With Burma ahead, a glance back at my time in Laos
It’s nearing midnight. In a few hours, I’ll board a flight to the magical land of Myanmar (aka Burma) where a recent opening to tourism presents an opportunity to interact with authenticity. My decision to go to Burma was recent and rather spontaneous. Originally, I planned on staying a few weeks more in Laos to get off the beaten path and experience the distant villages and the common folk. But before crossing into Laos, I met a man named Michael Brandle (Swiss, 31) in the Akha Village of Northern Thailand. When I found out he has been traveling for 15 months, and plans on another 9 months to go, I knew he would have something interesting to say, or recommend.
His advice was simple: “Go to Myanmar.” Through our conversations, he (basically) communicated the following message: “I don’t give a damn what you had planned in Indochina (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam)…that will all still be there in 5-10 years and you can see the land then. Burma, however, is offering a small window of opportunity before the tourism industry catches up, and the people start to see you as dollar signs instead of foreign visitors to their home. On this 3-month trip of yours, change course – you’ll thank me later.” Out of his entire travel experiences, having gone to countless nations, he says his trip to Burma a few months back was easily his favorite. I combined that with a similar message received from numerous other travelers who had this look in their eyes when they said the word Burma or Myanmar…like they had seen something truly special and out of the ordinary. Well – here we go. Look forward to my post after I return to Bangkok on the 28th! 🙂
Laos of Love
Though I knew my time would be short and rather ‘standard’ for a visit to Laos, I still set out to enjoy my time in the country.
The Gibbon Experience
WoW! That was the word going through my mind on this 3-day, 2-night adventure deep into Bokeo National Park of Northern Laos. When we weren’t trekking, we were zip-lining. When we weren’t zip-lining, we were swimming. When we weren’t swimming, we were feasting. When we weren’t feasting, we were sleeping deeply in our tip-top tree house. And the whole time – we were smiling. 🙂 The Gibbon Experience is an organization established to cease the wildlife encroachment and poaching by tribal people for profit. The program has turned these men into expert guides leading travelers through an exhilarating trail of nature hikes, cross canyon zip-lines, and stays in 300 meter tree houses. I had an absolutely incredible time, and would recommend it to anyone going to Laos.
To describe this city, I’d elect to use the word quaint. Not long after quaint, however, would be touristy. It’s a beautiful city nonetheless, full of colonial French architecture and stellar views of sunset on the mighty Mekong River. The city seemed to attract a brilliant breed of open-minded backpacking travelers, some of whom I was fortunate enough to share deep conversation with at our hostel. For the most part, I walked many hours around the city taking in the surreal setting. And, it is a ‘must’ to see the Waterfalls up the road. At night, we gathered around the bonfire and jammed with guitars, laughing and spreading positive vibes.
After Luang Prabang, but before Vientiane (the nation’s capital), is a booming city called Vang Vieng. What they have created here is a giant playground for young adults. Ran almost entirely off of tourism, visitors have a plethora of options for activities – kayaking, tubing, motor boating, mountain biking, swimming, go-carting, 4×4, and so much more. I spent the first two days with a buddy named Andrew. We rented mountain bikes and explored the villages beyond the city, and ended up at the famous Blue Lagoon on our way back where we leaped from 20 meters high into a pool of refreshing cool water. In the heightened backdrop of the lagoon is a series of caves. With our headlamps on full blast, we charged into darkness to see a unique view of what nature has to offer. The city is beautiful, and from my bungalow there were brilliant limestone mountains in site. With tremendous Wi-Fi (always a plus ;), I spent a day lounging about and sharing lengthy conversation with the owner of the guesthouse: ‘Gregarious Joe’, as Lonely Planet writes.
Then, it was on to the nations capital where I had one goal in mind – BURMESE VISA. The city ended up being quite friendly and charming, as I spent two days on bike exploring its many colonial style streets. The people are much richer here than anywhere else in the country, and English-speaking is common. This allowed me to engage in quality conversation with locals and gain a grasp on the governmental system and national culture.
As always, it is all about the people. I have stayed away from monument seeking just for a photo, and instead try to engage in conversation wherever these travels take me. The people have been the best part of this trip, though not far behind is nature! 🙂 ‘The People’ means not only locals. The local citizens do have a lot to teach me and I enjoy the insight I receive. However, I also include fellow travelers in the mix. I’ve come to find that most travelers are extremely interesting people with incredible stories and personalities. They come from all backgrounds, with varying experiences and opinions. Though, they all (pretty much) share one thing in common – an open mind!
Onward We Go
Thanks for reading. Again, I am looking forward so so much to Burma tomorrow through the entire month of February. More to come!