A Laos-y Christmas

So never having been a great fan of the whole crap circus that seems to come along with Christmas, this year we decided to go to Laos instead. We politely declined all invites with a “sorry, but we are going on holiday”, while secretly thinking we dodged yet another bullet.

So why Laos? Because it’s not somewhere we had been, I have heard of very few people that had been there and most importantly, we were able to book a tour and flights fairly near to Christmas.

We chose to travel with Peregrine, we have done a few adventure tours through Asia with Intrepid in the past and Peregrine seemed to offer a similar trip with a few more frills (slightly better hotels and pretty much everything included – except most lunches and dinners).

I won’t bore anyone with the details of the trip but thought some of the following hints and tips might be useful when travelling through Laos and possibly some other developing countries.

Firstly, OMG was it cold! The trip noted mentioned that it may be “cool”. Major understatement! Many of the people in our group packed for a tropical holiday – which it certainly was not in December for most of the country. During the day was nice, low-mid 20c. As soon as sundown, until mid morning, it was very cold (not far from frosts). I knew it could be very cold at night from a previous trip through Northern Thailand many years ago but many in our group were very unprepared (I always travel with thermal merino leggings and top).

A couple of places we stayed, had very thin blankets and no heating. Wearing clothing to bed was the only way to keep warm.

We bought gloves and scarves from a market but there was little in the way of warm clothing available and certainly nothing for anyone that wasn’t “Asian” sized.

The slow boat on the Mekong also had a massive wind chill. I ended up wearing a large plastic rubbish bag which I had used to line my backpack, and around 5 layers of clothing including previously mentioned thermals, as the wind was ripping through my clothing.

Malaria risk IMO was nil – poor Mosquitos probably froze to death, but like all developing countries, you should see a travel doctor to check your exact itinerary and if you need any vaccinations.

Laos like many other countries through Asia, has bottled water is cheaply available but you need to consider the cost to the environment. There is rubbish everywhere through these countries, and plastic will linger for decades. Please consider another method other than constant purchase of bottled water. We bought water purification tablets, 1 tablet per 1 litre of water. It doesn’t leave any noticeable taste to the water and in fact, for Laos, the tap water after treating tastes better than parts of the USA and UK – progress huh?

One thing we like to do is to travel to developing countries with old “disposable” clothing. Think about all those clothes and shoes that still have wear left in them but you don’t like or want anymore. Bring them with you and leave them behind. When we check out of each hotel, we typically leave a few items behind, the items worn over the last day or so. Fold and pile nearly on or near the bin so it’s obviously not wanted.

These countries have desperately poor people in them and garments will find a grateful new home. In Tonga, the girl who cleaned our room was proudly wearing my old shoes when I saw her a few days later and in India the young men cleaning the room were very excited by our cast offs.

If nothing else, you may like to bring old socks for visiting temples. At most temples (if active), you will need to remove your shoes, and your socks will quite simply be filthy at the end of the day… Yuck! Also easy slip off/on shoes are an advantage.

One thing that always frustrates me is the tourists who have no respect for local culture and customs, who walk around places showing far too much skin. This is fine at beach resorts, by pools and in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. But in places where modesty is admired, it is disrespectful and rude. It maybe hot, you maybe sweaty but for goodness sake, put a shirt on.

Other things to consider… Bring a small torch (flashlight). Power can be iffy and walking back to your hotel after dinner can be dark. Often you will need to walk on the road, if a path exists, it may not be in a good condition.

Cash in small bills is usually the best way to pay. Most countries in SE Asia you can get by on around $US20 a day and eat very well (alcohol and drinks may cost a little more).

We like to look out for places that support causes such as getting street children into employment and usually visit organisations in these areas that are trying to eradicate land mines and unexploded munitions. But that’s a story for another blog post.

If you want more info about or trip through Laos let me know!


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