Laos Astray

We came to Laos with the best intentions. We meant to explore the countryside a bit, to stray from the well-beaten roads of Thailand and unto the dirt roads of an emerging country.

Maybe the lure of French food and coffee was too great; or perhaps we were just tired from three months on the road. Either way, our adventures ground to a halt for a few weeks.

Travel Fatigue

We were travel fatigued. I’ve lived abroad a long time before – three years in Shanghai, to be exact – but the rigors of long-term travel are still new to me. In Shanghai, I had an apartment, a steady job, and a growing circle of friends. These things go a long way towards helping you relax, even in the midst of culture shock.

But on the road, carrying your house on your back, and frequently running into shoddy guesthouses or unexpected difficulties, you don’t often have the luxury to let your guard down. And if you’re traveling in a pair, there are days when you crave the company of someone who hasn’t heard your stories a thousand times before.

And so, you retreat into the familiar. You no longer have the strength to sit at a street stall and point at the other tables. You waste your days in air-conditioned cafés, surfing the net.

It’s not to say we didn’t enjoy Vientiane. We walked around a great deal, and thanks to the friendly owner at Banlao restaurant, we found some culinary gems in the Lao-only portion of their menu. Near the Thai consulate, we enjoyed Laos’ take on the Vietnamese phở, and fell in love with Makphet, a restaurant staffed by ex-street kids, and whose profits go to help those still out there.

After two misses, our guesthouse, the Souphaphone, was a fantastic place to crash and relax. The staff is super-friendly and helpful, the rooms impeccably clean and tastefully decorated. In fact, if you’re in Vientiane and the place is in your budget, you could do much worse than give them your business.

Back on the Road

And one day, we picked up our courage and hit the road again.

Sitting in the mall next to the bus station, I was already dreaming of our next adventures: first the Thai province of Isaan, still firmly off the beaten path. Then, a stop in Bangkok for visa applications, and off to India we go.

It’s not you, Laos; it’s me. I needed a break from permanent travel, and your tranquil capital obliged. I hope one day I can explore the rest of the countryside.

But first, Isaan awaits.

Where to Go

When we first stumbled upon Makphet, they sounded too good to be true. Fortunately, they’re the real deal: founded by Friends International, the restaurant serves as a training ground for street children who learn valuable skills to help them escape poverty. Plus, the food is an amazing, fresh take on traditional Lao dishes. What’s not to like? They’re located on Thanon Setthathirat.

Banlao Restaurant is a small, open-air terrace  with the requisite foreign food, but a surprising Lao-only page at the back featuring fantastically spicy local specialties. My pick: the Luang Prabang pork sausage, served with raw garlic. They’re on rue François Ngin.

Souphaphone Guesthouse opened in late 2008, and still hasn’t made it into guidebooks. It’s one of the cleanest, nicest places I’ve stayed in, and the staff is absolutely wonderful. They’re on Thanon Setthathirat, near François Ngin.

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

6 comments

  1. Nice post again, hope you’re both re-invigorated for the ongoing trip. The Luang Prabang sausage looks amazing. Enjoy Isaan – it’s the best part of Thailand, but remember Isaan is the name of the group of provinces in the north east, and not a province in itself.

    If you come across it on your journey, give plaa som (sour fish) a try. It’s a fish you only come across in parts of Isaan, and is very famous in some parts.

    Have fun. 🙂

  2. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from travel. It can be extremely tiring when you’re on the move all the time.

    I got so tired I could not remember what country I was in the night before when I got to Customs at Heathrow. I knew then it was time to take a break.

  3. Andy: Thanks for the kind words, and the recommandation. We’re now in Bangkok, after an amazing 2 weeks in Isaan. (Yeah, this post is a bit on the late side, sorry!) I can say we got our travel spirits back alright. Isaan was fantastic, and I’ll blog about it shortly. And I’m getting really pumped up about India soon.

    Brian: Haha, that’s a fantastic story. I’ll keep an eye out for that sign. 🙂

  4. I know *exactly* what you mean. After 4 months on the road ourselves, we decided that rather than try to tackle the unfamiliarity and uncertainty of a side-trip to Greece, we would just stay in Israel for the whole month and enjoy it here. But our arrival here is complicated by British Airways having lost our bags — most of our time in our London stopover and on our first day here was spent buying clothes and toiletries. It doesn’t really help the travel fatigue.

    What *does* help is being able to crash at my aunt and uncle’s house outside Tel Aviv, especially since they have wi-fi and we can catch up on all things internet! 🙂

    Enjoy the next stage of your journey!

  5. We spent around two weeks in Laos. First for NYE in Luang Prabang, then for goofy fun in Vang Vieng, and lastly, waiting out a long weekend for our visas in Vientiane. Of all the places we saw, Vientiane was the weakest… We saw all the sights and visited all the markets (even the Beer Lao brewery!), and really, we were bored! Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng really had a lot more to offer.
    I think of Laos not so much as a “destination” destination, but more as a chillout spot. When we return to SEA, we’ll be keeping Laos in our back pocket as an inbetweener breather break. We missed Don Det (4,000 Islands) almost on purpose this time around, so we can save it for the next go-around. Laos is super chilled out, with friendly people and absurdly gorgeous and serene natural wonders. I’ve never been to a less “built up” place!

    But more in response to your experiences… we had the same thing happen to us in Malaysia. We were just on a travel low and we never even gave our destinations (KL and Penang) a chance. In retrospect, it was a great idea just to ditch out and leave, it gave us a fresh start, but we do feel sad that we never took a good look at Malaysia. Maybe someday…

    Glad you beat the fatigue!!

  6. Hi Eva & Jeremy,

    Thanks for the info on Laos. You’re making me want to visit it again, this time for real. 🙂 I liked Vientiane, but I’m under no delusion that I saw even an inch of Laos’ natural beauty… Ah well, always somewhere to go back to, as you judiciously point out. 🙂

    Thinking back, Laos was a good place to just wind down for a while. I’m glad we did it there. I feel so full of energy and wanderlust now that we’re India, and I’m sure Laos played a part in rekindling that!

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