In our travels, apart from food, we search for what Lonely Planet likes to call a “bucolic paradise”. A perfect countryside. Beautiful landscapes, peace and quiet, far from the cities. Everyday life. We found it on Sumatra, we found it in Laos. A narrow strip of central Laos, route no 8, between Vietnamese Vinh and Thailand. An hour off the highway. On the tourist trail but a bit out of the way, still peaceful and without crowds. Here we found our first Laotian paradise, and we can tell you already: there are many of them! Long story short – we are in love. Too much of a good thing can be as hard to process as too much bad luck. I want to scream: You have to come here!, while wanting to keep the place only for myself. The modest promotional slogan of Laos “Simply beautiful” has got it nailed.
We’re constantly overpowerwed by a mixture of beauty, peace and authenticity. It comes on all of a sudden and leaves us wondering — Is this for real?!
When we arrive, the sharp mountains stand guard while tobacco fields stretch around.
When we walk to a nearby organic farm, behind the tunnels full of herbs and a cabbage patch hides a surprise – a river, a mountain and buffalos in bath.
When we go for breakfast, another stretch of the river is visible from the terrace. It’s turqoise, there’s ducks, geese and people swimming. We get into a slow conversation with a local elder. A lady washes her laundry and then herself.
When we approach a cave hidden beaneath a mountain and pass an incredibly green and clear lagoon, it’s impossible not to immediatly jump in, with clothes on.
When, after an hour-long boat journey through the completely dark cave, we emerge on the other side into tropical greenery and see kids horseplaying on the beach and jumping from trees into water.
When we sit on the terrace of our guesthouse and watch the villagers and everything they do is in slow-motion – preparing tobacco for drying, repairing buildings, guiding the cattle home, cooking, chatting. This serenity shows us what “peace of mind” and “accepting reality” mean.
People may say that it’s only appearances and bullshit naive tourists say, that the view is beautiful but only from afar, Laos is in the top fifty of the poorest countries, education and health-care sucks, these people would surely want to change places with us, inside, in reality, they’re bitter etc. Dear cynics, partly you’re right, but come and watch the kids swimming in the river, put a hand on your heart and say that happiness doesn’t shine.
Every once in a while I wonder if i’m not intoxicated, if everybody sees the place the same way I do. Cathy, with whom we lazily pass our time, says that it’s these scenes that brought her to this part of world. Wandering around the village we stumble across an odd-day bus from Vientiane. A few people jump out and they seem incredibly overactive, even agressive. Three of them start bombarding us with questions: where, how, how much, why, which way… Do Laotians experience tourists this way?
The next day we meet a girl from that trio. The village had done it’s magic and she’s changed. The kind of smile which can be seen in the eyes does not leave her face. Marcin says it must be something in Beerlao. I think that every overachiever should pay a visit to Laos. Just to remember that there is an alternative. It works on everybody. Well, almost everybody, since the next day we meet the other two, teeth gritting, jogging in the 35 degrees of heat. Is something chasing them? Give ’em some Beerlao!