Category Archives: Laos

Things I didn’t learn while traveling and living in Asia

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I know: What an ignorant title for a blog, but it’s true. I was thinking about it the other day as I thought of ways to try and change up the post and entries on my blog. I spent a total of two years of my life in Asia, but there are definitely things I didn’t learn while traveling and living in Asia

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Category: Asia, Laos, Random

Crazy travel stories: How we made it to Don Dhet

Don Dhet sunset

It was a beautiful morning when we woke up on Don Dhet in the 4000 Islands in Laos, so we had high hopes for an easier ride into Cambodia. The infrastructure in Laos and Cambodia isn’t the best, so the better the weather, the better timing you’ll have without any flooding or landslides or any other unwanted mishaps.
It was about 7:15 in the morning when we started to get ourselves packed and ready for the trip ahead. We took a boat from the islands to the mainland, waited there til about 9:45 to get our bus to the Cambodian border.
It took about 20 minutes or so to get there, and I will say, crossing the border by foot is so much less thrilling than landing in a new country. There’s just not the same rush of excitement you get when you’re flying over this new, mysterious land while all the anticipation builds up more and more as you wind your way through the airport until you finally step outside. Instead, you just get off the bus and walk across the border – nothing to it, really, at least in this instance. But, when we did get across, we had to wait for an extra hour or so after realizing that Molly’s backpack, to my fault, was left behind at the bus depot. Oops. Luckily the bus company was able to drive it over, obviously expecting a big reward of 5 USD.
When the backpack finally arrived, we all got onto a bus and started our drive to Siem Reap, Cambodia. What was expected to be about 12 hours with us arriving at around 11 p.m. turned into a 24 hour trip, with us arriving at around 6:30 a.m. the next day.
We started off on a pretty decent bus with an absolutely incredible ride. We passed what were basically floating villages. The rains are so bad from the wet season that these bamboo houses were on stilts and swimming in the floods, but the scenery was just spectacular. There were floating temples and people going around in boats and little kids swimming alongside their houses. The sunset was surreal - the colors were so strong and vivid it was as if the sky was on fire. I just felt so lucky and fortunate, and I wanted to call my dad at that moment and just say thank you.
At around 630 p.m., everyone bound for Siem Reap had to change to a much smaller bus. Aside from having no air con and thus having to drive with the door open, all seemed well at first glance. We seemed to be ‘on time (as much as can be expected in Asia)’, and making good progress toward our goal: arrive in Phonm Pehn for some dinner at around 9 p.m. We ate lunch around 1:30 p.m. and had some snacks to hold us over until we got there.
About an hour and a half into the ride, this smell of burning rubber started to saturate the air in the bus, and slowly it became stronger and stronger. Of course our driver didn’t pulled over or stop to check out what was going on until the smell became so bad that we all had our hands over our mouths to keep ourselves from losing consciousness because of the smell. To do so when the warning signs and the scent first started would make too much sense and be too practical – we are in Asia, remember.
So the bus driver pulls over, and a few of the boys get off the bus to see what’s going on. They come back on laughing and tell us all to get comfortable: The one tire literally melted off, and we had no good spare. You would think that it was early enough to call a backup bus to take us onward, but like I said before, this is Asia. It would make too much sense to do something like that.
Instead, this is what the driver decided to do:
He took off one of good tires on the other side of the bus and move it to the side where the tire had melted. So on one side of the bus we had two tires, on the other side of the bus we had one tire, and to top it off, whatever this solution was that the driver had come up with left us without any functioning brakes. There was also something about the bolts in the tires being strung together with aluminum – didn’t quite follow that one, but it ended up being a huge problem for us. The boys and the driver spent about an hour trying to get the one good tire off to switch to where we had the flat until they realized that they had been making it tighter the whole time and had to start over from the beginning. Ace.
The smell had been so bad on the inside of the bus that all the girls just went and sat on the side of the road right in front of our bus while the boys did the dirty work, and I mean d i r t y. They were sweating and taking off their shirts -no complaints there on my end, and their shorts became various shades of brown from all the mud and dirt. (Whatever it was they were doing also involved three grown men jumping several times on this long silver tool that was sticking out of the wheel.) It took about 2 hours for them to do all this re-arranging, but they finally ‘fixed’ it. We girls were asking questions, as we are all pretty clueless about mechanics, and the boys just told us not to look, not to ask questions and to just get on the bus.
These were the instructions we received from our bus driver: Everyone sit on the left hand side of the bus. This was the first sign that perhaps we were going to have some upcoming technical difficulties.
We started to drive, which was beyond comprehension unsafe, and made it about 50 meters before the bolts came out, the tires fell off and the bus went a little off the charts. It was almost 11 p.m. at this point, and the boys warned us that we had a long night ahead of us.
Of course calling for a back up bus still wasn’t even broached as an option – how could we even think of such an absurd solution to such a simple problem? We tried to come up with our own solution: Hitch hike our way to the next town, which was about 100 kilometers away. First we tried flagging down buses that passed us. Two actually stopped, but for some insane reason our driver screamed at them and would not let them get on the bus.. We aren’t quite sure why he wouldn’t let any other buses take us, as each time we tried he just consistently yelled them off. First sign that we should have picked up on that we were being held hostage.
The boys and the driver got back to work yet again, trying to fiddle with the wheels until they finally gave up and realizing it was a fruitless effort. They decided to join us on the side of the road, blanketed by millions of stars that were spread across the night sky.  There were a good range of us – 2 girls from Germany, we 4 girls from USA, Walter from Holland, 2 kids from the UK, one kid from Italy, 2 older guys from Spain, 2 kids from Japan and 1 kd from Korea – so we figured that if we were going to be stuck sleeping on the side of the road in God-knows-where, Cambodia, we might as well have a little fun. Keep in mind it was around about 10 hours since we had last eaten, none of us had any snacks left and no water. We were eventually given 3 water bottles to share amongst all those people.
So, we broke out a single bottle of wine someone had, the boys gathered some branches, made a fire and we sat around joking about the situation we found ourselves in.
At some point, the bus driver started encircling us in large tree branches, which we thought was his smart and intelligent way of keeping us safe from being run over by cars. I mean obviously tree branches are totally conspicuous in the pitch black, right?
We soon started to think that these branches weren’t a means of protection but instead were a makeshift prison; anytime someone tried to step outside the boundary and flag down a bus, the driver went absolutely nuts. We were trapped.
A few hours later, the driver told us to get on the bus once again. We didn’t ask questions. We just silently all prayed that it would work out. I fell asleep immediately upon sitting down on the seat, only to wake up maybe 30 minutes later to the tires falling off yet again. This time I just fell back asleep, woke up at around 6 a.m. still in the same exact spot where we last lost our tires. You would think I’m joking, but I am totally not kidding you.
We were on this road this little village that rose with the sun, and it was a beautiful sunrise after a long, hot and uncomfortable night. Everyone in the village was out and about – even the babies were up and running around, playing, sitting and staring out at all the foreigners on the side of the road. Everyone had a smile on and seemed so happy (excluded our bus company owners who were inconveniencedat having to spend the night trailing us and sleeping in their merecedes, which at one point we all devised a plan to steal).
Finally, after making us spend the night on the side of the road, the people decided to arrange for us another bus to come and pick us up and take us the remainder of the way to Siem Reap.
When we finally arrived in Siem Reap, we decided to treat ourselves to a good breakfast: a while 3 dollars for iced coffee, eggs and omletes and toast. Cambodian ATM’s actually dispense US dollars, so it makes my stomach hurt when I am fully aware I am breaching my 25 USD a day budget.
But to end my story, after a nice breakfast, Laura, Carel, Molly, Walter and I met up with our friend Philip from Germany, spent the day swimming in a rooftop hotel pool and ordering food that was a bit out of our price range – 4 USD for a sandwich. We figured we deserved to spoil ourselves just a little bit after the night we had.

The start of where it all went wrong….
Surviving roadside
Still didn’t have it quite figured out the next morning
Category: Asia, Laos

Why you should travel to Asia when you’re young

Not now.

This is why you should travel to Asia when you’re young:
After taking some years off our lives in Vang Vieng, my friends and I headed to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I didn’t hear the greatest of things about the capital, and it really didn’t impact anything but my wallet. It was probably the most expensive of places by far. There was no street food, which means we had to resort to eating in restaurants that had 4 walls – that is more often than not beyond a backpacker’s means.
We were getting ready and excited to head to Cambodia, but after finding out that it was around a  37 hour - Lao time - bus ride, we decided to break the trip up by making a stop in 4000 Islands, Laos, which is right by the border with Cambodia.
The only way to get there was by a sleeper bus, because the trip is around like 12 hours or something. Laura, Molly, Carel, Walter and I bought our tickets, got our bags packed and readied ourselves for the trip ahead. I thought I was a sleeper bus pro after taking them in China, but this wasn’t anything like the ones I’ve taken before. My sleeper bus in China was these little, individual boxcar-type beds that were fairly clean and sanitary; this bus was actual beds. You would think that’d make for an enjoyable ride, but it was among the most disgusting sleeping conditions I’ve ever suffered through, including the time I had to share a makeshift bed with two other people in a maids’closet in Langkawi when there were no vacanies on the island.
We had a bed for four people, but Walter crashed with us since he was cozied up next to some random Lao man. The bed was at the back on the top level of this sleeper bus, and the mixture of valium, exhaust fumes and sweltering heat put me fast asleep; however, I did wake up once or twice throughout the night with a throat that was on fire from breathing in all the exhaust.
When we finally arrived at our transit point, we were told that ‘we just missed our bus’ to the dock for the islands, which was about 3 hours away. They’d arrange for us – free of charge – another form of transport: the luxurious songthaew, or basically a very small truck with two benches in the back of it. It’s rickity, raggedy and not at all comfortable, especially when it is packed with locals, but we had no choice. We needed to get to the islands.
I sat beside a young girl who was 20 and an older man who insisted on speaking to me in French, and at one point I think he told me that he had 3 wives and proposed the idea of marriage. Molly had taken out her netbook to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall and shared the 2 inch screen with a Lao woman who pleasantly watched along with her, even though she had no idea what was going on. Thankfully the netbook died before the long sex scene, a situation Molly felt would be entirely too awkward to be a part of.
As we drove through Laos, I was amazed at how these people knew where to get on the songthaew and where to get off. It isn’t like there are street names or designated bus stops or any sort of organization to it all. They just keep their eyes on the road, make their ways to the back and hop off when they approach where ever it is they live. It’s just mind boggling to me.
About 2 hours into the trip, the songthaew slowed down, and I experienced something unlike anything that has ever happened to me before. All these people started charging at us, jumping on to the truck and screaming in Lao while waving skewers of meats through the air. One lady had a whole chicken on skewers, its feet still attached with the claws wrapped around the stick and looking like they had been clinging on for dear life.
I sat in the back of this songthaew totally floored by what was happening, unable to do anything but laugh as I watched my friends try to avoid being hit in their faces by sticks of meat. It was positively insane, and a memory I will never forget as long as I live. If you could see the size of this songthaew, the amount of people that crowded into it with food and the screaming, the pulling out and exchanging of money and the meat being flung to and fro - the only thing you can really think is, “Is this actually happening right now?”
After a while, you kind of just give up, sit back and let things happen. When we were turning down random dirt roads into these weird villages and had no idea of where we were or where we were really going, we just would hope for the best that we would make it to our final destination.
It definitely took some time, and it definitely was no joy ride, but that’s the best thing about traveling: You find yourself in the most uncomfortable of situations that seem like pure misery at the moment, and then the next day you do nothing but laugh about it with your friends.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of why you should travel to Asia when you’re young.

Category: Asia, Cambodia, Laos

Unbelievable beauty driving through Laos

With scenery like this, the misery that ensued from the constant stopping and waiting for the inefficient Asian landslide cleanups wasn’t all too bad.

The laziness continues as we unwind after taking some years off of our lives in Vang Vieng. The battle scars still exist, so I hang my head low as I wait for some clean clothes that will be cover the spray paint across my legs, arms and back.
We are in Vientiane, Laos, now, where the rain has been falling with a vengeance. I am going to keep my fingers crossed that this weather does not last.
Our time in Laos has been quite short. I think we have been here about 2 weeks, but to be honest none of us are ever quite sure what day it is. It is like a game we play every day- “it must be Saturday today because three days ago we ate that that restaurant with the bad sandwiches….I think.”
Despite the minimal time here, Laos will serve as one of my strongest memories. The 9 hour drive we took fro Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng is among the most magnificent visions I’ve ever encountered, and I know I will still be able to feel it and see it 50 years from now when I’m looking back on the incredible things I’ve done with my life.

Category: Asia, Laos

Tubing in Vang Vieng: You won

A day spent tubing in Vang Vieng on the river yesterday resulted in lost sunglasses, a body covered in spray paint, sore legs for unknown reasons, 3 new bracelets and a lazy day today spent watching Modern Family. Tubing in Vang Vieng is brutal, and its the ultimate stereotypical backpacker experience.

Vang Vieng, you won.

Category: Asia, Laos