Christine Horvat goes backpacking in Laos, seeing what sights this land-locked Southeast Asian country has to offer. Horvat’s experience includes bike riding, kayaking, rock climbing, monks, and even conversational Spanish!
I woke up with the rising sun in my eyes, peeking in through cracks of the window of my overnight train, bound for the Laos border.
I had boarded in Bangkok, Thailand, where I began my Southeast Asia adventure six weeks before. The train ride was beautiful, all lush green landscape, with no roads or buildings to be seen.
This stunning, landlocked country is often overlooked by many travelers, standing in the shadows of its neighboring countries like Thailand or Cambodia. The environment is still very pristine, and outside of town you probably won’t run into any other tourists.
When I arrived in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, I hunted for a hostel on foot; the city center is small, so it wasn’t difficult, even with my huge pack. I paid 40,000 Laos Kips for a clean room with hot water (don’t be fooled, that’s about the price of a Starbucks latte).
That night I saw the most beautiful sunset of my life, all brilliant pinks and oranges on the Mekong River, where fishermen were casting their nets for the final time. It was the first time in my life I’d noticed the sun both rise and set in the same day, and it felt good.
The next day I rented a bicycle and rode to the outskirts of the town, where I came across some temple grounds. I saw saffron-colored monks robes drying between trees in the sun, and ended up having a conversation with one of the monks-in-training.
I asked him why he had decided to become a monk. He told me that many families in Laos are too poor to send their children to school, so they send their sons to monasteries instead, to give them some sort of education.
He was really eager to practice his English with me, and we ended up exchanging email addresses. I still find it amusing to imagine him in his austere robes, typing away in front of a computer screen, avoiding pop-up ads for escorts.
I rode on to find one of the quirkier sights in Vientiane, the Buddha Park. Situated beautifully on the banks of a river, it’s filled with hundreds of statues — an eclectic mix of deities from Buddhism, Hinduism, and many mythical creatures as well.