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Laos Life: Leaving Laos

Our time living in Vientiane is rapidly coming to an end. Which begs the question: Where to next?

When Lori signed her initial two-year contract with Humanity & Inclusion (then Handicap International) in the summer of 2016, we didn’t see ourselves agreeing to a third year extension.

That is, until we found out Lori was pregnant with Riley. Suddenly, signing onto a third year when it was offered made the most sense for us.

After all, who wants to start a new job and move to a new country with a newborn…? Well, maybe not twice.

The third year extension was due to expire at the end of 2019. In an ideal world, the next assignment would neatly begin in early 2020, with a couple of weeks in between for R&R.

But NGO work rarely lines up that way, and often, you have to pursue the opportunities in hand, even if the timing isn’t exactly perfect.

Fortunately, the hiring process took much longer than expected, allowing us a bit of a cushion with Lori’s current role.

With Riley in the mix now, I’ve decided to completely step back from development work for the time being and focus on the kids, the logistics of raising a family overseas in a developing country (there are many, particularly without a full time nanny/housekeeper like a lot of expat families have), and of course, growing the business side of AwayGoWe.

As a side note, we’ve tripled our traffic and earnings from this blog in the past 60 days — not enough to live off of yet, but a good start, considering it’s only been a few months of focused effort.

Shortly after our return to Laos in January, Lori began ratcheting up her networking. In the end, it was actually a coworker that tipped her off to the role she ultimately ended up signing onto. She applied in early April and her unconditional contract offer was signed just last week.

We’ve decided not to discuss the details of the position here, mainly for privacy and security reasons. It’s not so much that Lori’s new job, itself, is sensitive in nature, but we’re trying to take steps to safeguard our kids and retain some level of privacy apart from this site (more on that in the future).

We’ve also tried hard to keep a separation between our travel blog aimed at expats, travelers, and families, and non-related work. I know many of you would really like to know more about Lori does, which will make for great conversation the next time we see you!

In general terms, Lori will be advising on projects related to early childhood development across Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It’s an initial one year contract starting next week, but we will not be moving to our new home until late October.

I’m particularly proud of Lori this time around seeing how far she’s come in the last three years — from having a high level of technical know-how but limited notions of international development work, and all of the jargon and politics that go along with it, to having landed this new position (application, four interviews, and a written exam) with zero input, coaching, or advice from me on the development side of things.

Lori will start her work here in Vientiane, we’ll move out of our current house at the end of September, have a much anticipated break for a few weeks in Malaysia (Penang and Kuala Lumpur), return to Vientiane for a week for a workshop, then, it’s off to…

…our next home!

Which is…

Vietnam (Halong Bay)

…NOT Vietnam.

Early in the hiring process, we thought the assignment would be taking us to Hanoi. Lori submitted her application immediately before the four of us took off for a week-long vacation in Hanoi in April. Coincidentally, we had purchased plane tickets to Hanoi a few weeks before Lori learned about the position.

We knew Lori was a good candidate for the position, so a potential move was in the forefront of our minds when we visited. We approached our time in Hanoi as something of a scouting mission.

When Lori was offered the position and Hanoi was the plan, I stopped posting articles about Hanoi because it didn’t make sense to continue posting Vietnam content from Laos when we’d soon be living there.

We even got so far as telling our parents, siblings, and a couple close friends that a Hanoi move was imminent. Just as all of this was happening, though, the Vietnam government passed legislation which further restricted the number of work permits allowed for each INGO (International Non-Governmental Organization), which directly impacted on Lori’s new employer’s ability to secure a work permit for Lori.

That left Laos and Cambodia as potential duty stations. Taking into account the needs of the project and our desire to start something new, somewhere new, we opted for a move to…

Phnom Penh’s Central Market (Photo: Lor Teng Huy/Wikimedia Commons).

Phnom Penh!

We were excited to move to Hanoi for a completely different change of pace, but really, PP and Cambodia are more our style.

Noe and Riley are already enrolled in their new [French-Khmer-English] nursery schools, and we have a general idea of where we’ll be living, though we’ll wait until we’re on the ground in November to house hunt in earnest.

We spent a few days in Phnom Penh during our backpacking trip through East Asia in 2012, but have few photos and memories from the city, mostly on account of Lori being room-bound in our guesthouse with the flu. I, on the other hand, got to explore a good portion of central Phnom Penh and remember liking it.

When we returned to the U.S., there were two cities in Asia that seemed the most likely candidates for us to move to given our work, our lifestyle, interests, and budget. One was Vientiane, the other was Phnom Penh. In that sense a PP move only seems fitting.

Best of all, at least from a personal standpoint, we left Cambodia largely unexplored during our 2012 trip. Sure, we visited Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, but passed on Battambang and the beaches.

We’ve heard that Phnom Penh has changed dramatically since our first visit, so it will be interesting to see what that entails, as we have not been back to Cambodia since.

While from an outsiders perspective Laos and Cambodia seem to have a lot in common, we know there will be major differences between living in sleepy Vientiane and bustling PP, which is about twice the size of Vientiane and developing rapidly.

Cambodia is very much on the mass tourism radar, largely due to the sprawling and world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat UNESCO World Heritage Site, Siem Reap.


Road to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.

We likely won’t have regular access to a car in PP like we did in Vientiane, but public and private transport is far cheaper, and major destinations are only a few hours (or short and cheap flight) away. The nearest beach is about 3.5 hours, and stunning Koh Rong is a short distance farther.

Beach on Koh Rong.

Of course, we’ll miss Laos. Vientiane’s been very good to us over the past three years, and the only “home” that Noe and Riley have known. We’ve made good friends here with lots and lots of memories. Lots of firsts. But the beat goes on.

And that’s the latest from Laos!

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Congratulations on Lori’s new position, and I’m really looking forward to seeing photos of your new location. You both are so courageous to be making these moves with your two adorable little ones. They are so fortunate to have you two as their parents—truly going to be world-wide citizens!

Shirley Northcraft
Shirley Northcraft

Great job summarizing the next big adventure in your lives. Lovely photos, too!