A quick trip across the north of Laos was like visiting an old friend. Laos is the first country I have ever revisited on 2 separate travel adventures and though I have to admit I was quite nervous that I may have been putting my fond memories of this small country in jeopardy returning eight years later to a place possibly completely changed I was very pleasantly surprised, all the charm and beauty that I fell in love with the last time around was still very much there.
We concentrated our trip to the north of the country wanting to travel slowly, soak it in and not feel rushed, conveniently this game plan very much matches the laid back pace of the area. Entering the country on a 2 day slowboat ride along the Mekong River from Thailand placed us in the quaint French colonial city of Laung Prabang. It was delightfully easy to sink into days and days of the city’s cafe culture enjoying the finer things like bread, cheese, and real coffee! This is also where I started to notice some of the upgrades Laos has started to see, first from the tourist view, where every one of the rooms we got was complete with top sheets, towels and toilet paper (real backpacker luxuries) as well as from an overall country view, I was incredibly pleased to see so many crisp school uniforms everywhere we went. Education has most certainly become a huge priority in Laos and this was incredibly evident each day watching the droves of kids of all ages coming to and from school in their white shirts and colorful sun umbrellas.
The majority of our time was spent in the countryside on mountain bikes, in terraced rice fields and in the muddy jungle. Everywhere was muddy in fact since it was still rainy season, highways, roads, trails and paths were washed out and flooded and made each of our activities interesting and dirty! What I loved most about spending time in these areas was being around the people that live there. Laos is a landlocked country, and like most landlocked countries it’s economy struggles in every way. But poverty in most areas of Laos is still (to me) a very respectable life that lives and dies with the land and the seasons. We’ve seen every imaginable living condition this big bad world has at some point on this trip and though it is certainly not fair to compare the poverty and struggles of one area to another or pass judgment as to what is better or worse, given the choice I would far prefer the simple poor life I have observed in the countryside of Laos over a some of the sad dirty lives we witnessed in places like Delhi. We can all learn something from people who literally build their homes, each and every one of them, with their hands, they grow and raise all their food, weave the baskets it’s carried and cooked in, weave the cloth that makes a good deal of their clothing, they even brew their own booze! There is something very profound and beautiful in the simplest things in life. The people of the countryside are very poor in terms of money and material things but very rich in ways and traditions that most of us don’t even realize we’re lacking in our lives.
My second visit to Laos was just as fulfilling as my first. With the end of our travels so near it was really nice to visit a place that reconfirms for me the simple things I seek in my future, these things really do make all the difference.