By Vanessa Fleming, Summersalt Yoga teacher
As I’m taking a walk through the fields, I hear this pre-historic, dinosaur-like sound, echoing off of the vast rock formations surrounding me. Upon closer inspection, it was not, in fact, a T-Rex making this noise. It was simply a cow, amongst many cows, out in the pasture. The cow had a very deep “moo,” and every time the moo sound bounced off the rock walls, she thought another cow was responding. It wasn’t. The other cows were paying her no mind. She was simply having a conversation with herself, in this quiet and wide expanse of nature.
That pretty much sums up my experience here in Vang Vieng, Laos. Simplicity.
But it’s not quiet. I stare at this beauty while the beats of Eminem, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, and other early 2000s rap artists are being blasted from the bar just across the river from me.
Vang Vieng is notoriously a party town. For the last decade, this place has been infested with Westerners coming here, getting completely pissed while floating down the river in tubes, and creating a lively and outgoing party scene. As of recent times, the Lao government has strictly cracked down on this, as too many incidences have occurred.
So the party scene has somewhat subsided, and part of the reason why I am able to be here is because of hospitality development. I came to an eco-sustainable hotel called Silver Naga, situated right on the river. The hotel came to fruition because Rachel, and Aussie living in Laos for the last 25 years, and her husband, Soomphan, a Lao hotelier, created this resort-like hotel as a place to have a 5-star experience without the loud and crazy party. A few months ago, Rachel recruited 2 yogis, Michelle and John, to start up their yoga program. Fast forward to now, where I am teaching at Silver Naga, the only place that offers yoga in all of Vang Vieng.
So the climb out of the party reputation is slow, but steady. And it’s pretty damn cool to be on the front line of new development, even if I am only here for the month.
At first, I was having a real struggle with this place. Between the constant music and how incredibly laid back (read: lazy) the Lao people are, I was getting a bit stir crazy. There isn’t much to do other than sit by the pool, occasionally go on a hike, go rock climbing, and visit some caves. This is the first and only place I have ever been in the entire world where I walk into a shop or a restaurant, and the workers are sleeping! I’m not talking a cat nap whilst sitting in a chair. I’m talking mats and pillows sprawled out on the floor and the workers full-on taking naps right in the middle of the working day, for everyone to see. And, if the workers aren’t napping, the are disappearing. My friend and fellow teacher, Vanina, and I were having coffee one day at this adorable little cafe. We were just hanging out, chatting, lounging. When we went to pay and leave, we discovered that the barista just…left. Gone. Goodbye! Didn’t feel like working anymore, so he went home. We were left in the cafe alone, still having to pay our bill, and no one in sight. We called out for someone, we walked around the whole building a couple of times. So we decided to come back later to pay our bill, since no one was there. As we started to walk away, here comes the barista, in his swim trunks and t-shirt. He had been down the street hanging out with his friends! It’s just so funny to me.
Speaking of Vanina – I have made a friend for life. Vanina and I share the teaching duties here at Silver Naga, and we also share a room. Not only that, but we share most of our time together, and we share a lot about ourselves with each other. It’s not everyday that you create a strong bond with someone, but with her, I feel so connected. From moment one, we hit it off and we are so close, so fast.
Vanina and I are also very close with the other volunteers here too. There’s a community of travelers that come in and help out around the hotel. Whether it’s tending to the Pony farm that Rachel and her friend Sarah have set up as an activity for the kids visiting Silver Naga, or painting fences or walls, or covering for someone at the cafe whilst he is on vacation, or brushing and feeding the ponies, or even working in the kitchen with the staff and helping the cleaning staff get a handle on keeping track of sheets and towels in the 90 room hotel, we have this familial group. We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. We go on excursions together. We all crash out at 9:30 pm together. The party scene…not for us. But sitting around playing cards or Catan while maybe having a beer? Sold. This is our lives, every day.
And because of my Silver Naga family, I started to frequent the fields and caves on my outings more and more, the loudness created from the music and the town development subsides when we get just 5 minutes away. It’s in the fields and pastures that I can sit and listen to cicadas singing, cows mooing, water running, and soundless but playful and calm energy surround me.
Another big part of my experience here are…the dogs. I absolutely love the dogs here at the hotel. Now, this is not something I experience back in the Western world. Sure, dogs hang out at little Mom n’ Pop BnBs, but full-on a 5-star resort with food? No way. But, there are 4 dogs here…Nike (the grandma), Lily (the daughter/mom), and Boo Boo (Lily’s son), and ZoZo (the unrelated Pomeranian that I swear is an animated toy and not really a dog). Nike was my very first friend here. When I arrived and no one was around, there she was, greeting me with her wise eyes and gentle demeanour. And the dogs are so…great. ZoZo is the only one leashed, as he’s the pet dog. But the other 3 are free to roam as they please. They wander the streets but also guard the hotel. They hang out with us when we are having all of our relaxations, but they also let strangers know that they are the bosses of the hotel, and you can not enter without their permission.
And they have all become my best friends because of course, they have.
So back to the cows. Every day at 3 pm, the cows leave the pastures and walk down the path back to wherever it is they came from. From the mamas to the babies, and a couple of males, they moo and walk and stop to drink. All in all, I’d say there are about 40 cows that make the daily trek. Maybe next week I’ll go follow them to see where they live, after all.
And of course, there’s the yoga and Thai Massage. I’m so grateful for this experience because I get to keep up my massage practice, but I also get to implement and try out some of my new approaches to teaching. Since this is a travellers’ town, I only get maybe one opportunity to connect with people in yoga. It’s become vitally important for me to bring my laid back experiences from here to the classroom. I haven’t been teaching strong vinyasa flow. I haven’t been doing hard classes. I have been doing a lot of step-by-step and slow expansion of the muscles. I have been doing a lot of supine Yin classes, where we don’t even come off of the back until 45 minutes in. I have been encouraging people to go deeper into what they visualize in their practice by letting it settle in, rather than going straight into poses and “muscling through.” I was nervous about this approach, as I know a lot of people want that power, push, and strength tester. But I’ve stayed true to what I am conveying, and that is to go with ease, care and efficiency. And the experience has been nothing but positive.
So until I leave, I’ll just be here, expanding and growing, meditating and just…chilling. Taking it easy. Isn’t that the point, after all?