One of my favourite childhood books started with the memorable line ‘in Berkshire country, where distant hills are blue and grass is green…’ This quote immediately sprung to mind as I gazed out of the window on a hideously bumpy bus ride to vang vieng a few days ago. I hadn’t expected Laos to be so mountainous- there were peaks everywhere, stretching far into the distance where they formed a blue haze on the horizon. Our bus climbed up the slopes, its wheels catching the numerous potholes scattered along the roads, before hurtling at a breakneck speed downhill and around bends, narrowly avoiding various huge trucks that would come at you, lights glaring and horns blaring. We’d made the careless mistake of choosing the back seats, and so every small bump in the road was magnified into a back-jarring, neck-cricking jolt, making it impossible to sleep.
We’d been warned about the buses in Laos, but as usual, we’d paid no attention. We booked onto a sleeper bus from Vientiane to Chiang Mai, but were bitterly disappointed when the bus only contained seats that slightly reclined. In comparison, Vietnamese sleeper buses seemed like luxury! I slept fitfully, resorting to curling up in a ball and covering myself in the threadbare blanket, head and all. The journey was cold, unpleasant, and for once the Valium didn’t work wonders. This, however, was made up for by the fact we’ve just checked into a ’boutique hostel’ (which is still only $4), which has a pool! Just the relaxed vibe I’ve been craving.
Our time in Laos was heavenly. We’d got mixed reviews from people: some claimed it was the most beautiful country they’d seen, others that it was boring and didn’t have much in the way of nightlife. This turned out to be perfect for us. Our first stop was Luang Prabang, a small town in Northern Laos with a French colonial influence. Our time there was spent visiting waterfalls, caves, springs, and cycling around the countryside managing (for once) to not get hideously lost. We found an idyllic spot by the river and sat on a bamboo bridge and read to our hearts content, before sampling some of the local snacks (rice cakes, a weird raw meat thing and some banana chips). In the evening/afternoon we hit the local bar, an extremely edgy place called ‘Utopia’, where people sprawled on beanbags and sipped ciders and beers overlooking the Mekong River. We actually went to that place three times in two days (we’re not alcoholics, promise!).
Following the hideous seven hour bus ride to Vang Vieng, we had a stroke of luck and were upgraded to a private room. The same thing happened the next night, coincidentally, but this time we were also moved to a ‘villa’ as they’d run out of space in our party hostel. Fine by us!
On our first day in Vang Vieng I learned to ride a motorbike- finally! It had become a weird mental problem of mine and I’d become terrified following the incident in Bali, but I picked it up quickly (it’s pretty easy actually. Most kids in Asia can do it). I felt euphoric for the rest of the day, even though my friend wouldn’t let me drive if she had to ride on the back (!), and we spent the day basking in the sun and swimming in the river. The current was so strong that the water acted as a swimming treadmill, and I spent a good twenty minutes swimming as fast as I could and still getting swept downstream. That’s my exercise for the year! We ate roasted bananas (honestly the most delicious thing ever- tastes like banana bread but infinitely healthier) on the side of the road for lunch, and April devoured a whole watermelon! We also stumbled into a banana plantation when we were looking for a place to sit, which was situated along a horrible dirt track. Poor bike! Ironically enough, we didn’t fall over there but did manage to as we did a U turn in the middle of the road. Luckily, we were going at about 5mph and escaped with a few cuts and bruises. )
That evening was the most eventful night of the trip. We decided, on a whim (after stuffing our faces with kebabs, noodles and crepes), that we were too full too drink, and so headed to the local ‘Rasta Bar’. Various drugs such as weed, shrooms and opium are legal in Laos, and my friend took full advantage of this. She requested the ‘happy menu’, which consisted of shrooms/opium/weed pizza, shakes, brownies, tea, pancakes… the list goes on. She ordered a shrooms milkshake and it affected her within twenty minutes. It lasted for several hours until she felt horribly sick, and now, three days later, she still struggles to eat! We had no clue that anything like that would happen, and she’s now done with drugs for life! What’s the point in taking something that’s fun for an hour, but that could permanently affect your mental state? Hallucinogens are dangerous- I read about one man who ripped his friends’s heart out because he was convinced he was the devil… Utterly terrifying!
Now suddenly it’s just under a month before we leave this wonderful, vibrant continent. Let’s hope we don’t have any more episodes of bad luck…