Why Vientiane Laos is Worth a Second Chance
We’ve all probably traveled to a place and thought “this isn’t for me”. I’ve had this experience, and even almost missed out on incredible places by listening to others’ opinions too much. There’s one place that, if I hadn’t given it a second chance, I can’t imagine what my life would be like today: Vientiane, Laos.
I arrived in Vientiane at 6am on a Friday, and waited until 9am for the city to get going. But, I then quickly decided to leave on the next bus to Luang Prabang, in northern Laos. I had been on a 36-hour bus journey from Vietnam on a visa run, and decided to skip Vientiane and take another 12-hour journey. I wasn’t interested in Vientiane. I felt no connection. It was dusty, appeared to be boring, and lacked the Buddhist culture that I had hoped for.
I only had two weeks to explore Laos (the time it would take to process my business visa), and then I had to go back to Vietnam and resume my English teaching job. I was thrilled when I arrived in Luang Prabang, as it’s full of beautiful Buddhist temples and monks, and is a quiet city full of culture, food, and beauty. It was so much more than I imagined.
We spent the summer together on an incredible eco-resort surrounded by beauty, culture, local life, creative inspiration, and love. My new environment was supporting me in so many ways, and I was inspired day in and day out.
I spent a few days there and explored the northern territories, then I had to make my way back to Vientiane. When I went to buy my bus ticket, the salesperson said “Where you go? Vang Vieng?” I had heard horror stories about this place because of its Western party scene, which was offensive to the locals. But, I had also heard that it was the outdoor capital of Laos. I have two degrees in Outdoor Education, so when he asked if I was going to Vang Vieng I thought yes, why not?
I arrived in the middle of the night, around 2 am, and I was the only person who got off the bus in the middle of nowhere. I almost got back on the bus as I was scared, but as I was walking back toward the bus, three fun-loving Japanese guys got off a different bus. I stayed and joined them to find a place to stay for the night. In the morning, I followed my instincts and found a sweet little bungalow on the other side of the river: absolute bliss.
My time in Vang Vieng changed my life. I met a new best friend, and made another friend who would soon become my partner. A series of serendipitous events occurred. The three of us travelled together for two weeks, until I had to go back to Vietnam. My business visa application was denied, as the school I was working for was being dishonest. I thought it was a sign that maybe I should stay in Laos. I wanted to, but I decided to go back to Vietnam to close out my contract with the school, pack up my apartment, and say my goodbyes.
I lived in a beautiful traditional-style house with a new friend and kindred spirit. Everything came together with such ease and support from my community and loved ones.
I bought a tourist visa to get from Luang Prabang back into Vietnam and took another 36-hour sleeper bus to Vietnam. As I was preparing to move to Laos, the inspiration I felt from my time there had a powerful effect on me. I was writing everyday and had work published for the first time.
I was in love with Laos from the moment I crossed the border. It was fascinating. And, I appeared to also be in love with a person. Within two months I was back in Laos. I joined my partner-to-be, who was working outside Vang Vieng. We spent the summer together on an incredible eco-resort surrounded by beauty, culture, local life, creative inspiration, and love, all while learning a new language. My new environment was supporting me in so many ways, and I was inspired day in and day out.
This beautiful time came to an end and I needed to find a job. I found one in Vientiane. I lived in a beautiful traditional-style house with a new friend and kindred spirit. Everything came together with such ease and support from my community and loved ones.
I spent a year in Laos, learning about Buddhist philosophy with monks, I taught English, ran yoga programs in the city and the eco-resort, and documented culture through photography and writing. I spent my free time traveling by motorbike to nearby villages, into the mountains, and I fully immersed myself in Laos. I became closely involved with my community and made local friends and met expats, spoke Laotian and French, and had my first photography exhibition.
This time in Laos and Vientiane is the most special travel experience I have had thus far, and my Laotian family and the country will always have a special place in my heart. I’ll be forever grateful that I gave this city a second chance.