Off the Beaten Path: Vang Vieng

After spending the day in the capitol city of Vientiane. We boarded a bus and prepared for out 4 hour ride to the tourist destination of Vang Vieng.

Lao lacks developed and well paved roads so pot holes and random gravel spots were plentiful. Naturally this made sleeping, reading, or anything else pretty difficult.

Our bus got in to town late at night and I was absolutely starving.

Enter: the most amazing sandwich of my life.

Looks pretty basic I know.

Trust me, it’s mind blowing.

And the best part is, you can buy it off the street from a little man with a cart at all hours of the night. The joys of a country with no health and food service code.

The weather in Vang Vieng was drizzly and cloudy most days, which was kind of unfortunate, but we made out all right none the less.

As much as we knew we came to Vang Vieng for touristy reasons we couldn’t help but want to get off the beaten path a bit. So we rented a motor bike and hightailed it to a local market.

Markets in Lao are set up in large open space like this. People are free to bring what they have to sell. Some bring vegetables and fruit, others cook and prepare food right there.

I’ve traveled enough that I’ve come accustomed to the fact that what people consider not edible isn’t the same for everyone. At first it turns your guts a little to see people eating bugs, frogs, and other random organs of animals. However, scrunching your face up and acting like your going to barf is incredibly rude to their culture and way of life. I am a guest in their country, regardless of the norms back in my own country. As Anthony Bourdain once said, “when in doubt, do as the locals do”.

The main streets of Vang Vieng are small but still lined with guest houses, restaurants, and bars catering to tourists who have come to do the ever so popular task of tubing the river. However, once you get past that crowded tourist area, most of Laos looks like this:

This is the main street of a small village we stumbled upon on the motor bike we rented for the day. As you can see, there are a few random stable buildings with small little metal huts formed around them.

Usually an entire family will live in one of these huts. They are small crowded and have dirt floors.

We stopped in this village because it happen to be right on the coast of a beautiful little river, which means it had quite the expansive fish market.
The truth is, Laos is beautiful.

It’s simple, and it’s easy.

Life just kind of “is” here.

People don’t have much, but they work hard for what they do have and their thankful for what that hard work brings.

I remember sitting on this ledge over looking this lake, just pondering how many people relied on this one small lake for so much; for food, water, and income. I couldn’t help but feel out of place yet feel like everything had been put in perspective perfectly for me.

Back home we think of lakes as fun, pretty, recreational things. We complain when the water is to cold, are unsatisfied if it’s littered with algae and are thoroughly pissed when there are many other people occupying its space at the same time that we want to occupy it.

Subtract the touristy bars and guesthouses of the Vang Vieng and this is what you’ll find. This is the real Laos. It doesn’t look like much, I felt the same way when I first rolled into to town, but have the courage to look a little farther, dig a little deeper, and trust me, you’ll find more here. The people, the landscape, the way of life. Everyones trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got, and believe me, what they’ve got isn’t much, but somehow they always make it seem like it’s enough.

Have you ever gone “off the beaten path” in a tourist destination and been pleasantly surprised?

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