From the moment I was asked if I would be available and willing to travel to Laos to when I touched down in Vientiane, I was both stressed and enthusiastic. In one breath I was participating on a team call and in the next, I was planning to go on an assignment for said team.
We arrived Vientiane in the dark, two hours later than planned. As I roused myself from what felt like inadequate sleep, I remembered that check-in at the hotel closed at 10pm. We landed at 11. Too tired to put much thought behind it, I focused on filling out the landing form – which I think should be made obsolete, but that’s a personal preference.
“Where are you going?” the airport porter asked in English so rapid I’m certain I only heard the words “where” and “going”. “Lani’s House by the Ponds” I responded languidly; sleep filled my words. “Lani House”, he repeated, nodding his head knowingly while scribbling the hotel’s name and an amount on a piece of paper. $7 ~ 60,000 Lao Kip for the 15-minute ride.
The country is called Laos in English. In Lao (the language), the country is called Lao or Muang Lao.
On a mat several feet away from the hotel’s entrance, an older man stirred, turned around and noticed me standing by the front desk awkwardly, unsure of how to get his attention. Getting up, he walked towards me, handed me the keys, took my bags and led me upstairs. It was so humid that my hoodie had already begun to stick to my body so when I walked into the air-conditioned room, my sigh was one of relief. I tugged the hoodie and rest of my clothes off and stood under a hot shower stream. A few minutes later, I lay in bed, but sleep did not come. So I wrote, responded to work emails, and sent messages – “I landed safely”.
The sun had already started its slow ascent up the horizon but sleep eluded me still. I decided I was going to need to exhaust myself so I started with a complimentary breakfast: fresh fruits, yogurt, Laotian green tea served in a teapot, warm bread, and an omelet. Then I walked the compact grounds, stopping to look at the plants and the orange and white skinned koi fish in their ponds. At noon, the sun was high in the sky, it took all of 5 minutes for beads of sweat to start dripping down my face. I gulped down cool bottled water. On the Mekong River, a boat racing festival -a national holiday in Vientiane – was taking place. Several people milled about, and the crowd got thicker the closer I got to the river. Streets were barricaded, guarded by men in uniform and lined with red top tents where vendors sold their wares. Indiscernible meats grilled on open fires, filling the air with smoke and the smell of charred meat.
Several sets of eyes stared at me as I made my way through the crowds to the riverfront. Some smiled, others just looked with unbridled awe. “You beautiful”, someone yelled in English. I turned to see where it came from and noticed a gaggle of children, all smiling back at me. A few of them waved. I expected the staring, I think it’s a shared experience of most black travelers, especially while traveling in Asia. People seemed to have their curiosity satisfied via stares that afternoon though. No one tried to touch my near bald head, take pictures of me or touch my skin. For this, I was grateful. Stares I could ignore. I watched the festivities, walked the busy streets, returned smiles at people, mostly children, who to my surprise didn’t point, then stopped for dinner of spicy Lao fried rice and heavenly beef – delicious pieces of sweet and savory dried beef – before walking back to my hotel at sunset.
In an air-conditioned room, I slept until 4am the next day.
Good to Know
Where I stayed – Lani’s House by the Ponds, Vientiane
Flights – San Francisco to Seoul on Korean Air then Seoul to Vientiane on Jin Air
∗Vientiane is Laos’ capital city. The country is bordered by Thailand, Myanmar, China, and Cambodia, so combining a trip to those countries would be smart!
∗Most people speak Lao. There are several indigenous languages as well including Hmong, and Khmu. French is also spoken.
∗Lao issues visa on arrival to citizens of several countries. For U.S citizens, $35 and a passport photo will get you stamped in. You can find out your country’s eligibility here.
∗The official currency is Lao Kip. You can exchange U.S Dollar or Euro for Kip in Vientiane
∗Pack light clothing (for humidity) and long sleeves and trousers (to reduce your chances of getting bitten by mosquitoes or contracting malaria)
thank you for reading!
All photos shot on iPhone 8+
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Part 2 will be up here next week.
Same footprints, Different sands