Letting Go in Laos

Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned. The best way I can express what I was feeling in Laos is this:

Laos needs an operations manager.

Assuming that position will never get posted and filled, I will write a few tips for the future traveler to Laos.

Bus Travel:

If your bus says it will leave at 7am, consider yourself lucky if it leaves before 9am. Don’t be surprised if the seat in front of you is broken so that the man in said seat is basically napping in your lap the entire time.  After leaving two hours late, the bus driver will immediately pull into the gas station next door to fill up.

Your journey will always be 10 hours or more, no matter how far you are going. Rule of thumb: double the expected time on the bus to figure out your actual arrival time.

Buy some pills from a questionable stand on the side of the road. Don’t hesitate to take them, despite the fact that the ingredients listed are in Lao and there’s no way to tell what you’re actually taking.  You will need them for the twisty, bumpy ride ahead.

About 10% of the bus riders will be throwing up their breakfast. Sometimes that number includes you. But this issue has been considered; everyone is conveniently provided with a plastic bag for their own personal puke.

The bus you are on is guaranteed to break down at some point. Sometimes within 10 minutes of leaving the station. Don’t worry, you can relieve yourself on the side of the road, along with the other 30 passengers, as you wait two more hours for the bus driver to fix the bus by removing some engine parts.


Broken Bus


If you choose the alternative bus option, a 15 seat minibus, it will almost always contain 20 passengers. They won’t sell your seat, but they may sell your lap.

Slow Boat Travel:

This is a lovely way to travel. Just know that slow boats may pack just enough people on to come to the brink of sinking. If it sinks.. safety first!  The boat has windows so you can easily escape. Just watch out for water snakes.


Crowded Slowboat



Mmmm, cold Beerlao on the Mekong. A lovely way to travel through Laos.

Innertube Travel:

This is the best way to travel, albeit the slowest. It’s still ok to go tube the river if it’s cloudy, the numerous bars along the way will have fires going which you can crowd around, shivering in your swimsuit. This was the most organized form of travel we experienced, complete with rented tubes and tuk tuk rides to the put-in spot.

Tubing in VangVieng. Photo courtesy of Edwin Sia, one of our tubing buddies!

Tubing in VangVieng. Photo courtesy of Edwin Sia, one of our tubing buddies!



-If you find 100 earwigs on the walls of your pre-paid hotel room, “don’t worry, they don’t bite.  They just crawl in your ears.”

-Your hotel manager greets you at the door on evening number three of your pre-paid stay to say: ‘We moved you into a smaller, much smellier room. Don’t worry! We moved all your stuff for you!” Fair warning.

-Your hotel room will not have a window, so don’t expect to be able to escape in case of a fire.


-The tour you booked that comes with lunch may instead come with a bag of raw meat and no means to cook it.

-Expect food poisoning at some point in your journey, even if you have successfully dodged the raw meat lunch.


Grumpy Sarah

Needless to say, we ran into a string of bad luck while we were there. So much so that we couldn’t bear the thought of another curvy bus ride to get to the relaxing southern half of the country, and instead took a night train back to Bangkok in order to make our way to Cambodia.

The lesson from all this:

Let it go! Laos was a lovely country as soon as we realized that we would reach our destination… eventually.  We just needed to sit back and relax (and recover from the food poisoning) before we figured it out.

Cale has reminded me about seventeen times on this trip that:

1) There is more than one way to do something,

2) There isn’t a ‘wrong way,’ and

3) That my way is not necessarily the ‘only’ right way.

Obviously that’s entirely false and my way is always the best and most efficient way. But in Southeast Asia, I’m learning to let it go, and in the words of the great Taylor Swift, ‘shake it off.’ Hopefully it’s a skill I can carry back home with me.

And with that, I will leave you with some nice, relaxing photos of beautiful Laos:


Cats love Cale. Taken at Daauw Home in Huay Xai


New Years at Daauw Home in Huay Xai

New Years at Daauw Home in Huay Xai


Sunset over Thailand from Laos, in Huay Xai



Treehouse Lyfe at the Gibbons Experience.



Ahhhh Slowboats. So much better than busses.



Landing two days later in Luang Prabang.



Luang Prabang



Waterfall outside of Luang Prabang



Beautiful landscape in VangVieng



In the capitol, Vientianne



City Monks in Vientianne



Gibbon Experience in Laos

How to fly through the jungle like a Gibbon Monkey:

Step 1: Take life-threatening minivan ride from Chiang Mai to the Laotian border

Step 2: overpay for a bus to take you from one border booth checking out of Thailand to another border booth checking into Laos

Step 3: Take some time for mild amazement and confusion about how SE Asian border crossings seem to deal in US Dollars

Step 4: Tuk tuk to Huay Xai, check in at the Gibbon Experience office and get ready to spend 3 days and 2 nights in the jungle!

Step 5: take a tuk tuk to a hill town, two hours away.

Step 6: hike through the jungle with 7 of your newest friends.


It’s a jungle out there!



Hiking hiking hiking






Malta and the trees


Step 7: tie a rope attached to a rusty carabiner onto your belt and jump off a cliff. (in other words, learn to zipline):



Step 8: Explore your new digs, and if you could just get over your fear of heights real quick, that would be really convenient right about now.


Our guide zipping into our first treehouse



And zipping out the other side



Bathroom with a view (50 meters high)



Bathroom at our second treehouse


I had a really hard time getting photos but you get the gist




Shower drainage system


Step 9: Climb under your warm blanket and fall asleep to the sounds of the forest. Wake up to hear Gibbon Monkeys in the distance.


Step 10: This is very important. Be sure that you have three Germans in your group. They bring the best booze, and glowsticks, and condiments for your meal… the list goes on. They hired our guides to hike 4 hours to town and back to buy beer for everyone. It was like Christmas morning when the guides zipped back to us with cold Beerlao, and home-made bamboo shooters with LaoLao whiskey. Side note: I swear I’m not an alcoholic. But I really was genuinely excited.


The three stooges



And the meals just magically appeared before our eyes



We didn’t have any Gibbon sightings, but we zip-lined and hiked to our hearts’ content. Off to our next adventure!