Location: Pakse, Laos
Many well-known tourist destinations in Southeast Asia are just that: strips of souvenir shops, cafes boasting overpriced “English style breakfasts,” bars owned and operated by Western staff, and booking agencies with long lists of tour guide services for the nearest attractions. What often begins as a haven for those searching for culture shock becomes a place accustomed to the foreign traffic. Many oft-visited communities even warp themselves to cater to the constant influx of sight-seers rather than represent the traditional culture.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Tourism brings money to locals (or at least we can hope - re: Cambodia), provides jobs in the community, and is simply an unavoidable side effect of globalization. It can be and often is extremely positive, both for the community and those travelers experiencing new places and things. And there’s also no denying that an English-style breakfast, hash browns and bacon included, can be a rare, welcome treat after months of fried rice, instant noodles, and unidentifiable meat substances on skewers. These creature comforts are something to fall back on after spending weeks in constant movement between sights, slowly becoming consumed by the tiring (but also addictive) daze of culture shock.
But then there’s the routine, the trap so easy to fall into when you’re traveling.
As a backpacker, you’re also often looking for the cheapest, most easily accessible accommodation possible. This leads you right to hostels in tourist districts, which cater to your budget and are often great environments for meeting others who are on the same kind of journey. The hostels host irresistible happy hours, i.e. free beer from 6-9. When happy hour ends you travel to the nearest bar or club to continue the party…which is also where every other young Westerner is heading. You wake up late in the morning, hungover, stumble over to the nearest food joint, the one with the “English-style breakfast” that your stomach so desperately needs, and you barely have enough energy to make it to through the tourist destination stuff you came to see. Then happy hour starts again. It’s a not-so-vicious cycle. But sometimes you begin to wonder what you’re really experiencing and if it’s possible to meet locals that aren’t trying to sell you stuff.
Or at least that’s what was going on in my head in Pakse.
Where do the locals hang out? There’s obviously twenty-somethings in this city. They must all go somewhere to party.
Well, I found exactly where they go. Baby did some research, found out there are only two documented dance clubs in Pakse, and when we read that it was mostly locals, no tourists, everyone was on board. But first, we had to get there. We wandered onto the street around 10PM, charging on the bottle of whiskey we shared during our pregame session.
There are strange, obviously-homemade motorbike-taxi contraptions in Laos that lend themselves to this kind of mission. It’s a motorbike with a wooden platform on wheels attached to it. The platform has a wooden seat big enough for one to two people and is covered by a thin, painted metal awning. I would say the government recommended passenger limit would just be a short note about how the thing must be burned immediately and never ridden on the street. Well, that night we could only find one that offered to take us to the nearest club, a place called King J, about three kilometers away. When we said we had a group of five people, the smiling Laotian man waved it off. Same same but different, right?
Baby rode double with the driver, I sat on the seat with Caleb, and Cody and Jack sat on the wood platform, holding their legs out in front of them.
It was the scariest mode of transportation I’ve ever known. And I was in a motorbike crash only a couple weeks earlier.
When we made it to the club, a green-purple-silver flashing building with disco squares on both sides of the entrance, the driver let us know he’d wait for us. Inside was a visual and auditory explosion. Laser lights flashed in every direction and hardcore EDM blasted out of the speakers. The DJ was on a huge stage and, unlike dance clubs in Western cultures that have open floors for getting down, the center of this one was filled with tables and people milling about, pouring whiskey into glasses with ice.
Nobody was dancing.
Well, that’s not totally accurate. We were dancing…to the amusement of everyone around us. Laotians snapped photos and a few of the less inhibited ones joined us for our dance party. We were given free drinks by laughing locals, shared cheers over iced whiskey and partied well into the night.
And don’t worry my fearless adventurers! I’ve made up a little guide for you to check out and become a local party crasher expert as well!
Now, before you read the following instructions for your own local party crash, I am obligated to warn you that this kind of activity isn’t for everyone. You will be surrounded by strangers who don’t speak English, who can’t understand you and come from a completely different background. You’ll need to be quite skilled at hand gesturing and reading body language. You’ll also need to be competent enough when you’re totally smashed to remember cultural norms and be respectful. Lastly, when a local pours you a free drink, whether it be a mixed drink from a bar (rare) or a tin cup that’s been scooped into a bucket of his cousin’s moonshine, you man up, cheers them, and drink it with the same willingness that they do. Bottoms up!
A Local Party Crasher’s Party Crashing Guide
- Visit a medium-sized city, possibly a capital of a small country, business center or stopover destination. Just something that’s not a normal tourist district. For instance, Pakse, Laos.
- Look up nightlife. Can’t find much about it outside a couple reviews of local joints that stay open all night? Good!
- Pregame for your big night out. Local clubs are actually usually quite expensive. So make sure you either have a good amount of cash on you or take the cheaper route and down quarter bottle of local liquor in your hotel room.
- Find a willing tuk tuk driver that speaks 10 words - 10 sentences of English. Make dancing motions and say “dance, dance, club, drink!” Warning: he will probably laugh at you. It’s best to be at least tipsy for this part.
- Allow said driver to take you to the nearest local club. If it’s not surrounded by motorbikes and doesn’t have at least one large, flashing neon sign, you’re in the wrong place.
- Enter the club, make friends, and dance (respectfully) with the locals.