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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Sarah who’s currently living in Vientiane.
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and I live in Vientiane, Laos. I’ve been based here for over a year and a half, which practically makes me a lifer in this expat community.
Before I came here I was working as a graphic designer in Ubud, Bali. I had a tremendously beautiful life there, but when that feeling hit that it was time to move on, I couldn’t shake it. So I took a break to go backpacking around Southeast Asia. When I made it to Laos I met another graphic designer who told me about the job, and I applied on a bit of a whim, and it all worked out!
I prefer to move around a lot during the day and keep things varied, but my days all follow the same general format. I get up around 6:30 and have some breakfast on my porch, alone or with my brother. (He moved here to teach a few months ago, it’s so cool to have family around!) I pack my little mobile office into my backpack and head to one of the cafes around 7:30 and get a head start on personal projects like blogging, writing emails, or working on freelance projects before I switch to the day job.
I work as graphic designer and marketing manager for a small chain of cafes in Laos, Vietnam and soon Cambodia as well. I do all of the design for all of the cafes so I’m constantly Skyping my (Canadian) bosses or my Lao, Vietnamese and Cambodian colleagues. These groups are very different in the ways they work and communicate, so simply navigating between them all can be quite an endeavor! My work hours are quite flexible but I try to keep generally to the 9-5 schedule of the office. I go to the office later in the morning 3 or 4 days a week to check any proofs that have come from the printer, or have a meeting, or just check in with my officemates. The rest of the time I’m working from one of the three cafes we have here in Vientiane. On the average day I get a couple requests to make some small updates to files and other little things and I spend a little time updating and managing our social media channels and website. Most of my time is spent on bigger projects like upcoming promotions, preparing for a new cafe opening, and designing or updating cafe merchandise, packaging, signage, and the like. On the whole it’s a lot of fun and there’s so much variety to the work, which really keeps things busy and engaging.
In the evenings I pick up some produce at the market, go to the gym or for a jog along the Mekong, and do some more freelance work and blogging at home. I cook a couple nights a week but it’s actually usually cheaper and easier to eat out! For lunch and dinner I’ll meet up with a couple friends and we’ll eat out in town. Nobody would ever guess this about Vientiane but it’s a foodie’s dream town! It’s a tiny city with a big development presence so we have expats from all over the world and restaurants to match. There are phenomenal French, Italian, and Spanish restaurants at prices a fraction of what they would be in the west, and we get fantastic and cheap Lao, Vietnamese, Thai, steak, Mexican, Belgian, sushi, Indian, pizza, and burgers on the regular. Expat social life revolves around eating out and drinking BeerLao, which is the best beer in Asia by far. (Note: This is my favorite beer too!) There’s not a great deal going on around town in the evenings but we certainly manage to make our own fun!
On the weekends we travel a lot. There are so many great spots that are easy and cheap to reach. We’ll take a motorbike convoy to an ecolodge on a nearby lake, take the bus up to Vang Vieng and party with the backpackers, hop over the Thai border to Udon Thani for Starbucks and shopping, or even take a quick flight to Luang Prabang or Bangkok, they’re only about 45 minutes by plane. And with a week or two off work, the sky’s the limit for travel. I’ve been to nine different Asian countries since I moved here and I have a few more trips in the pipeline.
Laos is such a lovely place to live as a foreigner. The locals are unfailingly warm and friendly, the scenery is beautiful, and the living is cheap. There are only a few downsides to living here. Like I said the people are kind and friendly, but it’s often difficult for most foreigners to develop close friendships with Lao friends. Society is so family-based here that unless you’re marrying in to one, there aren’t many ways to connect on such a meaningful level. I have a number of Lao friends that mean the world to me but I worry that when I move away from here these connections may not sustain like my friendships have with other expat friends, and that makes me pretty sad.
And there are the common developing world problems, like poor medical care, a not-so-great economy, abysmal driving skills and road safety, very low standards for education, the devastation of natural resources, government corruption, the list goes on. But this doesn’t affect day-to-day life a great deal, and it’s the positives that really stick out. Not to be cavalier about these problems! People are poor here but they’re mostly happy and enjoying their lives, and there are a lot of good people working tirelessly on these issues. The country is up against a lot, but even so it’s hard to be overwhelmed by the negative, and that’s purely a testament to what a wonderful little country Laos is.
See more of Sarah’s work and travels on her website, Satellite Eyes, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram at: @_satelliteeyes.
Want to be a part of the Day-to-Day guest post series? Contact me at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail . com for all the deets!