Vang Vieng, a small town on the way between Vientiane and Luang Prabang which has radically changed since 10 years ago when it was a peaceful place of idyllic landscapes and become later a town of drugs and alcohol with no control at all. That finished when 2 years ago the police closed dozens of bars. Now the landscapes are the same, but monetized to the point of exaggeration, and the young and festive atmosphere of backpackers is more moderated but intense though (similar to Pai in Thailand). By the way, in Laos there is curfew at 23:30 for all the business (although some of them bribe the police to avoid it).
That is the atmosphere where I’d change the way that I think about my trip.
I was frustrated for days in this small town mulling over the same thought: I was traveling a lot, meeting a lot of backpackers and new people on the way, yes, but I wasn’t able to get lost, to connect with the local people. One of the motivations of my trip was precisely that, to interact with the locals, to live like them, to integrate into their culture. I hitchhike, what makes interaction easier, but I was still traveling from town to town, always looking for the cheapest guest-houses. So in the end I was always with other travelers.
Lao people weren’t helpful and neither was the volunteering job I just started, the first one I ever did. I expected not only to reduce my expenses but also to be involved with locals. I got it thanks to a very interesting Belgium dude (Erik) who had been years moving around Laos farming and gardening. I met him in a bus which gave me a free ride while hitchhiking ( ) and I happened to meet him again in Vang Vieng. The job was gardening in a resort manged by a Singaporean man. Everything was fine with gardening but then he tried somehow to “buy me” to create and manage a travel agency for him. The conditions were not very clear and I was not comfortable with the situation. At the same time a French man moving around like the Belgium one tried to convince me for his own volunteering project. Both projects meant to settle in Laos for a while and, as I already said, I didn’t like to much the country so I finally rejected them.
Happily I happened to meet Fabricio, a Costa Rican brother who I briefly met in Vientiane. I moved to the guest-house where he was hosted and made very good friendship. He talked me about the life, about the people, about the love to the World as it is. He showed me the way to learn how to enjoy every moment of the life and I started to appreciate every second, to not waste any instant with insecurities or frustrations. I’m still learning, still over-thinking, but thanks to him I let the things go with the circumstances, relax and get closer to the other travelers.
That way I met Anya, a Russian girl who was traveling alone around Laos and now we still keep a good relationship; and Liam, a funny Irish who met Anya doing tubing in Vang Vieng; and Elena, an Italian hitchhiker who fortunately is still alive after the Nepal’s earthquake; and crazy Casey, a Malaysian guy settled in Australia who is as hornball as me; and the Finnish Heini and Sanni; and an American chiropractic who couldn’t go back to USA because he didn’t pay his debts; and the American guy with serial-raper face; and, and, and…
So I found out this way that the World is full of interesting people, locals or not; that just some minutes of conversation with a person who maybe one doesn’t see again anymore can give us a very different life’s point of view; that a smile, a “hello, how are you? come to talk with us!” is the incentive that a strange can need to get closer and meet you; that if one spreads positivism, gets positivism; that the life is not for taking it very serious, but for enjoying it.
Therefore, after moving to the guest-house I enjoyed the people and the atmosphere as never did before. The top moment was the last day of the year. In the morning, forgetting for a while about my tight budget, I was doing tubing with an Israeli guy. The only shoes I had, got wet doing it, so during the whole New Year’s Eve I was bare-feet from bar to bar and from party to party, almost always accompanied by Fabricio, Elena and the three Germans I met in Vientiane (Christoph, Sophie and Vanessa), who I met again in Vang Vieng.
I let you here some images of Vang Vieng and its amazing landscape: