I find myself terribly behind again, and my excuse is as such: I have spent the last 2 months focusing on being, rather than forcing myself to do what I “feel I should be doing”, i.e., blogging. This ended up being a really great exercise for my consciousness and general well-being, but I have come to the point now where I would like to continue to share my experiences with you. So, onward, with a quick piece about my a month spent between three countries, that I wrote at the end of November:
The traveller’s dilemma is one that I am getting to know all too well: do I stay here, in this really cool country/city/town longer (which would be so fun and awesome!), or do I move on to the next place (which I am also super excited about!!)?
Anyone who has been on any kind of trip knows the feeling of giddiness that comes right before you leave, and I’m happy to report that after almost 3 months of backpacking, that still hasn’t gone away. There is an excitement that comes with moving on to a new country, despite how much you are loving your time in your present location.
After spending quite a bit longer in Vietnam than originally planned (3.5 weeks instead of 2), we were finally ready to move on to Laos. I could have spent 2 more months in Vietnam, but at that point was getting so excited about the promised super-chill vibes of Laos that boarding the plane from Hanoi to Luang Prabang wasn’t too difficult.
Hanoi is a really cool city. It is the biggest city in Vietnam, with a population of an impressive 7.6 million. It has a great old quarter packed with barbeque restaurants, bars, tattoo shops, and live music on the streets. Arguably my favourite part of the city is Hoan Kiem Lake, which is in the historical center of Hanoi. In the early morning, you will find the ring-road around the lake closed off to traffic and packed with the locals running, walking and exercising on the park’s gym equipment. At night, the road shuts down again and the surrounding park fills up with what seem like spontaneous groups of salsa-dancing middle-agers and young people snacking on the sidelines. If you have ever been to Hanoi, you will probably anticipate my grudge against the city, which is the noise. It is so loud. If there aren’t a thousand and one motorbike horns honking, then you will surely be hearing construction, Vietnamese men yelling at God-knows-what, or street karaoke (which plays at unfathomable decibels at all ungodly hours of the day).
So after a few days in charming but chaotic Hanoi, we boarded the clean, quiet airplane, and took off to Luang Prabang. As we flew over the stunning and seemingly endless mountain-scape of northern Laos, I felt a sense of calm come over me. After a short 45 minutes, we landed at the teeniest international airport I have ever visited, and entered the hot and sunny country with a big breath of warm mountain air. A very happy and smiley taxi driver drove us straight to our hostel. We set out to explore the city, and just as the sun was setting came upon Utopia, the most beautiful riverside hangout spot complete with cushion chairs on the deck, beach volleyball court and an endless supply of BeerLao.
I remember being told by someone while in Vietnam that Laos is a way of life, and I can report that they were right. We spent just over one week in Laos. We stopped in Luang Prabang where we met a friend who would later become very dear to both Ariel and I, Nong Khiaw for mountain views and the best Indian food in Laos, Vang Vieng for rock climbing and the best veggie burgers ever made, and finally onto Vientiane where we hung out with new friends at a converted bar/camper van before boarding a bus to Thailand. While in Laos I spent most of my days reading Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now”, and listening to Pete Holmes discuss mindfulness on his podcast “You Made it Weird” (my favourite podcast – shout out to PH), and in so doing setting the tone for what would be my favourite weeks of all my trip so far.
Arriving in Northern Thailand felt a bit like coming home. It is certainly more developed than Laos, but also has some unforeseen comforts such as 7-Elevens on every corner (where you can buy almost anything amidst the air-conditioned, sterilized shelves), some of the most delicious curries in all of Asia, and the all-too-frequent street vendors selling Pad Thai and banana pancakes. After a terrible bus ride, we arrived in Chiang Mai early in the morning. We settled into our hostel, aptly named “Nature’s Way” – a place that became very special in cultivating some of the best friendships that we developed while travelling.
Setting the right pace is one of the most difficult parts of travelling. It varies between people, and can completely change your perspective on some locations (you don’t want to spend so long in a place that you get sick of it, vowing never to return). Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, we stopped planning which cities we were going to next, substituting a plan for improvisation based on our gut feelings and the advice of fellow travelers. We slowed down, started spending longer in each city, and generally just felt less rushed, and more relaxed. After spending 2 months rushing around Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, Thailand started to feel like a vacation.
But more on Thailand later…