Trust Fund Choices Pt. 1: Why I Would Move To Vientiane, Laos
As much as I wish it were true, unfortunately I am not one of those people that has a hefty trust fund awaiting them once they turn 25. As sad as this may be (not really), it hasn't stopped me from making the most out of every moment in life and continuously striving to see the world. Plenty of people often think about what they'd do if they stumbled across a large sum of money. Buy a house, a fancy car, taking care of ma and pa are all things that pop into many of our heads almost immediately. But if I were to inherit a trust fund at this point in time my life, in addition to two-stepping out of work with a grin on my face, I would almost certainly live at least two years of my life in Vientiane, Laos and here's why:
1. Even When You're Somewhere, You Feel Like You're Nowhere.
The route from the airport to Vientiane, Laos is a doozy to say the least. The passport checkpoint also serves as the visa issuance location, which leads to a good amount of time waiting in line once you've alighted from the aircraft. The airport is cozy and well organized so after you exit it is fairly easy to navigate yourself to the exits. Most taxi's and shuttles to Vientiane leave at very specific times throughout the day, so it's important that you plan these things ahead of time to avoid paying double the price to get to your destination.
Once we were settled into our coach van and headed on our two hour journey to Vientiane from the airport we couldn't help but notice a few really cool things. First, there were very few paved blacktop roads, so you could feel every movement and bump of the car as it maneuvered through the street. For some reason, this gave it a more realistic feel compared to the nostalgia that other more frequented vacation spots give you once you step out of the airport and begin to move about the city.
Another thing that stood out was how mountainous the areas we were passing through were. In Taiwan we can literally look out of the window and see a mountain sitting right in the middle of rivers, but as we drove through Laos we found ourselves actually driving over and through several mountains as we made our way to Vientiane. There were some scary moments, but nothing to serious. Being able to look out of your window look down and see a couple hundred foot drop below you is not for the faint of heart, but hey, that's what the railings are for.
Being my first time in Laos, I couldn't shake the feeling that I knew I was in another place, but it didn't really feel like it. There were several stunning views and interesting sights, but it just felt like Laos was a place that I was supposed to be. To make matters even better, our accommodation was in a small spring break sorta town that had one road in, and one road out. This added to the feeling of exclusivity and the feeling that I was definitely somewhere, but still nowhere at all.
2. There's So Much More To What You See
Walking around in Vientiane there were so many things to see. What was most exhilarating was how you could engage with all aspects of the city. If there was a lake, river, old brick house, or town that we wanted to learn more about, we were free to explore and ask as many questions and speak with as many people as we were able to. There were some things we saw that looked as though it came right out of a painting or classic movie.
Surrounding the tourist areas which were filled with hostels, adventure travel agencies, convenient stores and more were the homes of the local people who truly made Vientiane what it was. All very friendly, approachable, and engaging providing for a comfortable feeling and vibe as we moved around either by foot or bike. It was quiet yet busy during the day, moderate activity with enough thrill for those who enjoy extensive evening activities at night. The best part about the more loud and active night time activities is that most of them took place outside of the main area within the city which allowed for casual strolls and enjoyment of lounges and other lounge and drinking establishments in peace.
3. Eating Good In The Neighborhood
Thailand, Vietnam, and China all offer a variety of different unique and tasty street food. Each place has something to offer for everyone, and if you're up for trying as much as you can you're almost guaranteed to find not only the right dish but more importantly the right person to provide you with your midday or midnight quick fix meal. Vientiane definitely offers some of the best street food with options aplenty.
For those unfamiliar, street food vendors have several different methods of presenting and preparing their product. In Thailand Woks are used along with propane tanks and large carts to transport and prepare food right in front of you. In certain places in China there are grills set up for grilling a select variety of meats and vegetables to your liking right in front of you. In Vientiane they have traditional vegetables, meats, and unique spices available to be made in any way that you choose. You can have them individually grilled to your delight, or prepared into a sandwich or burger combined with your favorite ingredients as well for a little over a dollar per meal.
The sandwiches, are extravagant. Vegetarian options are available and they are equally pleasureful. All of the ingredients are fresh, seasoned to perfection, and very filling. The best part is the interaction with vendors as they are preparing your meals. Several times they'd lend advice on how to navigate the area, and even spoke of how their individual preparation style makes their food selection different from other vendors around. Being able to walk right outside your door and find a vendor or restaurant that more times than not offers delicious and healthy food options is definitely a plus, and adds to the allure of Vientiane, Laos.
4. A Little Something for Everyone
In addition to being a very relaxing and down to earth place to reside, Vientiane also has a lot to offer in regards to excitement. If you're into extraordinary views and want to snap some shots on your camera that are different than what you'd usually see or do, there are plenty of options available. Soar high in the sky above the city on a private hot air balloon ride with your friends looking down and across witnessing the amazing beauty of nature and the city of Vientiane. We were able to get a glimpse of the lake that wraps around and extends through the city and out to the next town over from high above. Other than the sights, being and floating in a hot air balloon is simply really cool.
If you want to go up high and fly but not as high as a hot air balloon, there are several zip-lining options and areas just a few minutes outside of town. You can hike your way into and up the mountains and zip-line the entire way back down over small rivers, creeks, and mountain edges while overseeing the out skirts of the town. You can also be driven up to a peek and zip-line over water and end by diving head first into the water at the end. Whatever you fancy you can surely find it in Vientiane.
ATV's and dirt bikes are available for daily rental for those who want to cruise the roads and navigate the town a little faster than traditional bikes will allow. If you're up for a big adventure that takes you through the heart of the city and through several small towns, villages, mountains, and even the occasional school district, then a dune-buggy driving tour is a great choice and one of the best decisions we've ever made while traveling. Driving and reaching speeds of 50 mph in safe areas and cruising through others with a considerable amount of dust swirling around as we sped by was exhilarating. The guide ensured that we had as much fun driving and exploring as we could, and since we didn't mind getting dusty and dirty. He led us to areas where we were able to see some amazing spots and off track places via back roads. One of the definite highlights of our time in Vientiane, and is on my "to do again list.
When it comes to water sports Vientiane isn't lacking either. I'm not much of a swimmer, but the fact that we could rent a tub sit and let the lake water take you on a loop around the city was amazing. For more adventurous folk you can also rent kayaks and lead yourself or go with a group on the same path. While there we met people who had been floating on the river every day for several days. They were able to do so because there were check points along the river that offered food, beverages, and of course a mud pit with music in case you wanted to get your groove on before you float on.
Vientiane, Laos provides a little bit of everything. A mix of styles that can make everyday unique and special in its own way. A place we where outsiders referred to one another by their city names and not their actual names to keep it informal and interesting is a place worth spending more time to get to know and understand. A place with not too many or too few people, but opportunity for adventure and stimulation is endless. So, given the fortune of having a hefty trust fund to take my mind off of finances, I'd definitely make a move to Laos.
Photos taken by Patrick Springer and Carl Hill Jr.