There’s a certain rhythm to backpacking. You show up in a new country, you don’t know anyone, and while you’re in the capitol city you meet people staying in your hostel or through sightseeing. They start out as strangers and then over the short time you travel together they grow into something so much more. While in Vientiane I met a couple of people in my hostel while drinking around the table. The intense heat of the day was still present despite the fact that the sun had already set. Cool beers down our throats helped to give us a respite as well as provide social lubrication. Seeds were planted in Vientiane that blossomed in Vang Vieng.
I sat on the balcony of my new hostel in Vang Vieng when I heard a familiar voice fill the room. Emmanuel had just come back from caving with another girl that I’d met around the table drinking beers in Vientiane. The intensity of our reunion belied the short time we had known each other. We walked through the small town and had drinks on the Nam Song River. I could see the tiny mountains shrouded behind some mist just beyond the river. While even smaller then Vientiane this town had a much more bustling energy. We ended the night at Tifalcony Pizza relaxing and planning the next day’s adventure.
The two main things to do in Vang Vieng are tubing down the river, which used to be such a debaucherous activity in the late 90’s and early 2000’s that a couple people died, and the blue lagoons. Tubing is presently a much less ratchet activity after numerous bars along the river were closed. Thankfully we voted on the lagoons because I wasn’t sure I could survive tubing even if I was sober. We wandered the town a bit looking for food and when we saw a monk leave an empty restaurant we knew that was the spot. We were justly rewarded when all the dishes they offered were authentic Laotian dishes. A lot of the other restaurants in town served pizza or other western staples which did not interest me at all. I tried the famous Laotian dish laab and it was so delicious. Laab is a minced meat salad topped with fresh herbs and chili’s and if your mouth isn’t watering at the sound of that I can’t help you. The portion size was huge that there was no way I could finish it all. So as we departed to head to the lagoon I took the rest to go, which I would come to regret.
There are three lagoons in Vang Vieng and after seeing all three I was underwhelmed. Some of the lagoons were super tiny and others just weren’t that appealing visually. However my favorite part of the trip came as we were leaving the last lagoon. It started to rain suddenly and we ran to our tuk tuk before we got drenched. The rain stopped just as suddenly as it began and in the distance the light broke through the clouds and illuminated the mountains to beautifully. Just when we thought the scene couldn’t get any more beautiful a rainbow appeared. Our spell was broken as the rain reappeared and we piled into the tuk tuk. On the way back to the town we started singing songs from the top of our lungs.
After Thailand I wasn’t sure I would find another travel crew that I really connected with but that trip back to the city was pure unfiltered joy and connection. The next day we kept it chill before heading off Luang Prabang. All was well until my stomach started to feel uneasy in the evening. I left the bar early to lie down but the laab I had taken to go with no way to refrigerate gave me food poisoning. We had planned to take the earliest bus out that morning but I was in no shape to go anywhere. I told the rest of the crew to go ahead but Emmanuel stayed behind to take a later bus with me. We had only known each other for a couple days but the fact that he offered to stay with me really proved the connection was real.
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