Hanging out with a local can give you a different and better perspective of a certain culture or country simply because “a local knows”.
What does a local know? Everything! What it’s like to live in their city, how to adjust to the customs or the environment, where to go, where to eat or where to stay. And I’m glad to have experienced hanging out with a local when I went to Laos for the first time.
From Bangkok, I took a train to the Laotian capital Vientiane to meet up with two of my Filipino friends. Fortunately for me, they knew somebody who lived in Vientiane, so we spent one of our days hanging out with a Laotian man named Dr. Kham (he really is a doctor).
I already spent a day on my own in Vientiane, but I got to appreciate the city more because of Dr. Kham. And if I were to advise future travelers, I’d say, “Befriend a local!”.
1. A Local Knows Where To Eat
In 2010 when I was in Ho Chi Minh, my Vietnamese friend Dolly introduced to me a cheap restaurant that served the most delicious Vietnamese food I’ve ever tasted so far. My point? A local knows where to eat.
In Vientiane, Dr. Kham knew the best places and he took us there. One of the restaurants we went to is far from the city center. The name is Vieng Nem Neung and it says “Vietnamese Food” below the sign but it actually serves Laotian dishes (how weird!).
This was our meal.
One of the dishes I loved was the pork sausage (served on the blue plate above). According to Dr. Kham, to eat it you have to wrap it in a vegetable leaf and dip it in a sweet chili sauce. Then you have to eat the white noodles (which is the alternative to white rice) with it. As you can see, our table had plates of green vegetables from cabbages to mint and two plates of white noodles.
We were stuffed afterwards as you can see here:
2. A Local Can Offer A Good Place to Stay For The Night
A local can recommend the best (and safest) places to stay in a city, but a local can also recommend his or her own home.
My friends and I grabbed the opportunity when Dr. Kham offered us his place to stay for one night. And staying in a local’s house, I believe, is the closest thing to having an “authentic” experience in a foreign country.
Dr. Kham’s house is about an hour away from the city center, which made it more exciting. We hardly saw buildings when we were there. It reminded me so much of the surrounding areas of my hometown in the Philippines – bucolic and quiet.
I’m not going to post the exterior look of his home for privacy purposes but here’s the view from the driveway of his home during sunrise.
3. A Local Knows Where To Get the Best Breakfast
The following morning, Dr. Kham took us to a food stand somewhere in the city center but away from the backpacker’s area. It served French baguette with various toppings such as onions, cabbage, meat, and a special tasty sauce. Below is a photo of me giving a thumbs up! sign because it was healthy, cheap and unbelievably delicious!
4. A Local Can Give You New Insights About A City or Country
Dr. Kham had a car and as our host, he took us around and told us about some of the sites we saw. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have known about the celebration during that time in That Luang, Laos’ most sacred Buddhist monument.
He also shared things we didn’t know about Laotians such as their love for beer and how Beer Lao is highly exalted (and I never expected it for a Buddhist country). One of the things I asked was his opinion on Vang Vieng as many of us are starting to think that it is becoming more of a “party place”. He said he doesn’t oppose the development and he thinks it’s good for the locals (and foreigners are actually saying that the development in Vang Vieng is bad! hmmm….).
5. A Local Can Be Your Friend
Me and my friends are eternally grateful for Dr. Kham’s hospitality. I’m so happy that we were able to spend a day with him, not only because we were able to eat the best food or see the sites we wanted, but because he became a friend, and that’s what’s important in this journey of ours.
No matter where you go, human connection is as important as experiencing the most authentic dish or the most beautiful attraction.
So thank you Dr. Kham. You were awesome!
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