. The ride itself was relaxing though.

tubing

We finally hit our first bar. It was a great bar, with beer pong tables, a volleyball net and basketball. Even though it was much calmer than it would have been previous years there was still a good atmosphere.

There was a small party vibe at this bar, and we ended up befriending a good group of people. Even though it would of been the polar opposite of what we expected the group of friends we joined made the trip much more enjoyable. We developed a strong bond between us all and ended up getting very drunk, in tribute to the lost Laos. The time we spent on the river, and even at the bar, had a very chilled out vibe to it. I would definitely say tubing was different to how I imagined it, but it was not a let down. It is much more about relaxing, and chilling out with friends rather than getting wasted and jumping off stuff.

People still need to visit Laos, and experience the town and the stunning scenery it has to offer. During my month away I traveled all through South-East Asia and Laos is by far my favourite place. However, be open minded. It is not a party central like it used to be. For that you need to head to the Islands. However, if you want to relax and drink in good company, in stunning surroundings then Laos is most definitely the place for you.

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Goodnight Vietnam.

asian girl

Of all the places I have travelled to, I can think of few that provoke such a passionately varied reaction than Vietnam does. It’s drenched in breathtaking landscapes, intriguing culture and luxurious souk-like markets. However visitors harp on about the traffic, the high level of crime and most of all: the hostility of the locals. Since visiting Vietnam I understand why this is such a marmite country.
I’ll start of by saying that I have had a lot of fun so far on my travel through Vietnam. I have seen some of the most beautiful landscapes and I have plans to revisit in the future. However, looking back on my journey travelling south through Vietnam, I am not too sure as to why this if one of my favorites thus far. Let me share a few anecdotes.
Bus Journey from Hell 


Sat on the side of the road, my friends and I mentally prepare ourselves for the arduous 18 hour coach journey that awaits us to take us from Halong Bay down the coast to Hoi An. Provisions purchased, we are ready to board the coach. Initially, for the first 12 hours the journey was… bearable, until we realise we have been lied to and that the journey to Hoi An is in fact a 28 hour trip. Angry and feeling slightly sheepish that we had allowed ourselves to be scammed after all the ‘heads-up’, we accept the news and try and fall back to sleep… not that we had much choice.
We suddenly began to collect more and more passengers, squeezing into acrobatic shapes in order to accommodate the luggage and all the extra people. If I learnt something on this trip it is that I suffer from claustrophobia, silver lining eh? Near to tears, with my face shoved into someone’s shoulder, I plug in my headphones and imagine myself on the beach in Hoi An.

sleeper bus
Currently in our 20th hour of this journey we are awoken by all the locals squawking and aggressively pointing in our direction. After 10 minutes of enduring this we are then informed by the driver that we are in their seats and have been the entire journey. We are then hoarded to the front. Initially it was a relief to be free from the piles of people and luggage, however, as more people got on it resulted in my backside being repeatedly groped by a local man, and no this is not going to turn into a spontaneous love story, unfortunately.
Eventually, after having food flicked on us, being coughed on, having to endure the locals constantly ‘clearing their throats’ and listening to hardcore Bollywood music played at an offensive volume we were dumped by the side of the highway at 1am. Completely deserted with no phone and no idea where we are,we begin to think we are in some sort of nightmare. Until the overwhelming stench of urine soon made us realise weren’t. The coach toilet had exploded its entirety all over our rucksacks.


Scam After Scam 
As a traveler you are constantly warned of the bombardment of scams that lie ahead and the efforts of the locals to try and rip you off as much as possible. In comparison to the UK, Vietnam is horrendously cheap, however that does not mean an open invitation to be charged triple. Irregardless of the price it is just not a nice feeling knowing that someone is scamming you out of more money.
At first we fell for all the ‘sob stories’, resulting in us paying $2 for a bracelet on the beach in order to fund this woman’s English tuition. We quickly realised that all beach vendors are ‘taking classes for English’.

The countless arguments with ‘tuk tuk’ drivers became tedious. Being constantly told… ‘this is cheap price for you, you are from rich country’. Maybe, however I am currently staying in a room that has no fan or air con, the sink does not work, the door does not lock and I can see bugs crawling across my skin. So yes lady, that extra $1 makes all the difference I am afraid.

I witnessed other people having problems in Vietnam. I saw friends getting ripped off. At a supermarket, a friend gave her money to the lady, who then hid it and claimed my friend had not paid for the items.  On quite a few occasions we are made to feel the outsiders.  Wherever I went, it seemed these experiences was the norm not the exception.

Vietnam’s Future

Six million tourists were drawn to Vietnam in 2011. Six million people came to learn, to bear witness, and to enjoy. Statistically, only 180,000 of them will enjoy themselves enough to return. However, people return to Thailand year after year because it’s effortless to enjoy. And I think they fall for Cambodia and Laos because despite the difficulties of travel there, they win you over with charm and heart. I think Vietnam has a long way to go if it wants to become a hot spot for travelers.

If you want your travel experiences to be seamlessly pleasant, then Vietnam may not be for you, unless you are very rich. But me, I like travel to be challenging. Not difficult, exactly, but the kind of thing that tests me, tests my language abilities, my wits, my patience—all the assorted skills I’ve accumulated over the years (my mother would strongly disagree). Vietnam does this every second of every day, from the moment I step out the door in search of coffee or pho. And it rewards persistence and creative thinking.

Also, the beer is 25p a pint. Need I say more

halong bay