Traveller and writer, Jennifer Smith, gets off the beaten track with Stray Travel Asia and shares her story with us…
Let’s face it: most travellers love the idea of getting ‘off-the-beaten path,’ but few talk about how challenging it can be to get there! Picture a small village somewhere, largely untouched by tourism, where you have a chance to see life and traditional culture up-close-and-personal. But how do you get there? What if there are no buses, trains… or even roads? Could you find it on your own? Where would you start to look? And how would you communicate with the locals once you turned up on their doorstep? Would they welcome you in, or feel shy towards a stranger?
Visiting the remote village of Ban Lad Khammune, Laos
Stray, a company dedicated to making it easy to get off the beaten track in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, is the only group that brings travellers to Ban Lad Khammune. It’s a place that I never would have gotten to on my own, or that I would have felt confident visiting without a contact. But, with a small group of just 5 other travellers and two guides – one of whom could speak the local language – I found my way there. And the villagers welcomed us with open arms!
Making new friends in remote northern Laos
Ban Lad Khammune is a small village in northern Laos along the banks of the Mekong. It has one school, one temple, wild mangoes and bananas growing in abundance, a secret swimming hole and waterfall in the jungle… and no paved roads, restaurants, or guesthouses.
Shared smiles in Laos
Stray works with the village to create a community-based tourism initiative that makes it possible for travellers to visit, participate in a homestay, and witness local life all while giving back, as proceeds from the visit go towards building an all-weather road later this year. It was encouraging to see tourism being used in such a beneficial way for the community.
Swapping to two wheels in the countryside of Laos!
Not only did we get far off-the-beaten track, but we got to visit a place that was openly inviting us in.
Families came out from their homes to meet us, smiling as their kids grabbed our hands to show us around, and welcomed us to their homes with a traditional baci ceremony later that night. Our Stray guide spoke both Lao and Khmu, so it was no problem for us to communicate with the villagers – and get into a crazy party later that night with lao lao whiskey and rice wine!
A wonderful home-stay dinner – with lots of rice whiskey to come!
Hop on – Hop off!
Visiting Ban Lad Khammune wasn’t the only way Stray made it easy for me to get off-the-beaten track. A tour with Stray revolves around its hop-on / hop-off bus system, which means that travellers can choose to stay on the private Stray bus through its routes in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and take advantage of the sights and activities already included in the itinerary, or they can hop-off periodically and check out new places along the way.
Though most Stray tours hit up the biggest sights that travellers want to see, like Bangkok, Luang Prabang, or Siem Riep, they also make sure to take travellers to places they wouldn’t normally be able to visit.
Visiting the Kong Lor Caves in Laos – off the beaten track and no tourists!
I was on the Tom Yum pass, which starts in Bangkok, heads north through Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai, then crosses into Laos to visit such famous cities like Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane. During the wet season, travellers get to experience the slow boat ride down the Mekong, stopping at Ban Lad Khammune along the way, while the dry season sees Stray passengers go north for similar village homestay experiences in the eco-trekking capital of Luang Namtha, before visiting the quiet riverside town of Nong Khiaw. It was the perfect way to mix the most popular sights with smaller, lesser known destinations.
Travel is all about the people you meet!
But what would my trip have been without the people behind it? Part of the convenience in off-the-beaten track travel with Stray was having two guides, one local and one Western, who were able to make sure that everyone was learning as much as they could, getting the experience they wanted and having a great time. They also made it easy to book accommodation and activities along the way – and I particularly appreciated the Stray offices in Bangkok and Luang Prabang, as it’s so much easier to get itineraries sorted and questions answered when there’s someone to talk to face-to-face!
Making friends along the way – sabaidee!
Getting off-the-beaten track was one of the best things I did in Laos and northern Thailand, but I couldn’t have done it as easily on my own. So what are you waiting for? Have an adventure off-the-beaten track – it’s easier than you’d think!
Trying Chili Crab in a local restaurant in Cambodia
For more information or to book an adventure with Stray Asia, please visit www.straytravel.asia
Article written by Jennifer Smith. This is a sponsored article.