Lao Time: Slow Travel and Staying Patient

I’m now in Laos, which also means I’m now on Lao time (Laos is the country, Lao is the people and the language and the culture).

Lao time is friendly, and laid back. The only rule of Lao time is to never get upset. It also has very little relation to anything on an actual clock.

Slow travel in Laos is just travel

Things move very slowly here: motorbikes weaving around buses going in every direction, without any regard for which side of the road they should be on or how many people can realistically fit on a motorbike. It’s a rainbow-colored tuktuk bumping down the street with a monk robed in bright orange checking his phone in the back. It’s a dog taking his evening siesta in the middle of the road, with some brightly-feathered softly clucking chickens pecking alongside.

Boat on the Mekong River in Laos.
Even the Mekong River moves slowly.

Much of the slowness is due to the general lack of infrastructure here. Laos is one of the poorest countries on earth. Until fairly recently, most of the northern villages had no roads of any kind. They relied on the boats plying the Mekong River to get around.

And many of the roads, even in the comparatively developed city of Luang Prabang, are unpaved tooth-rattling trails of packed dirt and rocks (don’t fall off that motorbike!).

A lot of it is an attitude to life too. Boat late? Don’t get upset, just smile and go find a ripe mango to snack on. Bus stops for eight hours for no reason that you can find out in the middle of the 16-hour journey? It’s just how life goes here, in a quiet developing corner of the world.

Learning to live life slowly

It’s a headspace that definitely takes adjusting to. Literally everything is slow here: service at restaurants, internet, the murky river flowing by its white sand banks filled with sleeping water buffalo. As I write this, the power for the whole city of Luang Prabang has gone out, with no indication why or when it will return. We just smile and perch on a cushion and look at the river and wait.

Traveling alone in Laos
Taking the slow boat.

But it’s a refreshing break from a world where people love nothing more than telling you how busy they are, especially if they’re not actually busy. And why? Will we get to the end of our lives and sit on a rocking chair on the porch and sigh happily to ourselves, “well it was a busy life.” What need deep inside of us are we trying so desperately to fill with busyness?

For now I’m savoring slowness, stillness, and silence (at least when the roosters aren’t crowing).

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