So this happened in April:
And this is the story behind this Facebook post:
Goodbyes in Luang Prabang
After travelling through Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, I went to Laos by boat. Along the way I met some incredible people, with which I had incredible days in Luang Prabang, one of the cities in Laos. I say city, but actually Luang Prabang is smaller than most Dutch towns. The greater part of the Laos population lives in small farm villages.
I said goodbye to the guys and decided to go on by myself. I took a bus to Vang Vieng, in which I was the only foreigner. The trip normally would take approximately seven hours. In contrary to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng grew to become a backpacker paradise. The former jungle village exists for the greater part out of small hostels and restaurants. To put it in other words: it has become touristic as fuck.
Big television screens show endless episodes of Friends and Family Guy, which you would normally enjoy with a ‘happy pizza’ and a Tiger beer. Main ingredient of the pizza: psychedelic mushrooms. Most backpackers plan to stay just a few days. The greater part of them keep hanging around for weeks, discussing life as it is, and how it can be.
I am sure I will write about this magical place in another article, some day. Something in me changed during that bus ride towards Vang Vieng and that’s what this article will be about.
Waterfalls near Luang Prabang, the place of my departure
The bus ride that would change everything
I got up early in the morning.
I had packed my backpacks (I normally travel with two: a small one and a big one) the night before, which was all the preparation I had made for my departure to Vang Vieng. I lifted my large backpack over my shoulder, grabbed the small one and went downstairs to meet up with a tuctuc driver. He would bring me towards the bus station of Luang Prabang. The fresh morning air, was blowing through my hair while I was driving out for a new adventure.
The driver helped me buying the right tickets and off he went, back to Luang Prabang.
I was on my own now.
I put my backpack in the storage room of the bus, and went up to look for a place to sit. For a moment I was looking for fellow travellers, but I couldn’t find one. That was ok, because I needed time to think things over. Public transport is the ideal place to do just that. I seated myself next to a local kid, who barely spoke English. After waiting for another half hour, the bus got full of people and started to make noises: off we went.
Through the mountains, we would ride.
Along the way, I became to love Laos more and more, by just looking out of the window.
As I was getting used to in Asia, the bus was driving way too fast on a narrow road full of potholes. High up in the mountains, where the cliffs were deep enough to make our bus fly for at least two whole minutes before hitting the ground with incredible force.
This style of driving didn’t bother me anymore: if it is time, it is time – there is nothing to do about it. It doesn’t even matter actually. During my travels I partly let go of the fear of dead. Losing that fear is a strange feeling, but it gives you an enormous amount of freedom in return. I was enjoying the view over the mountain greens instead of pissing my pants at every sharp corner.
Laos, you are so beautiful, and you don’t even seem to realize it.
Although I was used to the aggressive driving style of bus drivers in South East Asia, I did not like the fact the bus was speeding up through small mountain villages. These small settlements, were often no bigger than ten to twenty straw-rooftop houses and located directly at the road.
Since dogs, chickens, cows and other farm animals are just walking around freely, they literally had to run for their lives when the bus was coming. Nonetheless, the people didn’t seem to be worried that much about the big noisy busses speeding past their houses.
Small girls were smiling as the bus came by. I saw a kid carrying a bunch of bananas on his head. I saw a girl running with a baby in her hands, while her little brother was hanging on her back. They seemed to be so happy. I saw two small fellows walking hand in hand, chasing a bunch of small pigs – which were running around through the village.
The people had so little, yet their lives seemed to be free of worries.
It made me happy.
This is when I realized it. This is real life. This is real Laos.
I am missing out on all the great stuff.
Fuck backpackers paradise.
I need to get out.
Taking my chances
I frantically started scribbling down the names of the villages I was passing through. As soon as we would get out of the bus for a lunch break, I would get off – I promised myself.
As if the bus driver heard my prayers, twenty minutes later, he would park his bus at a local restaurant alongside the road. I was hungry, but I didn’t want to eat. I was figuring out whether it was a good decision to get off the bus in the middle of nowhere.
I looked down my scribblings: the last village we had passed through was Kasi, and it was quite a walk to get back to that village. Another problem was my cashflow: I only had 20,000 Kips left, which sounds like a lot of money – but it actually is worth 2,50 USD. Even in Laos, it is hard to get a proper meal for that kind of money.
There was no ATM at the restaurant, and for all I knew there wasn’t one either in Kasi. For a slight moment, I doubted to get back to ‘normal mode’. A voice in my head was shouting:
‘Get back into that bus, you wanker’
I realized how easy it would be to just wait until arrival in Vang Vieng – where I would be able to get everything I wanted at the blink of an eye.
I weighted the pros and cons, only to find out it was the most stupid thing to get off the bus.
So I did it anyway.
The place where I got out of the bus
I walked up to one of the bus drivers in the restaurant and told him about my plans to get off the bus. He looked me in the eyes with some disbelief. Did he understand at all what I just had said?
‘I want my backpack. Can you please open the luggage room for me?’
‘No. Cannot.’ the bus driver told me in broken English.
‘I want to get off.’
I felt like a kid trying to convince his mother to allow him to do something totally stupid.
‘Ask him,’ and he pointed at the other bus driver, sitting a few tables further down the left.
Just like when I was a kid, I thought. ‘Go ask your father’.
I went up to the second bus driver and told him the same story.
‘I want my backpack, Sir.’ I insisted.
Sigh. He frowned, got off the table, walked with me to the bus and opened the luggage room. I got both of my backpacks, put one on my back and the other on my chest.
I walked in opposite direction of where the bus was going. Symbolically I ripped my bus ticket into pieces and threw it away. No way back.
There we go.
Angry cows & Mai Thai
I walked right past some farm houses, but other than that, there were not many buildings. After walking for about a half hour, there was still no sign of Kasi. The town might have been further back than I thought. Both of my backpacks started to hurt my sweaty shoulders, so I decided to strip them down on an empty piece of land, near some farm fields.
I took some pictures of the incredible landscape, before I realized I was not alone. A cow was staring at me in curiosity, from under a tree. From the look in his eyes, I made up he didn’t approve my presence.
It literally was ready to kick me off his territory, so I decided to leave. Step by step, never losing sight of the angry cow, I went around the animal, towards the road.
I was on my way again.
Angry cow in attack-mode
A few steps later, I finally found the first sign of the village I had been passing through by bus.
Kasi. 5 KM.
Great. I was going in the right direction.
Somewhere half way that 5 KM, a French guy passed me on his motorcycle, with his backpack on his back. He looked at me, and looked back at the road ahead of him. Then he looked at me again.
Finally he stopped and turned off his engine. He looked me in the eye and stared at my backpack, which was indeed very heavy.
‘You walk?’ he asked me with some disbelief in his eyes.
‘Yes. I walk.’ I answered him smiling.
The French guy nodded.
‘Ok. Fair enough,’ he said, and he got back on his motorcycle.
Off he went.
I would never see him again.
Approximately one kilometer from Kasi, I found a restaurant alongside the road. By this time, I was very hungry and tired of walking fully packed. I didn’t have enough Kips for a proper meal, but at the last moment I realised I still had some ‘back-up Dollars’ somewhere in an envelope.
Behind the kitchen an old local woman was cooking, although there didn’t seem any guests in the restaurant. In the back, an equally old man was watching television – on one of those cubicle televisions with a wooden frame. Chickens were walking around freely in the restaurant.
I walked up to the woman and asked whether they would accept USD’s. They would.
Sweaty and sticky from the dust of the road, I pulled down both of my backpacks and sat down on one of the red plastic chairs. The woman asked me what I wanted to eat.
I told her to make me something with chicken and eggs – not spicy please (not spicy is still considered quite hot back in the Netherlands). As a European, my mouth and stomach were just not trained for the real deal.
While the woman was cooking for me, the old man turned around from his chair in the back, and told me to join him. I picked up my small backpack with all valuables in it, and left my big backpack behind. There was nobody to steal it anyway.
Besides, it was way to heavy to run away with.
I walked up to the guy and greeted him in local language:
The man greeted back and was pointing at the chair next to him. He was not able to speak much of the English language, but pointed at the television. Two Mai Thai fighters were just stepping in the ring.
Ahhhh, sports, the universal language of men all around the world.
The old man started talking to me in Lao, of which I didn’t understand much. From his gestures I could make up his favourite fighter was the guy wearing the blue cloves. He explained me in sign-language that normally the guy in the red gloves would win the fight. However, the much younger guy in blue was having a chance this time.
Although we didn’t have much of a language in common, we started cheering for the same fighter – the underdog wearing the blue gloves. It was a fun experience.
His wife would soon finish my chicken fried rice with an egg, and I started eating – the whole trip had made me hungry. Nevertheless, I was not able to finish the plate she had served me, it must have been enough food to live on for three days.
I shook hands with the man and I gave the woman three dollars for the meal. It was time to move on.
I was almost there.
Finding a bed & a motorcycle
I lifted my backpacks over my shoulder once again, and walked the last kilometer towards Kasi.
I finally had arrived.
I stepped into the first guesthouse I could find, which happened to be the Sokdee Guesthouse. I checked in with some Emergency Dollars out of my envelope, with the promise to get some more later. There was a small local bank in the village, but it was closed on Sundays. Which day it happened to be.
I locked up my heavy backpack in my room, and prepared the small one for discovery.
With renewed energy, I walked up to the host, of which I could borrow a motorcycle. Now there were a few problems here:
- I had no idea how to shift gears on a motorcycle
- The last time I drove one, I had to spend three months on and off the Kuala Lumpur hospital
My eagerness to explore the smaller villages in the mountains, overcame these problems though. I took the motorcycle from my host with a smile and asked her nervously how to change gears.
Now she started to get worried.
I wonder why. A strange white guy with absolutely no money left in his pocket, rents a relatively expensive vehicle without any experience, to take it for a drive through the mountains. What can go wrong with that?
Random vehicle, riding through Kasi
Nonetheless she had faith in me, apparently. She explained how everything worked in broken English – of which I didn’t understand a word. I just kept nodding, and figured out I would make it work along the way.
And I did – slowly. For the first 5 kilometer I was stuck in first gear, which made my motorcycle incredibly slow and noisy. I was completely ok with that, since I still had some fear driving the damn thing.
The last time I drove one, the vehicle didn’t came back in one piece, and neither did I.
As you might have guessed, there are not many hospitals in the mountains of Laos. And if there were, they were probably not open on a Sunday. At that time, I didn’t even think of that actually. I came to explore, and that’s what I would do.
The residents of Kasi, the ones that happened to be alongside the road, were penetrating me with their eyes. It must have been quite a view: a white guy on a motorcycle that didn’t go past 30 km/h, making incredible noise by doing so.
I decided to smile nervously and kept my eyes straight on the road ahead of me.
Reaching the first climb into the mountains, I slowly figured out how to change gears and things went a lot faster from then on. Now roads in Laos are not the same as roads in Western Europe. It’s quite hard to keep on eye out for potholes in the road, and at the same time enjoy the astonishing mountain views.
From time to time, I did get off the motorcycle to take some pictures and enjoy the moment. It would take twenty more kilometers into the mountains, to find the first small village. Women were walking through the farm fields, taking care of the vegetables, working under an astonishing view. Not far from here, mountain peaks were disappearing into the clouds.
Quite an ‘office’ to work in.
It made me reconsider my job for a while, but then again, I like online marketing way more than farming.
I parked my motorcycle on the side of the road, locked it, and went on by foot.
Life in the mountains
Once I started walking through the village, all kinds of magical things happened. Especially the kids, made me feel incredibly happy. Which is weird, because normally I am not that fond of them.
The kids in the village seem to have so little, but they were enjoying life far more than the spoiled kids I have encountered back in Europe.
Now I was probably one of the few white guys who was passing through their village, and I was definitely the only one truly visiting it. Because of this, things were quite tense. People stopped literally doing the things they were doing, to stare at me – without saying a word. I was just as amazed watching them doing their regular stuff, as they were amazed by watching me – doing my regular stuff. Which was travelling at that moment.
After a few intense staring battles, I decided to break the tension by saying:
‘Sabai dee,’ as cheerfully as I could. At that time, this was literally the only word I could speak in Lao.
As soon as they realized I had no harm in mind, they waved back smiling and went on doing the things they were doing.
Especially for the small kids, it seemed quite a weird thing a white guy was walking through their small mountain village. Most of them stared at me intense, some of them had the bravery to even point me out to their friends. For some of them my appearance was even enough to keep them staring at me with open mouth, in disbelief of what they just had witnessed.
This would completely change once I greeted them in the local language with a smile. Normally, they waved back or even started to follow me, telling me all kind of stories in their local language – of which I didn’t understand a word. For some of the kids it was too much: they ran back into their straw roofed houses, back to their parents. One kid even started to cry when I greeted him with a smile.
Who is this weird guy?
Since the majority of the kids were quite interested, I had made quite a lot of friends while crossing the village.
I met a puppy on a leash, who was chasing the chickens that were running around freely. The pup seemed to be quite entertained, the chickens were not.
I joined a few kids in a waterfight.
I saw a man shaving the head of another man alongside the road.
I saw kids climbing the trees, faster than most monkeys.
I played foot volley with a ball made of twines, which is incredibly popular among Laos kids.
See a short video of it on my Youtube channel!
It was an incredible experience, which I will never be able to grasp with words. It gave me a sense of true freedom. The feeling I could do whatever I want, where ever I want, and I didn’t need a guide for it.
I stayed until well past afternoon, before I unlocked my bike and drove back home again.
I wanted to get back before dark, I didn’t have the internet to help me find my way back home this time.
Finding my way back home
Along my descent through the curvy mountain roads, I found a bunch of kids playing football in the fields – a few meters off track. I decided to join them until it was too dark to see. So in the end, I had to go home in the dark anyway.
Since there is not much of a street light in the mountains of Laos, and the headlight of my motorcycle seemed to be broken beyond repair, it took me at least half an hour of driving through the darkness, to find the Sokdee Guesthouse.
Once arrived, the host would make me rice pork with pumpkin. Tomorrow I would visit the bank to settle my debts.
What a day it has been.
A guy transporting bamboo
Kasi, my beautiful Kasi
Kasi itself is nothing special for the regular tourist, but for me it is. It is the first time I got a glimpse of the real adventure, travelling as it is supposed to be. You will never get off the beaten track if you do the things others are doing as well.
Getting off that bus in Laos, was one of the best decisions I made so far.
The next day I would explore some more of the surroundings, before hitchhiking to Vang Vieng in the back of a truck.
These were the moments, why I absolutely love travelling.