The Laos part of the journey is drawing to a close, to come is the trip across the border to Thailand and then a flight down to Bali for a few days exploring. So it is the right time to think back over the trip and and the experience.
Prior to this one, my only previous time in the country was a couple of days in Luang Prabang. That’s how most people do it, the city is as much a draw for Laos as Siem Reap is for Cambodia. Thus much tourism involves flying in, having a quick look around and then moving to the next destination. It’s understandable too, it’s the one genuinely famous place that appears on so many travel wishlists. Yet it’s no different (except in scale) to the situation in many other countries. In the UK London is the big draw and many tourists go there and consider they’ve visited the country. Hardly the case.
This particular itinerary involved starting at Luang Prabang, heading our north east before describing a large semi circle and aiming down the finger to the south east of the country. Being work it was necessarily compacted in terms of time, but with a limit on that it was the only way to experience a decent portion of the nation in the time available. Holidays will likely take in some elements of it but not all, unless an unusually long amount of time is available, but it’s not easy to decide which parts should be omitted.
Laos is an extraordinary, fascinating country. It has limited western influence, particularly from tourism, and the lack of western fast food outlets is a strong indicator of that. It therefore appeals strongly to kind of traveller who seeks unusual destinations, off the beaten track, away from the usual volumes.
Nature is a big part of it, trekking, eco-tourism, historical tourism, and actually foodie tourism too. The landscape is stunning, the attractions peaceful, and you are unlikely to be pushed along at the pace of all the others. It does require a degree of independent mindset, and a realisation that this is not a wealthy country. The roads and the towns are anything but we’ll maintained or spotlessly clean so those hoping for an anemic environment comparable to home will be disappointed. But the nature of travel, as opposed to simply holidaying, is to seek out these places, especially because in the years ahead it will change.
The curse of the traveller is finding that no matter where you go, everything is the same. Monoculture prevails all too often. Therefore finding somewhere radically different can be challenging yes, but ultimately thoroughly rewarding.
Laos is one of those places. There are a finishing number and Laos too may no longer be one in the years ahead. Going there while it still is should be on the list of all those who appreciate the diversity of our wonderful planet. It’s time to think about somewhere you haven’t up till now. It’s easier than you think.