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Laidback Luang Prabang, Laos.

The bad thing about having expectations, is that you can easily be disappointed. On the other hand, the good thing about surprises is that you never know when they are coming your way. I went to Laos and Luang Prabang with none (or perhaps low) expectations, but guess what, a good surprise was waiting for me.

Actually so good that I can say that this is one of my favorite stops on the entire trip. It’s fair to wonder why. One of the reasons might have been that I went through Vietnam pretty fast by bus and motorbike, and was ready to stay in one place for at least 4-5 nights. Also Vietnam was pretty hectic, and Luang Prabang the straight opposite; very calm and laid-back!

Sounds idyllic, right? And it was. On the other hand I know myself pretty well and would usually get bored staying 4-5 days in a small place, but the good thing about Luang Prabang is that the nearby areas offer so much to do. Hiking, swimming in  waterfall, lots of culture, elephants, architecture and to just drive around in the countryside is an experience in itself. Every day was rounded off by a majestic sunset. The heat and humidity (it was warm but not superhumid) made the sunsets incredible. Really red, orange and pink. It was very cheap as well and you could easily get a dinner for 3-4 US Dollar. Back home I never go to cafés, but it’s something I’ve done a lot on this trip, especially lately. If I like it, I probably go there again and again. Very often I end up eating at the same place 2-3 days per day for 2-3 days. First of all this creates a feeling of “home” in a way, having YOUR table and you also get to know the people working there.

Here in Luang Prabang I chose to treat myself with a little luxury. It wasn’t much, but well-spent money and time. For a day I went to a nice hotel and used their swimming pool to relax and cool down in the heat. For a price of 8 Euros I could spend the entire day there, use the gym and also got a 10 minute massage for that price. Well-spent money I would say and a perfect way to recharge a little bit between the adventures. The good thing about traveling the world when you are 30 years old and not twenty is that you can probably tolerate a higher budget and have some comfort from time to time. Trust me, I’ve never lived as a simple life as the last 7 months, but 3 times I have treated myself with a some comfort. And in the end, what’s the point of having a little so called “f*ck-you-money” if you never gonna say f%$# you?

There are lots of Buddhist monks in Luang Prabang and after spending 5 days here I’ve done some reflections and take-aways. I would say Buddhism in one way is a radical religion – not in the way of terror, but the limitations for the life of the monks. Imagine you get brought into this world and without knowing better, you are being raised as a monk – with LOTS of limitations denying you some of the joys that life offer. You can call it being raised, I say it’s being brainwashed. Let kids do what they want to! A reflection is that I NEVER saw a single monk smiling, but I saw lots of other kids and teenagers (non monks) that looked very happy and full of joy. I also think that it’s a shame that muslim girls need to cover themselves at a young age, just because of some old book. Religion, in addition to money, is often the root of all evil and I think we need less of evil – and radical religions – in this world. Let kids be kids and use common sense when raising them. If there is one thing I have got from growing up on a farm, it’s common sense and rational thinking, even though my mom probably doesn’t think so 😉

Hanging around in Hoi An

Going from a Long Island Ice Tea, to a bottle of still water can be a big contrast and change. Comparable to going from the hectic Ho Chi Minh to the ancient town in the countryside of Vietnam; Hoi An – or as I would call it, the Venice of Asia.

On TripAdvisor it’s ranked the 5h “best” place in Asia which hints that it should be somewhat nice here – and it is. I never really trust those surveys, but after spending 2,5 days here I can confirm that it’s really nice and definitely a “must-stop” if you are traveling through Vietnam. There are some OK beaches here, which is always nice, but the thing Hoi An is famous for is it’s ancient old town, which is also an Unesco World Heritage – and those places usually are pretty nice. The old town itself has no traffic, which is big contrast to the rest of Vietnam where there are lots of hectic traffic and scooters everywhere.

On the other hand, there isn’t really a lot to do here. Some tours in the countryside, cooking course and an island tour for snorkeling etc. (did not tempt after Australia since every snorkeling would be worse than it was there) so I just spent the days how I like them; relaxing, working out, enjoying the weather and the vibe. Also met some funny people on the bus here so we were a group of 4 representing Togo, India, Germany and then myself. Will definitely keep up with the funny Indian guy, since I’ve decided to go there after Nepal. It wasn’t in my initial plan, but I just found out that it’s now possible with an online VISA to India. God bless the future and technology!

Now, another bus, before I plan to change the way of transportation.

Good morning Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh

Imagine a city with 8 million people (about twice of Norway btw). Then imagine that there are 8 million motorbikes in that city. Add this up and we get one word: chaos! That’s actually one of the things Ho Chi Minh City is known for now in recent days, but there is also a lot, and I mean a lot, of history in this vibrant city.

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as the locals call it, used to be the capital before the Vietnam war. I’m not gonna pretend I’m your history teacher, but I find myself over average educated and found out I didn’t really know much about the Vietnam war, so why not share a few of my learnings?

So, the Vietnam war explained in one minute:
1. The northern Vietnam was communistic
2. The southern Vietnam was capitalistic
3. The northern declared war in 1955 wanting Vietnam to be communistic lead by Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader
4. China, Russia and North-Korea supported the north (total army of 460 000 soldiers)
5. Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and the US supported the south (total army of 1 860 000 soldiers and much more modern and better weapons)
6. The US were afraid that if Vietnam turned communistic, the rest of south-east Asia would too, and the US don’t like communism and thought it would hurt their business deals in oil.
7. The north were also supported by the southern guerilla army. Guerilla is an army independent of politics and usually lives in the jungle fighting really dirty and nasty with traps, ambushes etc.
8. The war lasted for almost 20 years, 1955 to 1975.
9. Huge losses, both military and innocent civilian on both sides. Lots of torture, chemical warfare, rapes and really nasty things.
10. The communists won, if you can say a war has a winner – I would say only losers. Anyway, Vietnam turned communistic and Saigon changed name to Ho Chi Minh City – after the communist leader. The withdraw of the US armies and eventually losing the war was a big bummer for America. They thought the Vietnam war would be an easy and quick fight, but they didn’t only fell victim to the communists; they fell victim for their own underestimation as well. The communists were a lot fewer in numbers, technology, weapons etc. but they still beat the Americans since they were not used to fight in these kinds of circumstances. Heat and jungle were home for the communists, and they knew every trick in the book and performed them to chock and outrun the Americans.

History lesson over for this time, but what struck me the most was how brutal this war was. Definitely can be compared to the WW2 when it comes to torture and killing innocents.

Now maybe Ho Chi Minh sounds like a really bad place with just chaos and war? It’s not. I found the people here super friendly and it’s very cheap. Usually I don’t appreciate super busy cities, but right now I’m in such a good mood and flow that everything is just likable. I spent 2 nights and 3 days here, which I found was a perfect time. If you want to go to the Mekong Delta on a day tour, you might add an extra day, if not 2-3 days are perfect.

Time to hit the road, this time by bus, not less than 12 hours night bus ahead of me. Luckily enough it’s a sleeper bus with some kind of “beds” and they say to be somewhat comfortable. Unfortunately, Asian people are short – and I’m not.