Vang Vieng, Laos: Remembering to Slow Down and Savor Life

Life was hectic in the city, and my job stress was wearing me down. The constant noise, the constant hurry, the constantly looming deadlines made me feel as though I carried a thousand pounds on my back. I decided to book a flight to the slowest place I had heard of, where I could finally relax because it would be impossible not to. And with my trusty Laos road map, I found the perfect place.

I enjoyed a few celebratory lunchtime Beerlaos in the Bangkok Airways departure lounge before takeoff and catnapped deliciously the entire flight. I was jolted awake by a nightmare about a missed deadline that coincided with the landing in Vientiane airport, the glorious afternoon sun shining on the runway and straight into my eyes, reminding me of my vacation. I couldn’t help but smile.

The tiny airport greeted me like an old friend, and immediately an eager, young taxi driver offered to take me to my bus. His careful driving had me to the station a bit late, and I hastily paid him the tiny sum (plus a tip which caused him to break into a huge smile) and jumped on the comfy, almost empty old vehicle to begin my four hour ride to Vang Vieng.

The bus ride was quiet and peaceful, and slowly rattled loose the stress and anxiety I wanted to leave behind in Bangkok. I arrived at my destination just after dinner, pleased with the languid town and the emptiness that the low season promises. I was almost alone while wandering the streets to my hotel, save for a few friendly children and droopy dogs. The sunset I passed was my favorite yet, and the lone kayak gave me an idea for the next day.

The graceful receptionist (“Sam” per her English nametag) at the Inthira Vang Vieng guest hotel, checked me in, and showed me to my comfortable accommodations, full of dark Laotian-carved wood, maroon tapestries, and traditional paintings. It was the perfect place for a weekend retreat from hectic city life, so I nodded my approval. As Sam turned to leave, I remembered the kayak. “Do you have a kayak rental?” I asked her. “Yes, you will like? Tomorrow, 8am, drop off?” Again, I nodded my affirmation and it was set.

I turned in early, and awoke early as well to be dropped off down the river with my kayak. Mist was still rising off the karsts as the hotel helpers put the vessel into the water.

I paddled languorously down the river, waving to children, saying hello to buffalo. I stopped where I wanted, with no deadline to rush me, and no boss to question my actions. I flowed with the river, and watched my stress float away.

Unlike in the city, I had no deadlines, and could savor my time and notice my surroundings, stopping to look at blue water caves, and follow streams.

I came upon a man fishing while a woman watched two little kids play, and they motioned me over. I beached my kayak up onto the bank, and though we could not share any words of a common language, they shared their rice with me, and I shared my fruit with them. We smiled at the boys playing, and sat quietly watching the river before I was on my way.

When my trip in Laos was finished, I had almost no regrets, and left feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready to take on the world anew. My only wish would have been able to speak with the family on the river bank that so kindly shared a lunch with me. Before the next trip, I will definitely learn how to speak at least a bit of the language with a Lao language course, so that I can better connect with the wonderful people that taught me how to savor life again.

Even when raindrops started to fall (one of the few downsides of low season), they felt refreshing instead of annoying, and I noticed how they broke the silence with their pitter-patter falling.

Happy traveling!