Some people asked me which travel destination I had visited is my favourite so far. Well, it’s a bit too early to tell because I feel like I need to see more of what every country has to offer. I need to come back again to all the countries I had been!
But if i have to name one Southeast Asian country where I had the best travel experience in, I’d say Laos. My one-month experience there with my French travel buddy, Alexandre (Alex), was simply wonderful. I learned a lot of things during my journey, thanks to these 5 unforgettable moments.
I’ll never forget…
1. That time when Alex and I made through the Vietnam-Laos border…ON TIME
How can I forget this event? Our journey from Vietnam to Laos wasn’t easy at all. We successfully crossed the Nam Xoi border. But prior to that, we actually had to push our bike when it broke down 16km away from the border. We didn’t see that coming, but we were up for the challenge. I remember vividly when Alex said “Okay Liszt, it’s time to push.” We carried some of our bags and started pushing the bike. But we were somehow lucky that day as we didn’t have to push for long when it suddenly started working again. Yay! We were afraid that the bike might stop functioning again, so we tried our best to ensure that the engine kept running. It was a scary moment too because our brake was not working at its best.
Moral of the story: if you’re going to travel by motorbike, make sure you have it serviced properly before you start your journey, and should problems like this occur, keep calm and start pushing! 😀
We were so relieved the minute we arrived at the border. We refused to switch off the bike’s engine. In spite of our explanations, the working officers insisted that we shut it off. We did. THANKS A LOT. The bike just didn’t want to start after that.
It was the first day of the 2016 Lunar New Year. The officers unsurprisingly seemed very happy – but in a very odd way. One of them looked very drunk. He looked at me and started saying “Wah, Malaysians are very small.” I replied “Malaysians are not very small. I am small.” He didn’t say anything afterwards. All he did was stared at me, from head to toe. The officer was indeed super creepy. He looked at me in a really perverted way too. That’s all I can say. He then asked me all kinds of weird questions. While he was doing that, the other on-duty officer was trying to scam Alex and extort as much money as possible from him.
Luckily Alex managed to come up with some excuses and eventually gave him a very small amount of money instead. We quickly pushed our bike away from the checkpoint. We were worried that the officers might try to find other reasons to hold us back. Oh, at this time the bike didn’t want to work again, so we went up to a small hill and tried to push start it from there. After a few attempts, it finally worked! Phew! Our Laos journey officially began here.
2. Our journey from the border to Vieng Xai province in “winter”
After we passed through the border, we rode for another hour to Vieng Xai, our first stop in Laos since we left Hanoi. Vieng Xai is definitely my favourite place in Laos. I guess that’s because I had a lot of good memories here. It’s also where Alex and I had the most adventures together. The journey from the border to Vieng Xai was amazing. Laos has a great landscape. Although life is very simple here, people seem to be very happy. We passed through a lot of small villages where we saw little children running by the roadside, and some of them were also watering flowers; the older folks were making fire using firewood, and some even waved at us and said Hello. Okay, that’s the first English word I heard in Laos so far!
We arrived in the main town at dawn. It was winter in Laos at the time. Cold, but nothing below 0 degree. Yet, it was still very cold for me! The first thing we did upon arrival at our first stop was finding an ATM machine. We were kind of worried if none of the machines would work. Still, we kept our minds positive, and hooray, we just made our first withdrawal in Laos!
It was a challenging time for me. I had never been to a really cold place. Alex didn’t really like the cold too, but he’s used to cold places. I experienced my very first winter in Laos. Okay, I have never been to Europe or New York, but I believe that will happen pretty soon. The winter in Laos is nothing compared to the winter in other countries, but still, it was extremely cold for me. The next thing I wanted to do was to find a place to spend the night. Alex and I found a small guesthouse in town. It’s called Long Ku Guest House. We thought the price for a night stay there was really cheap – just 50, 000 KIP. We took it right away without thinking too much. We were just so tired, cold and hungry. We paid for 2 nights.
Vieng Xai looks like a place with a lot of things to do if you’re into nature and fun adventures. We thought of looking for other hotels too, just in case we want to stay longer in Vieng Xai. But there are not many guesthouses around. Looking for one was also a challenge as most of the roads did not have proper street lamps. Furthermore, our motorbike was not in a good shape. Every time we needed to ride on it, we had to kickstart it from a hill or a steep road. The guesthouse where we were staying is sitting right on top of a small hill. Thank goodness for that!
Alex went out for dinner without me though. That’s because I refused to go out. I was too afraid of the cold. After spending one whole day on the motorbike and at the mountains, with the wind blowing in my face, I just wanted to hide under the blanket. Alex tried his very best to persuade me to come out for dinner, but I just wouldn’t do that. Eventually he went to an Indian restaurant (yes, there is one there and it serves good food!) to have dinner alone. As for me, I slept under the blanket until the next morning.
Alex and I talked about it later. He said “Liszt, you need to overcome your fear of cold. We’re going to camp, remember? It’s cold but it’s not that bad. It’s in your mind. If you don’t thinking too much about it, you won’t feel this way.” I had to agree with Alex, and after hearing him say that, I felt like a big baby. Yes, I’ve lived all my life in a hot climate, but that doesn’t mean that I have to continue being scared of the cold. I was so determined to go through it. I also believe that sometime in the future I will have to go to places that are a lot colder than this. If I am too afraid of the cold, how can I make it through in other places? The big question was – now that I am in Laos during winter, how am I going to get through it until I get to the next border? The solution is TO ADAPT. Eventually I did. That was a lesson learned.
3. The time when we climbed one of the beautiful limestone mountains in Vieng Xai
Going to random places and exploring less known places are expected when travelling with me or with Alex. We just love to do random things. We never really planned where we’d go or what we’d do next. We were just riding around Vieng Xai and I even wanted to go to a nearby waterfall. But we ended up in an unknown place; I’m not sure if it’s got a name, but there was nobody there, except for an abandoned hut. We were curious and decided to drop the initial plan of going to a local waterfall and headed elsewhere instead. We hid our bike and walked on burned grounds.
Alex said it looked like an old-abandoned minefield. Okay, I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but it did look like one. I can only be sure if I had asked the locals. Unfortunately, there was nobody there to ask. We thought that we shouldn’t be there. But we were after adventures after all. Okay, this may sound stupid, but we continued walking further hoping to explore the jungle. Alex then said “Okay Liszt, if you want to survive, walk behind me.” LOL. I wasn’t sure if he was actually joking or being serious. I eventually walked behind him. He’s a more experienced traveller after all.
So we walked further up until we reached a small river, and later we crossed another small river again. There is also a small waterfall there. I found an old farmer hat. It was still in a good shape when I found and picked it up. Look!
We wanted to climb the limestone mountains around us the minute we saw them. We didn’t really consider if the area was safe or not. We just did it and hoped that everything would go fine. Although Alex scared me a little when he mentioned about bombs earlier on, somehow I was more concerned of wild animals; specifically wild boars.
At that time I didn’t think there were bombs or anything dangerous in the jungle other than angry wild boars. We didn’t have any machete with us, so we had to make our own way using our hands. I was wearing a long-sleeved sweater and a pair of trousers. On the other hand, Alex was shirtless. He got his body scratched by sharp plants that were around us. Gosh, those plants were so annoying.
The mountains were not easy to climb though. I always felt like I was going to fall off a cliff. In fact, I nearly fell and hit my forehead on a big rock when a hidden root made me tripped. Phew…that was close!
But the hiking was worth every second spent. Once we had reached the highest point, we were truly satisfied; not just by the hard work but by the stunning view we got. The view was amazing! We could see the roads from up here! Alex and I felt so accomplished at that time. He told me that he loves climbing mountains, particularly the ones he’s never heard about. He loves the thrill and the mysteries that await him. Oh, just look at the view!
4. When we hopped from one small village to another
Crossing one village to another was really fun. We did it in Nong Khiaw, Muang Ngoi, and some other villages whose names we could hardly recall. Our road trip to Nong Khiaw was awesome. We made about 200km that day and along the way we came across a local guy, who later joined us by the roadside, eating the biscuits we bought from a local market. He spoke to us in Lao.
Even though we couldn’t understand a word he said, somehow we could relate to his stories based on his body language and hand gestures. He’s got tattoos all over his body and he talked about them enthusiastically throughout the time. He seemed like a happy man. Later he waved goodbye and headed back to his humble home.
There are a lot of beautiful limestones at Nong Khiaw Village. It is a touristy place. Alex and I actually don’t prefer touristy places, but we were so tired that day and decided to just spend a night there. Although it’s packed with tourists, it is still a nice place to relax and have quiet times. We went to a quiet area, just by the river, where we saw a local man taking his bath happily.
In the morning, the small village is a lot more quiet as most travellers are out for outdoor activities. We extended our stay there to explore the area. Not long after, we met a French couple who suggested us to go to a neigbouring village called Muang Ngoi by boat. We thought to ourselves – yeah, why not?
So we took a small boat to Muang Ngoi with some other travellers for an affordable price. Along the way, we saw buffaloes crossing the river. It was a really wonderful experience. I’ll tell you more about it in one of my future articles!
5. The countless times our motorbike broke down in the middle of nowhere
The Honda Win is a good bike and the Vietnam locals prefer to use it outside of big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. We loved ours too. Likewise, technical problems are to be expected when you get a second-hand good. Yes, our Honda Win had served us well, but during our journey it gave us some unforgettable hard times too.
It broke down just before we reached the Nam Xoi border as I mentioned earlier. It would usually break down in steep areas. There was a problem with the chain. Even though we had it replaced with a brand new one, the chain still kept coming off especially on mountainous roads. Problems like this always occurred at late evening, so Alex and I were always prepared in case we were left with no choice but to camp in the jungle. Laos also has about 7 million people. Chances of meeting people on the road are low. There are small villages everywhere, but they’re not very close to one another.
There was this one time when the bike broke down not very long after we hit the road in the morning. We fell off the bike. That was when Alex and I took a very steep road that was not paved. The engine carter, footstool and water tank were badly damaged. Eventually we got them all fixed in a local workshop. The mechanics couldn’t really fix other problems because they didn’t have the parts in Laos. We can only get them in Ho Chi Minh City! Oh before I forget, we had to hitch a ride to the workshop. There were not many people passing by, but fortunately we were able to stop a lorry (pickup truck).
We had about 12 km to the next town. Oh by the way, this was our first and only hitchhiking experience in Laos! Alex was feeling the pain from the unfortunate fall. His poor ankle was injured, which also meant that he won’t be able to do a lot of hiking for the next two weeks. He was disappointed, but as the saying goes, SHIT HAPPENS. I got my legs injured too. Look!
Well, at least it was not anything worse than that. There were a lot more events of which our bike gave us problems. Basically, there was never a day without problems…specifically technical problems.
When I look back at all of these moments, I just want to go back to Laos again. It was a great experience after all. Regardless of all the problems and the troubles we had to go through, it was still an unforgettable journey for us.
See you again Laos! 😀