The only time I’ve ever travelled as a group is when I was 17. It was a post-college trip to Corfu after finishing our A-Levels. There were 28 of us.
Naturally, being 28 people we didn’t do everything together all of the time. There were smaller friendship groups within the big group, but it was still really nice to have so many people to hang out with.
Since 2014, I’ve travelled solo and, of course, with Mitch. Group travel is not something I’ve done since those two weeks in Corfu. Until now.
Mitch and I boarded the 5:30am bus from Dien Bin Phu in Vietnam to Muang Khua in Laos feeling very tired. The small mini-bus soon filled up with other people, mainly tourists, all heading for the same border crossing as us.
As the journey went on, and we got out at the border crossings, we started to talk to our fellow passengers. We were all couples and all British, quite a rarity for this not-so-popular route.
We arrived in the very small village of Muang Khua after successfully getting our 4-week visa for Laos. It’s primarily a stopover village, so you can stay there for a night before continuing your journey through Laos. The most common route from here was to take the boat. Mitch and I had no plans for Laos and no real route in mind. I’d read a few other travel blogs but the path was yet to be set.
We got on really well with the other couples we’d met on the bus, and since the village was so small, we ended up spending a lot of time together that same day. We also bumped into another British couple who we’d met the previous day in Dien Bin Phu.
So there we were, eight people, four couples, all from the UK (England to be precise). Since meeting on our first day in Laos, we’ve ended up travelling together.
From Muong Khua we travelled down the River Ou to Muong Ngoi. Pha Noi cave is a real highlight of the village. It’s a rather treacherous walk but the viewpoint at the top and the Buddhist shrine at the end of the very un-touristy cave (bring a torch!) are worth it.
Despite being another so-called stop over village we ended up spending a few days there. Lazy afternoons drinking beer and chatting with our new friends were frequent. Mealtimes often lasted three hours due to slow service and getting to know each other. After running out of cash (there’s no ATM in the village), we all decided to move onto the next destination together.
After about 3 days, we then headed to our final destination along the river: Nong Khiaw. After managing to haggle a deal for eight of us, we ended up four bungalows overlooking the river to stay in. The river is surrounded by stunning karst mountains and quiet villages with the locals aiming to make some money from the tourists passing through. It’s a really gorgeous sight to see and wake up to in the morning.
The real highlight of Nong Khiaw is the hike to the viewpoint. Four of us hiked to the top one afternoon (hands down, one of the most challenging hikes on my travels), but it was so worth it. I’ve seen a few truly amazing views in my time and this was definitely one of them.
The evenings were spent watching the sunset on our balcony with a few beers, and eating some damn good meals (there is some great Indian food in this village).
It’s the closest thing I’ve done to group travel since I was 17. I’m not an extrovert, nor am I somebody who likes to constantly be around people, but spending these past few days with these people has been really great. Travelling as a couple is wonderful, Mitch and I travel well together and I am very happy to be doing what we’re doing. However, it’s also been so nice to chat and really get to know some new people.
When travelling, it’s easy to meet people for one or two days. But to spend six days with people means you can properly get to know them. We all have different backgrounds, personalities, and are various ages, but that’s what makes it great. Our group has recently parted ways but what a wonderful few days and what a lovely bunch of people. Thanks, guys!