to Laos: Part I

Three days in Laos spent with 7 of my UH ajarn friends in a tour van with our Laos guide and Thai driver.
We took an all inclusive style tour package through a Bangkok company. We were accompanied every second of every day by guides and drivers that took our two private groups and a larger bus group through Champasak, the southern-most province of Laos. We were based out of Pakse, the capital of Champasak, and the schedule was a full three days of waterfalls and cultural sites.
Lao-Japanese Bridge over the Mekong River.
It leads to Thailand, not Japan.

This was my first time on such a guided trip. There are other ways to do it of course. Homestays seemed to be a popular option. So while deciding if a tour package is for you, consider these pros and cons:

The chairs outside of our hotel, definitely a pro.

Pros: You’re never in a situation where you’re alone (unless you wander too far away from the group). You have built-in friends in your travel-mates who will be experiencing many of the same travel ups and downs that you do (hopefully the “up”s on their roller coaster are at the “down”s of yours so that you recognize and talk each other through it). Even if you’re a quiet, introverted person, this type of arrangement has its perks, such as knowing someone will always have your back (or an extra baht) if you need it.

Your budget is upfront. (Even if it’s completely overpriced. Slowly learning to always set things up locally through local contacts and not through the faraway capital). You shouldn’t have to worry about entrance fees to each site or finding transportation or finding food because you paid someone to handle all of that. Even though our guides only spoke Laos and about 5 sentences of English, language barriers aren’t really an issue because you don’t have to negotiate with anyone outside of the group. In fact, you pretty much don’t have to think at all. Just get in the van when they say so.

 

Our homes on the road, sometimes a con, somtimes a pro.

Cons:
That non thinking thing gets old fast. There’s very little freedom in your day-to-day options. Sometimes it would be nice to be required to think. Problem solving is what makes traveling so interesting. The schedule is preset, and even if you have a private tour van, you’re still eating at the restaurants your guides decide on and you’re visiting all of the places everyone else is visiting. Plus, with all the money spent on the package, you may have less to spend on local options that spring up. Overall it might be confining to the more free-spirited traveler.

Also think of your travel style in terms of social-ness: Are you someone who occasionally needs to be alone? Do you like the freedom of NOT having to be somewhere? Do you prefer having a choice as to whether or not you will share ALL of your travel experiences with your ten new best friends all piled into the same muddy/moist van?  If you answered yes but still find yourself signed up for an all inclusive tour like this, definitely invest in a good set of earbuds and a scarf that you can camp out under during van rides when you need a little quiet time. Also understand that it’s ok to skip out on one dinner if you need some alone time back at the hotel with your favorite book and candy bar.

This con doesn’t really belong here, but take it as some haphazardly thrown-in advice: Keep your wallets mixed happily on a diet of American dollars and Thai Baht. Turns out the Laos government would love to eat up your American dollars much more cheaply than your Baht, turning a $30 visa into a $50 one (through the Baht conversion). And when you’re only trying to live off a budget of $10, the difference $20 makes is huge.

Have you figured out which travel camp I belong to yet? Yay or nay all inclusive private tours? Still not sure myself, but read on in Part II for specific details of the trip.

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