I wish I still had my pictures from my Indochina trip but I don’t anymore so all the pictures you see on this page aren’t mine but from the Internet. But I can still tell you a bit about my entire trip just in case you are thinking of doing the same one day.
ENTRY POINT: CHIANG MAI
I flew from Singapore into Chiang Mai, then after a couple of days, took another flight to Chiang Rai, entering the sleepy little border town of Chiang Kong by public bus, just so that i could take the sampan across the river to Laos eventually.
CHIANG MAI => CHIANG RAI => LAOS
I loved Laos. Back then in 2006, it was still fairly undeveloped. You would know things started changing once you see the roadsides becoming littered with all the ubiquitous plastic bags for takeaway street food.
Once I got off the ferry, I had to find the public bus that would take me to Luang Namtha. It was a rickety, bone-rattling ride of 15 hours! through the mountains and ravines, going up then down, winding endlessly through the longest bus ride I ever had. And it was magnificent. I never saw mountain life like it was in Laos. First time i my life, too. Unforgettable!
NATIONAL BIODIVERSITY PARKS
Luang Namtha was amazing with all the treks into the national parks. So, i highly recommend the place. As for lodgings, I took a room right at the top of a hostel run by a mainland Chinese lady and her family. She was real nice and when I was sick, down with flu, she actually made porridge for me. Fantastic hospitality. It was the first time I was treated well because I shared the same ethnicity as her – both Asian Chinese. Other times, well, i was a second class citizen especially when i travel amongst a largely Caucasian crowd who backpacks.
I don’t know what’s with their superior attitude but the moment you step into a bus with them in there, straightaway you get these hostile vibes that say you don’t belong, get off. Tolerated yes, but definitely no more than that. And I used to wonder why they treat another fellow traveller who is Asian in that manner? when they themselves are travelling through an Asian country? Hello! Isn’t that entirely hypocritical and totally so unauthentic? Does that mean that deep down they were also looking at the locals down their noses? Condescending, patronising? Sniggering behind their backs?
Sorry, if you are Caucasian and you read this, i sure hope you aren’t one of these types…they leave a really nasty taste in my mouth. If i am ever accused of being anti-white, gee, guess who started it?
LUANG NAMTHA => UDOM XAI => PHONSAVAN
So anyway, I could have stayed in Luang Namtha forever but really, it was winter and way too cold for a tropical Singaporean, so south i went. Took a bus to Udom Xai, then sat on a plank in a public ‘bus’ to Vang Vieng, stopping at Phonsavan along the way.
There’s a place which I got to in the middle of the night and it was pitch dark as the bus let me off. I didn’t know which way to walk next so i headed across the bridge which was what i was standing on. So i walked along it and in the moonlight, made out the most jaw-dropping sight I ever saw in my life, two majestic cliffs rising from a serene moon-bathed river and here i was all by myself walking across this bridge…turned out i was going the right way as i found my digs for the night. A bare minimal joint but i wasn’t intent on staying long. Just a bed and some food was all i needed.
PHONSAVAN => VANG VIENG
My next stop was my favourite in the whole of Laos: Vang Vieng. If you are there, try the caves. i was in one when the headlamp went out on me. Total darkness like no other. Total silence like no other. Once you experience something like that, your fear of the dark disappears forever. And you finally realise what silence truly means. Another awesome experience that i will remember forever.
VANG VIENG => LUANG PRABANG => VIENTIANE
Then on to Luang Prabang, then Vientiane. Just a couple of months back, I stepped into Luang Prabang again just to see how it is now compared to 2006. Gosh, the place has absolutely changed and can’t say it’s for the better. Very, very touristy. I didn’t tarry this time. Flew out as soon as i could.
VIENTIANE TO HO CHI MINH CITY
In Vientiane, I decided that either I head south and then home or i could go east and then enter into Vietnam. I decided to fly into Ho Chi Minh City instead. That’s my story for another page.
Author of text & photos: Catherine Lai