What is This Place?
A little bit over halfway through our trip to Vang Vieng we arrived to a pit stop stop so high atop the mountains it seemed as if we were looking down on another planet. The feeling of otherworldliness was only intensified as we drove through the bumpy terrain like a rover on mars, dodging wild cows along the way who appeared to own the land, and not the other way around.
The sun set early and soon darkness was upon us. We arrived into town on a darker than usual street with herds of sodden tubers touting black and white floats barely visible in the headlights. Zombie-like they walked towards us, a slowly parting sea of clumsy limbs and red-rimmed eyes. We drove for maybe a minute longer and were abruptly deposited on a dark street filled with minimarkets and backpacker bars.
Confused, we collected our baggage and set off by foot to in search of a hostel. We had no cell data, no lodging reservations, and no idea if we’d find a place that even had vacancies, but going with the flow was what I was after in Laos and so I buckled my backpack and hitched it up onto my shoulders in one swift and well-rehersed move.
On our way to the hostel we passed bars lit solely by candlelight but it wasn’t until we went back out in search of food did we realize the whole block was without power.
Cooks were cranking out street food by flashlight and diners were casually conversing as if nothing was amiss. Is Vang Vieng run on solar? Are they without power on overcast nights? Surely I would have heard about this, but it all seemed so chaotically choreographed that this couldn’t have been the first time.
With the dawn of a new day came a new appreciation for the country of Laos. In an ironic twist, Laos’s largest export is electricity, yet rarely do cities like Vang Vieng have enough power to make it through an entire day. For hours each afternoon, fans would stop spinning, ATM’s would stop depositing, and water would stop running.
Intrigued, I set out to learn more about this fascinating little country that I knew so little about. A largely mountainous country nestled tightly between the Annamite and Luang Prabang mountain ranges, Laos is characterized by steep terrain and narrow river valleys.
The little amount of land that is suitable for agriculture in the country has been largely destroyed due to the American Secret War in Laos and China notoriously dams the Mekong River, taking the resources and energy Laos needs to run on electricity.
With so much stacked against them, I was surprised to find the Laotian people kind, generous, and truly honored that we would be visiting their small nation. I’m still not exactly sure what kind of planet I stumbled across, but I can say that I highly recommend it be added to any traveler’s loop.