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Updated: Feb 22

 I landed in Laos feeling confused-- bewildered even-- about why I wanted to come here. Why has this place been on my mind and in my heart for so long? 
Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world. The only landlocked nation in Southeast Asia, it suffered the heaviest bombings of any country in history. Despite this, the Lao people are warm, hospitable, friendly, welcoming, relaxed and tender. 
There is a lot of similarity between Lao and Thai or Cambodian cultures. For instance, the Lao and Thai people share about 70 percent of their vocabulary. Both languages are taken from Pali and Sanskrit, a language I've studied in depth through yoga and meditation teacher trainings.
Laos is known for amazing scenery, ethnic villages and unexplored lands
I arrived at night so it was dark, but it didn't take long to categorize Vientiane, the capital, as a dirty city. It's littered, polluted and what you'd expect from a developing nation.
I booked a hotel that was somewhat central, walkable to restaurants and very close to the night market along the Mekong river. My excellent experience with Grab in Vietnam inspired me to attempt to use Loca, the local Rideshare app. Eh, to me this was more confusing than it's worth. 
The hotel was subpar, but it was cheap. It would only be a landing pad for one night. I was warned that there's not much reason to hang out in Vientiane -- and it's true. The most impressive parts of Laos are farther north, which is where I was headed. The night of arrival, I wasn’t super hungry-- but still wanted to wander. The guy at the front desk recommended a place with local cuisine that was walkable from the hotel. 
The weather was crisp and it was drizzling so I walked fast. The place that came recommended was not my vibe. It was a big indoor/outdoor restaurant with tons of tourists and CNN on a TV at the bar.

Still, I sat down, ordered appetizers of roasted peanuts and fried seaweed and washed it down with a lime juice. I missed Vietnamese food and coffee right away. I quickly circled around the night market mainly because it was right there. It was full of t-shirts, tennis shoes, handbags and electronics. I didn’t walk through for long, so maybe I missed something super special. Overall, I wasn't impressed. I was also tired: neither in a shopping mood nor in the market for anything they had, I returned to my hotel, choosing sleep over roaming.
Breakfast the next morning was less than desirable, but it allowed me to fuel and caffeinate before jetting off to sightsee. The morning drizzle gave me a good excuse to try Loca again. 
I booked a ride-- then immediately messaged the driver asking if he would cancel the trip through the App and take me to several places I wanted to see in exchange for his desired rate. Of course, he agreed.

So off I went to hit 6 major sites:
-Buddha Park
-Pha That Luang Stupa
-Patuxai Victory Monument
-Wat Si Saket
-Ho PhraKeo Museum
-Morning market
The driver took me to the first three stops before dropping me back off at the hotel to check out. I grabbed a coffee and decided to walk to the nearby temple, museum and market. Time was short and flew by. I rushed back to the hotel on foot because I was scheduled for a 2pm pickup to head to the train station.
I arrived sticky from the humidity at 1:59pm only to learn that the pickup was delayed because the train was delayed. No problem. I had time to sit, take a few breaths, use the restroom and book a hotel for Vang Vieng. 
I was really excited about this next stop! A couple from Malta that I met in Vietnam raved about it. They said it was the best part of their whole Laos adventure, and they would've stayed even longer if they could have!
What a review! 
The shuttle arrived before I could book a hotel but I wasn't worried. 
I would meet two other Americans on the shuttle to the train — Lamar and Toph.
Lamar is a retiree and recent nomad from Atlanta.
Toph is a 27-year-old finance guy who was in Asia for a quick work trip and decided to stay longer. He specializes in Chinese investments and told us that he and his girlfriend are planning to move to Africa. Wow! 
The guys were both heading to Luang Prabang, a city I planned to visit after this stop in Vang Vieng. 
The three of us were super chatty in the van. We talked about streaming sports and travel tales. There was a lightheartedness and ease to the conversation. I think it was just nice to speak candidly in English with people who understood jokes and expressions and sarcasm. There were no cultural hoops to jump through even though we're all from different parts of the U.S. 
The driver handed me his cell phone, interrupting our conversation.
For me? Yes.
The hotel staff informed me that they had my laptop at the front desk. In all the rush to get to this shuttle, I had left it behind. Oops. I didn't even realize.  
I casually asked the person on the phone if someone could bring my laptop to the train station. They agreed. 
I didn’t freak out. I didn’t question whether it would get to me on time. I just knew that it would.
And it did.
At some point before we got to the train station, our driver pulled over and along came a guy on a motorbike with my laptop. Problem solved. Everything was intact, in place and accounted for.
This speaks to the soul, honesty and good natured humanity of the Lao people. 
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