It’s funny how you fall in love with particular countries, and so often not the obvious ones. Some you visit once and feel you’ve ‘done’ them even though it can be no more than the merest snapshot of a slice of a wider picture, but others demand you explore, see parts you’ve not seen before, arrive in a different way, or take an alternate road. Anything in fact to drink in a mouthful or two extra.
Thus it was that crossing the border from the Chiang Rai region of Thailand wasn’t just a means to an end, but exciting in itself for being a new part of the country and a new means of getting in. Some places get under the skin, and Laos fits the bill, yet it isn’t immediately obvious as to why. The roads remain something of a disaster, not because they are badly surfaced – although that’s true in part – but because they are so slow; alternate travel is either even slower (boats), not necessarily the one to feel comfortable with (flying) or non existent (rail). It is a large country with few people in it, and getting about takes ages.
But the landscape is ever arresting, the people consistently friendly, welcoming and downright delightful, and the ambience something that you simply don’t find anywhere else in the region. But the question is as always why come? It’s the least known of any of the countries in this part of the world, probably the only one likely to pick up a score of zero in Pointless, and not to put to fine a point on it, it’s a ballache to get around.
Maybe that’s why. It takes effort, it takes some degree of genuinely wanting to be here that sets it apart from elsewhere. The attractions aren’t always immediately obvious without a modicum of research (do it by the way), and getting between them tends to involve a day in a bus. But even that is part of the charm, for what better way to get to know a country is there but to watch it lazily float past by for hour after hour, and to stop in nondescript villages with little to gain the attention of the tourist and everything to pull to one side the resident.
I love it because it’s unspoilt by tourism, but has more than enough to bring those in the know back again and again, offering up soft adventure in a way that none of the surrounding nations routinely do, and is quite simply a hidden gem.
Scenery photos are always misleading, they tend to be a single stop on a route of endless drudgery, but the point about Laos is that it could be anywhere, except perhaps the south east which is fairly flat. Frequent visitors would struggle to identify where it was taken, let alone when. The rugged terrain is normal, the forested nature of it all simply the backdrop.
Again, why come? Because unspoilt destinations are ever rarer, and because you can hike, enjoy waterfalls and astounding flora and fauna in a way that nowhere else in south east Asia does. It’s tomorrow’s aim.