Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng: The Little Bus That Absolutely Could Not

Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng: The Little Bus That Absolutely Could Not

After four days in Luang Prabang, we decided to catch a bus south, to Vang Vieng. An hour of start and stop driving through the mountains later, we sputtered to a halt on the side of the road. A man emerged from a nearby hut to help. Brandishing rain boots, official looking badges, and a machete, he joined our driver to try to figure out what was going on. The driver could speak absolutely no English (and I think he was a man of few words anyways), but it seemed that the box filled with liquid responsible for cooling down the engine was broken. There was a lot of poking and pulling and eventually it was decided that the best course of action was to pour bottles of water into the box, watch the water leak out of the bottom, curse, and then repeat. Every so often the water would explode like a volcano out of the car. We took this as an excellent sign. The man from the hut gave up. We entertained the possibility we’d have to move in with him.  Just when we were about to start fighting over who got the top bunk, three giant Land Rovers full of badass looking Thai guys pulled over! Someone did something right and we were all loaded back into the van. We were off! And then we weren’t. We pulled over and the pour water/watch leak/curse method started up again. We were very alone.  But then the Thai guys appeared again! But then they told us “God will help you.” and they left. Alone again. The driver took out the...
Trekking in Luang Prabang: The Most Fascinating Place I’ve Ever Been

Trekking in Luang Prabang: The Most Fascinating Place I’ve Ever Been

“Will there be chicken for dinner?,” one person asked. “No,” our guide replied. “Chickens are very hard to catch.” With those words of wisdom, I thought our village home stay was off to a great start. The city of Luang Prabang serves as a great jumping off point for trekking to remote villages in the region – repeated every brochure, travel guide, or blog that we read. Because we were in fact in Luang Prabang, and because trekking (not hiking) to somewhere remote (not just far) sounded fairly badass we decided to give it a try. Early the next morning, we met our guide (and a French couple also trekking with us) to take a truck to the beginning of the trail. We’d hike for 12km and then spend the night at a village. Our guide had grown up in the mountains before his family moved into Luang Prabang. This was great because he was able to provide us with real insight into the everyday lives of the people we were passing. This was terrible because he clearly felt comfortable doing the kilometers of uphill climbs at a jog. We huffed and puffed through villages and spectacular views that changed faster than I could take pictures. Yellow rice fields ended abruptly at steep mountain passes. Dense, steamy jungle prickled our skin with sweat before releasing us into an open valley surrounded by jagged karst formations. I had no idea Laos was so beautiful. I could hardly keep up with the scenery (or our guide). We took a brief break for lunch in a tiny village with only six families...
Learning to Drive a Scooter in Laos might be a Terrible Idea

Learning to Drive a Scooter in Laos might be a Terrible Idea

Over the course of our trip, Jessica and I had a lot of conversations about learning to ride a scooter – the far and above preferred mode of transportation in SE Asia. Without knowing how to drive one, we were stuck with the super touristy bus routes or having to haggle with a tuk-tuk driver. Our conversations usually went something like this: “Hey Jessica, we should learn how to ride a scooter today.” “Definitely. We should go rent one.” “Definitely.” And then we go buy a ticket for the bus because neither of us can actually work up the nerve. On our second day in Luang Prabang, the 22-year-old guys working at our hotel overheard our usual conversation about maybe renting a scooter to go the Kuang Si Waterfalls. Without missing a beat, they reassured us that this was both a great idea and incredibly easy. They even offered to give us a lesson and call the rental company. Maybe it was our sense of pride – or the fact that they were already dialing – but we finally decided to give it a try. In less than ten minutes, a giant red scooter was waiting for us in the driveway of the hotel. I handed over my passport and signed away my right to everything should anything go wrong. Because I had four minutes more scooter experience (a very brief one-road lesson in San Francisco) compared to Jessica’s zero, we decided that I would drive. The guys’ “lesson” consisted of them telling me how to turn it on, watching me go up and down the driveway, and then...
Taking the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang: Don’t Worry, Be Happy, It’s Great

Taking the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang: Don’t Worry, Be Happy, It’s Great

The Internet has done some of its best fear mongering when it comes to taking a boat to Luang Prabang in Laos. If you choose the fast boat – which only takes six hours – you travel at such high speeds you will most certainly crash and die. If you choose the slow boat – which takes 14 hours, over two days – there are so many people you will be crammed into the engine room, with noise so loud and exhaust so intense you’ll wish you’d taken the fast boat and crashed and died. Given those choices, Jessica and I decided to go with the slow boat and arrive at the port extremely early to secure a less noisy/exhaust-y seat toward the front. The boat was supposed to leave at 11:30am, so we thought arriving at 9am would put us well enough in front of the hordes of people all also trying to avoid the back of the boat. That morning we mournfully left our amazing home stay, and made our way down to buy tickets from one of the many tour companies lining the street. We handed over our money and the woman handed us a dodgy piece of paper where she’d written TWO TICKETS FOR BOAT. This seemed very legitimate. She told us to come back at 9:30am – no earlier- and a tuk tuk would take us to the other port across town. 9:30 came. 9:30 left. I started pacing around, alternating between checking the street for the tuk tuk and staring dubiously at my handwritten ticket. By 9:45 I was beside myself, imagining all...
Crossing the Border to Laos: The Best Guesthouse in Huay Xai

Crossing the Border to Laos: The Best Guesthouse in Huay Xai

After two months in Thailand, my visa was about to run out and it seemed time to pry myself away from the food stands in search of new experiences. With a few coconut milk rotee shoved in my pocket, I decided to tag along with my friend Jessica to the city of Luang Prabang in Laos While it is possible to get to Luang Prabang by plane (expensively) or bus (close to 20 hours), we thought that a boat ride through the jungles of the country definitely had the most appeal. There are dozens of companies offering packaged bus-boat-hotel deals from Chiang Mai. But that is for weenies and old people, so we decided to figure it out on our own. We headed to the bus station at 6am to buy tickets to the Thai border city Chiang Khong. Unfortunately, there were only two tickets left on the VIP bus, in the first class section. This effectively doubled the price of what we thought we would pay. But we went ahead and bit the bullet, reclined our giant padded seats, ate our free snacks, and took the next six hours to enjoy the consequences of poor planning. Six hours later, the bus dropped us off on the side of the road. We followed signs down to the river and took a short boat ride to the city of Huay Xai in Laos, where we would stay for the night before heading to Luang Prabang. In the spirit of adventure (and trying let go of some of my totally neurotic planning habits), we hadn’t booked any hotels in advance. We...