3 weeks in Laos

Emma - 14 December 2016

Our time in Laos has just come to an end, so here’s a summary of what we've been up to!

We began, as most backpackers do in Laos, with the slow boat from northern Thailand to Luang Prabang. It’s a three day journey which is surprisingly enjoyable. The second two days are spent chugging along the Mekong River gazing out as mile after mile of lush green mountains drift past. Watching an occasional mud fight break out amongst the Lao children we saw on the banks helped break up the tedium!

Slow boat to Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is seen as Laos’s jewel, and it’s easy to see why. The small town is filled with buddhist temples and greenery, surrounded by river and mountains. It can feel like a bit of a ‘Disney’ version of itself, since the old town area is entirely filled with hotels, restaurants and coffee shops, but we warmed to it nonetheless. We spent four days there, and our highlights were:

  • Exploring Kuang Si Waterfall - a day of splashing around this lovely waterfall, and walking it’s many trails
  • Crossing the river - discovering rural village life just the other side of the Mekong from central Luang Prabang
  • Visiting the Living Land Rice Experience - learning how to grow and harvest rice, including having a go at driving a plough pulled by a water buffalo!

Living land rice farm

 Alms gathering in Luang Prabang

Luang Si waterfall

Our bus to Vang Vieng may have provided the most spectacular scenery of any journey I’ve ever been on. Craggy mountains coated in green stretching out before us. It also provided the worst road I’ve ever been on in my life. It was like we were just driving cross country. At points I think the road may have actually been a riverbed (complete with a little stream)!

Road to Vang Vieng

One way or another, we made it to infamous Vang Vieng. This riverside town in beautiful natural settings used to be the hedonistic party capital of South East Asia thanks to ‘tubing’. It has recently evolved into the adventure capital for Chinese and Korean tourists, who gleefully roar around the town in ATV convoys. That’s not to say that tubing (floating downstream in an inflated tractor inner tube) doesn’t still exist. We gave it a go, and enjoyed peacefully floating through the countryside, sharing our tubes with flamboyant dragonflies, but were less convinced by the pressure to down beers at 9am. I had just brushed my teeth!

Tubing in Vang Vieng

Our time in Vang Vieng was strangely peaceful. Like much of our time in Laos it was spent exploring the countryside by motorbike (including a bit of an accident…), wandering around the outskirts of town, and playing with adorable kittens at our guesthouse! What more could you want?

Next up was Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and every tourist’s least favourite place in the country! It’s a bit boring, charmless and expensive, and we didn’t linger here long (even if it is meant to deliver the best French pastries in Laos)!

Thakhek was next as we steadily worked our way south. As there’s little reason to spend time in Thakhek it has a very non-touristy vibe, which makes it fun to wander around. The only problem is that simple things like finding a place to stay suddenly become difficult! There were two reasons for us being in Thakhek… first off we went rock climbing, which was a great chance to get up close and personal with the amazing rock formations around here, and also to realise how unfit a month of travel has made us!

Secondly, we were here for the ‘Thakhek Loop’, a phenomenal roadtrip that took us three days by motorbike. It travels through stunning scenery, passing rice paddies and mountains, but is most famous for the proliferation of stunning caves. The highlight was definitely the awe inspiring Konglor Cave (7km long!)

Thakhek motorbike loop

Scenery on the Thakhek bike loop

After Thakhek, we briefly visited Pakse en route to the southernmost point of Laos: Si Phan Don, which translates to 4,000 Islands. Here you’re a stone’s throw away from Cambodia, and the Mekong River widens out, creating loads of tiny islands. We stayed on sleepy Don Khone, swinging in hammocks and exploring by bicycle.

Boat to 4000 island

We dragged ourselves away from incredibly cheap island life to hire a motorbike back in Pakse. First we explored Wat Phu, a gorgeous Khmer temple on a mountain near Champasak. Fun fact: the mountain translates as Penis Mountain due to its shape!

Wat Phu

For our final hurrah in Laos we embarked on another three day motorbike extravaganza, this time exploring the Bolaven Plateau, a very cold high elevation area known for its stunning waterfalls and coffee production. Obviously we hated it…

Tad Tayicsua

And that was it for Laos! After 25 days here we absolutely adored the country, with it's kind people, simple way of life, and beautiful scenery. Next stop is Vietnam and we’re hoping it gets better from here. The journey from Laos to Vietnam was ‘subpar’ to say the least...

As an aside, it was while we were in Laos that we were first tipped off by a fellow traveller about a free app called Polar Steps, which tracks your location when you travel. Check ours out!

Traditional Laos food laap

Have you been to Laos? What do you think of what we managed to squeeze in?