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Two sides of utopia

Come with me on the bumpy trek to the magnificent Laos and let me show you why this humble paradise is worth the trip.

down to the next bar, fuzzy with the first stirrings of alcohol I let the tide carry me. Grabbing the rope the ‘Laos’ rep threw me I hoisted myself onto the decking. Downing another mojito (choice made on price not taste), I stepped up the prongs of the wooden ladder to the sounds of cheering and clapping. After getting to the top my stomach flipped with anticipation. ‘Come on, after you’ve done it once, you won’t stop’, encouraged a fellow traveller. I wrapped my pruned fingers around the handle and let myself drop. The wind pulled my hair back and as I hit the tip of the swing and let myself drop, hitting the river with a sense of pride.

“You need your red band first-timer”

By Jade Harding

Vang Vieng


weat dripped off my sunburnt brow as the minivan careered around the winding bends of the mountain trek. My eyes squinted in suspense as my belly rolled over once more. ‘How much longer’, I asked my new adopted friends. ‘ummmm’, was all I got back in chorus.

In the five hours of driving I managed to get to know these six excitable tourists, lucky for me, the only independent traveller there and in need of a few roommates. The driver was overly quiet just huffing randomly and he didn’t break his silence as we veered into the rubble car park in a deserted concrete jungle. My initial disappointment lifted when we finally jolted into Vang Vieng an hour later after a lot of heaving and struggling with my deceivingly heavy rucksack being squeezed onto the Tuk Tuk. Music blared out of the dozens of luxurious but extremely cheap hotels with hundreds of travellers from every nationality dancing past the ‘friends’ bars. I immediately felt this surge of eagerness. Now where was this River? I slipped on my worn bikini knowing the day of ‘tubing’ could be messy and set off alone. The beat of the music echoed through the trees like a samba band ritual as I got closer. I was met with the image of lots of half-naked nomads,

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holding buckets of alcohol, wrapped in red initiation bands, gyrating and flinging themselves into the river off homemade zip wires. I couldn’t wait to get involved. I scuffled down the mole hill leading me to the first bar, and was grabbed by two English boys. ‘Here you go darling, you need your red band, first-timer’ one shouted as they began tying a red piece of cotton around my upper arm. The energy buzzed busily around my body as I began to sip my first ‘bucket’ of a rather questionable mojito cocktail. I made new friends easily as the atmosphere smiled at everyone. Plucking up the courage I jumped into the river to head

Floating past the cheers I pulled myself onto a different type of bar this time. Everyone was caked in mud screaming as they darted to hit the volleyball. I immediately picked a team and smothered mud on my cheeks. Within minutes I was dripping with sludge, but my team had won. My day continued with lots more bars, cheap mojitos, loud music, river floating and new friends. The next stop was the shower and a risky game of fire limbo. I couldn’t wait to get my second red band.

Luang Perbang


abai dee’, was the words that echoed in my ears throughout my journey to the exotic Luang Perbang. Small Asian ladies smiled as they led me through to my small but lavish wooden room. I switched on the shower to wash away the dirt of two days of travel. I was getting used to the bathroom doubling as a

wet room after 8 months of exploring but I still chuckled at the novelty. Within minutes I had a fresh linen dress on and I was skipping through the town. Tiny children giggled as they plodded past me with large bags of rubbish strapped to their backs. Small markets sat at each corner giving off the aromatic bouquet of fresh chillies and coconut rice. Mountains surrounded me towering over the river that ran along the town and chickens squawked at the men building wooden huts. The culture engulfed me, but I was shook out of it when a group of kids ran at me jumping to touch my blonde hair to see if it was real. I entertained them allowing them to grope my head for five minutes before setting off in search of more Laos experiences. I entered a food market that seemed to appear from nowhere. As I strolled down the narrow walkway I was forced to squeeze past a topless monk as he ringed out his tunic. The sun shone on my back comfortably as I sat at a table to enjoy the sights. I was interrupted by a chirpy local man. ‘You like elephants? You must like elephants, everyone loves elephants’, he shouted excitedly. ‘Ah yes, yes they are beautiful’, I agreed awkwardly. ‘Well you come with me later, I will show you Sanya’, he replied. I assumed this was his elephant and I nodded. I met Nok at the same spot a few hours later. After finding out that Nok meant ‘bird’ his easy grace seemed fitting. We arrived at the edge of the jungle an hour later and the sight of the beautiful Sanya left me in awe. Her ears flapped away the flys as she plodded elegantly (if that’s possible) towards me making me a little nervous. Nok ran to her tossing himself around her neck and gleaming with pride. ‘Don’t worry lady, Sanya likes people’. After staring at her magnificence for a while, Nok led me up some wooden steps and directed me onto a bench like seat on Sanya’s back. The height was unnerving but her | 13

trunk comforted me blowing hot hair at my leg. Nok led us through the lush green jungle, smashing through bushes and finding treats to give his friend. The whole situation was overwhelming and gave me a mix of happiness, gratitude and in some ways sadness for this animal. I was knocked out of my dreamy euphoria as Sanya picked up speed, and Nok undone my rope seatbelt pushing me towards her neck. I edged forward timidly, squeezing my bare feet around her body and gripping behind her ears and she began to run. The sun was shining, the jungle was dense, and the smellssensual but nothing mattered because I was riding an elephant in paradise.

Travel information Flights - You will have to fly into Bangkok. Prices varys throughout the year. To fly to Bangkok from London will cost you on average ÂŁ650.00. Once you arrive in Thailand all further travel can be booked. Ensure that you book your travel with at least a day to spare as the coaches and boats can be booked up for other travellers. Boats- There are several crossings to Laos from Thailand over the Mekong river. Flights- You can fly from Bangkok to Vientienne or Luang Perbang on a small airline. To get to Vang Vieng you will have to travel via mini bus. Visas- You will have to purchase a visa on arrival which costs around 1,500.00 Thai Baht. Ensure you get a stamp as without one you can be arrested. General Travel- While travelling in Laos be aware that roads are in poor condition therefore avoid night time drives. Accomodation- There will be a number of hotels offering deals to you. However ensure that you feel safe there, you have keys that work and preferably a safe in your room. Top Tip- Get travel insurance and have fun!

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