18 Days in Laos... Eight Years Ago

It was an impromptu decision in December 2009. I travelled with my university classmate in Laos for a total of 18 days. It was my very first backpacking trip. The decision was quite a spontaneous one as I replied to a shout-out message on our class group chat. I didn’t know what to expect, so I just got a couple of clothes, zip-lock bag, insect repellent and backpack bag – similar to those I used in the army.

Local kids then, teenagers now - 8 Years Since my Trip to Laos

Local kids then, teenagers now - 8 Years Since my Trip to Laos

An unplanned trip for me had turned out to be a life-changing one. It was my first backpacking trip but definitely not the last.

Nailing Cheap Flights to Laos

The flight tickets were extremely cheap at SGD 28 from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (KL), and another SGD 110 from KL to Vientiane, capital city of Laos. But the catch was that we had to stay at KL budget airport for a night. Putting situation worst, the airport would shut down after mid-night, so we were forced to spend a few hours sleeping at the corridor of the airport besides all the luggage trolleys. Luckily, I wore a pair of comfortable long pants to fence off the mosquito bites.

The journey had started off very “Garang” – an army or Malay term for courageous and foolhardy. I’d say 'Garang' was a underestimated expression for the trip.

Really, Really Cheap Accommodation in Vientiane

We arrived early in Vientiane airport next morning with our aching back. After a good rest at a SGD 2 backpacker hostel, we headed out to explore the streets and what Laos had to offer for breakfast. Also, we did our religious duty by visiting a number of stupas.

One of the many Stupas in Vientiane

One of the many Stupas in Vientiane

We also tried Laos spring rolls – like the Vietnamese spring rolls. The local had the saying “same same but different”. I could relate to it more with this dish. It was fresh and fragrant with many fried onions.

We also tried Laos spring rolls – like the Vietnamese spring rolls. The local had the saying “same same but different”. I could relate to it more with this dish. It was fresh and fragrant with many fried onions.

Without Google map and internet network, we had to rely heavily on LonelyPlanet and RoughGuide to move around. Next, we went off-track and explored many un-touristy places. Scaling the challenge, we decided to travel to a remote island in the middle of a reservoir to spend a couple of nights. The only way to the island was by a small run-down motor sampan. Without the life jackets or any other safety measures, the boat ride felt like forever. I was blessed to arrive on the island safely.

My Boat Ride 

My Boat Ride 

On the island, there wasn’t any electricity supply, so we had to survive using the traditional ways by using candles or torches. The owner (a.k.a chef, farmer, waiter, and housekeeper) of the “haunted hotel” – the only hotel on the island, would prepare meals for us and it would usually be delayed for 3 to 4 hours from our meal time. With unlimited leisure time, playing card games became the only source of entertainment for us.

Make Do with what we had: a candle

Make Do with what we had: a candle

On afternoon, we chanced upon a bomb left behind during the Vietnam war, while circling the remote island.

On afternoon, we chanced upon a bomb left behind during the Vietnam war, while circling the remote island.

And of course, we travelled up north to the “clubbing paradise” – Vang Viang. Backpackers named it a clubbing paradise as its alcoholic drinks were as cheap as water. Backpackers like us would drink and party all night here. In Vang Viang, it seems like there was no difference between day and night, weekdays and weekends.

Vang Viang: Clubbing Paradise (note: 8 years ago)

Vang Viang: Clubbing Paradise (note: 8 years ago)

To add on to the madness, locals had built many unsafe cable activities such as 'flying fox'. These activities provided an extra adrenaline rush to all the drunk and young adventurous backpackers. And, I had my fair share too. I’m not sure where I got my courage from, I jumped off the 2-storey high stilt platform after a couple of Tequila shots into the deep Mekong river. Yes, I survived. But, I also heard many stories of drunkards who drown and died in the river.

the life or death flying experience

the life or death flying experience

With many leftover days, we visited many gorgeous waterfalls and did cave-tubing. They were dangerous but the social pressure and the man thing, we did all of them.

With many leftover days, we visited many gorgeous waterfalls and did cave-tubing. They were dangerous but the social pressure and the man thing, we did all of them.

About the author

I'm Jim, an avid traveller who had travelled to more than 30 countries, 60 cities across 5 continents in the past 12 years. Travelling has always been a soul-enriching journey for me as I learn to embrace different cultures, meet great people and survive in a lean-way.