I’ve left Laos.

I still had another week on my visa, but the time came. It was time for me to leave. It’s now the day after and I’m really not sure if I was actually ready to go. The country changed me. It had a power that I didn’t think existed and I fell prey to it.

My Facebook memories this week have shown me that eight years ago I was leaving for my first trip to Malaysia, six years ago I was in Spain and three years ago I was once again in Europe. In one of my posts, I commented on the surprising change in scenery between Germany and Austria. I’m glad I saw them before experiencing Laos – looking back, I imagine I would have only been disappointed.

I’ve been away for almost four months now and this is the first I’ve felt like this. I can’t even describe it – I’m a ball of emotions and they aren’t sure how to respond with each other.

I very nearly cried on Thursday – sitting in the car after leaving a waterfall, I felt myself get overcome with emotion. It was more than feeling surreal, it was more than joy and happiness, it was more than anything I’d felt before. But it was there and it was about to pour out of me.

I whipped out my phone and started making notes, I commented on the scenery, specifically the colours; the lush green, the white clouds, the dusty red roadsides and the blue sky. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen anything like it. How could I possibly be here with all of these colours, using and truly meaning the word ‘lush’? The scenery was stunning and it was making me emotional.

Lush is the perfect word for Laos. I’ve done a fair amount of travel over the past 15 years and have honestly loved each of my trips – I’ve got an immense soft spot for Japan being my first trip and my only time working overseas. I’ve got another soft spot for Peru with the culture, the history and again the scenery. But I oddly feel that neither really compares with Laos.

I wrote a status update on Facebook about me leaving Laos and I commented that I was a changed person, that I’d learnt so much – about the country, about travel, about myself. All of this is true, yet it doesn’t seem enough. These words don’t truly capture what Laos has risen in me. What is still trying to claw its way to my consciousness.

It was time to leave, there are new places to explore and people to meet, food to eat. But as I was driven to the bus stop, I couldn’t help but keep looking out the window and wondering what else I should have done, where else I should have gone. What else?

I was the only western person on my bus and I was seated in the back row, right by the toilet. I wasn’t able to fully recline my seat as there were people sitting on the floor behind me. It should not have been a comfortable journey, yet I appreciated it for what it was. It was a $36AUD ride from Pakse to Bangkok – over 700 kilometres in distance. Who was I to complain about not being able to recline my chair? I had a chair and I had leg space.

No English was spoken on this bus – I don’t think I even recognised a sabaidee or kopchai. The Lao was quick and quiet and it was not intended for me. Yet without understanding a single word and feeling quite out of my depth on an international journey, I was calm and relaxed, albeit a little sad and quite pensive.

The ride to the border only took about an hour, I hadn’t realised how close to Thailand I actually was. I followed the crowd to the immigration for departures and paid my 10,000 kip then walked into Thailand. I was provided with an entry and departure card, which I completed and handed to an immigration official. I was stamped into Thailand and left the building.

There was no fuss or fanfare but as soon as I stepped outside, it was different. The air felt thicker, the people looked different, the atmosphere had changed. The market stalls were definitely Thai, there were banks and ATMs lined up and of course, a big 7/11. It was so typically Thai and so un-Lao – there was no mistaking that I was back in the land of smiles.

I wasn’t sure that I liked it.

I did duck into 7/11 – it’s the number on place to go for a refreshing hit of air conditioning and a cheap snack. I however felt a little like I was betraying Laos. My first purchase outside the country was to a massive commercial enterprise – a commercial enterprise I can and do encounter back home.

I’m still trying to work out what Laos did to me and why I’m feeling this way. Perhaps I’ll never know and I should just appreciate the feelings it brought out in me, the subtle changes it influenced. A part of me stayed in Laos, yet I took a big part with me. Laos has helped me appreciate travel, the world, history and myself.

I commented on Facebook that I was a changed person. I am. Laos makes you appreciate life and all it has to offer. Laos – Please Don’t Rush.