A last sunset and so quickly it was over, our little journey through Northern and Central Laos. One thing is for sure – I will be back. Laura feels similar I think. It is just such a different (and for me better) experience to travel in a country with fewer people (1/10th the density of Vietnam 🇻🇳). It’s not just less hustle and bustle, it is also cleaner and the people seem less rushed (no disrespect Vietnam!). We have seen so little in our time here. Barely scratching the North and completely missing out on the more Southern provinces (though arguably the North was most enjoyable). Thank you Laos!
As for Vientiane – the city was a bit of a loss to me. We arrived in the afternoon from Vang Vieng and had little time (and to be fair interest) for sightseeing. It was pretty hot too. So instead a bit more shopping, food (nice hot-pot for me, Laura had other desires soup), drink and sleep. Same next day really (where i had more time)… Not much more than a peeps of the city’s architecture. Maybe it was just time to go home… ✈ 🇬🇧
Vang Vieng was the last stop on our mini Laos tour before reaching the capital Vientiane. The town has somewhat of a binary reputation. Some, mainly backpackers in their 20ies, come here to party in the pubs and bars and/or to consume drugs (which are openly advertised on happy menues and include marihuana, opium & mushrooms). Others just come to enjoy nature such as the wonderful rock formations and the river meandering through them. We enjoyed some of the popular activities such as river tubing and rock climbing. We also reunited with our German cyclist friend Harry.
River tubing: Scenery & Drinks (basically)
Tubing is a kind of must do exercise here. For LAK60,000 you get your tube and a tuk tuk takes you up the river Pakpo where you start your 5km float. On the way you have two bars. One right at the start (run by the same people who you find in Viva pub at nighttime) and one half way. Many others have been shut after things got out of hand in the past (many backpackers died due to incapacitation etc). Arguably the first bar was the more enjoyable one over a good game of beer pong. When not in the bars, you get to enjoy some amazing scenery. Plan 4-5h all in.
Rock Climbing: Out of shape
With all the rock formations in Vang Vieng there are several climbing tours on offer. We went for a half day tour (9.30-1.30pm) that took us back to the same river. In total we managed 3 climbs, as the guide had to secure 5 climbers. So quite a bit fo waiting. Laura did very well for her first time and climbed all three routes (different to one Canadian male who bailed on the last one). It went pretty well for me, but the last one I struggled as well. A 6A+ was just a tad too much without any training for a while. So here you go. Lhotse is easier than rocks in Vang Vieng.
Hanging out in town
After we enjoyed lunch after our climbing trip, Harry arrived in town after 220km on bike from Luang Prabang. Good to catch up and chat a bit before going across the bridge to another part of town (advertised by a Brit as his favourite place in the world). There was a nice bar near the bridge though best place in the world is a bit over the top. By the time we left it was dark and not easy to find our way back. Long night!
Off to Vientiane. Best off luck to you Harry on your final weeks in Laos and later on in Indonesia and Canada – maybe I catch you there in summer.
We tried to locate another boat to take us from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang, but to no avail. Two more dams lie on the way and have eradicated the boat option. What a pity, as we heard the landscape on this stretch is even more stunning. 😞
So the minivan it was for 4 hours. Bob stayed behind to explore the town and its surroundings a bit more and wants to do some trip planning. Goodbye for now, hope to see you in Luang Prabang again.
In this bus it was easier to see the scenery, but i missed the 🏍 for we could stop whereever we want and i always had a frontrow seat. Instead we were driving through this amazing place and played computergames on our mobiles 🤷♂️.
Luang Prabang basics Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of LP Province in northern Laos, lies in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It is the 5th largest city in Laos. Inhabited for thousands of years, it was the royal capital of the country until 1975. It’s known for its many Buddhist temples, including the gilded Wat Xieng Thong, dating to the 16thcentury, and Wat Mai, once the residence of the head of Laotian Buddhism.
As i have written in the last post already, i am absolutely taken by Laos so far. So different and really enjoyable. Same goes for the nightlife.
The first evening we watched sunset on the mekong river, had dinner trying fish and meat at the market and went for beers to an inviting bar with decent music, a pool table and good vibes. Loving it! (although for all the joy i did have a headache next morning).
Second night was similarly relaxed. After a stroll up to the stupa towering over Luang Prabang and a spectacular sunset, we enjoyed dinner on the shores of the mekong again and had some truly delicious mekong fish. Laura released two little birds I bought for her – a long standing tradition for good luck. Hope it helps!
Afterwards more time at the night market, food tasting (fish & coconut pancakes) and some souvenir shopping.
Kuang Si waterfalls & bear sanctuary
One of the key tourist attractions outside town, the waterfalls are cool place to see. Take swim gear and dio into the refreshing pools. Looks all like fantasy world to me.
Part of the park is also a sanctuary for the asiatic black bear. Cute to watch these guys in action 🐻😊🐻.
Explosive 💣 history – the sad UXO story
We didnt spend too much time in temples despite them being an important part of LP’s history. Very visible in any case are the many monks of all ages in town.
We tried to visit the Royal Palace just before leaving LP, but it was closed lunchtime. So it was a foot massage and a nice lunch instead 😉
What we did find time to see was the UXO information centre. There are several of these centres in Laos shedding light on the sad story of unexploded ordinance – basically US bombs that didnt go off during the Vietnam war. The bombing occured to harm either the base of fighters allied to North Vietnam or to interrupt supply lines to south vietnam (the ho chi minh trail).
Per capita, Laos holds the sad record of most bombed country in the world. A lot of the bombs were ‘bombies’ – hand grenade sized little bombs of cluster bombs that were used extensively. Close to 80m didn’t explode.
The impact is still being felt across Laos today. Each day a UXO claims a life, many families and livelihoods have been destroyed by accidents and vast areas remain bomb infested rendering them useless for economic / farm use.
Moving on to Vang Vieng from here. Harry hit the road towards there as well. Fingers crossed we meet again in three days time. 🚴 🇱🇦 💪
After a wonderful first evening in Laos, we got up reasonably early for breakfast. We had agreed to meet Bob around 9am at a cafe near the river from where we would depart downstream later on.
Our plan for today was to float to the village of Nong Khiaw. Four more tourists and a bunch of locals joined us for the trip that would take a bit more than 5 hours.
The scenery was amazing as the river meanders through lush green hills either side and past smaller traditional villages. The route is meant to be one of the most scenic in south-east asia. Sadly, the construction of several dams by the Chinese make through journeys on boats impossible nowadays and require change of boats as well as circumventing the dam on land by minibus or tuk-tuk.
I enjoyed chatting to fellow traveller Harry from Cologne who we spotted arriving in town the night before. He is currently on a one year sabbatical and travels by bike. He already spent three months in New Zealand and crossed Northern Thailand on his way from Bangkok to Laos. Reminded me of my own bike adventure (https://rocketontour.com/category/sultans-trail/).
We decided to go straight to Nong Khiaw and skip Muang Ngoy. The latter has also a good reputation, but we have only so much time after all. Once arrived we sorted accommodation and Laura finally got to rest having struggled with an upset stomach all day. I checked out town ready for sunset while Bob rested and Harry chatted with a group of bikers he had met twice before (and who cycle from UK 🇬🇧 to Australia 🇦🇺!!!).
Really lovely town. Quiet, clean, relaxed. Next to the hotel was a nice restaurant with river views (well, it was dark) and we enjoyed a good conversation over a few 🍻. Good night!
One month in Vietnam was up shortly after we left Dien Bien Phu – a town less than two hours from the border. First up – a big thank you 🙏. We had an amazing time all over the country and yet haven’t seen all of it. One day maybe. For now, we are moving on.
In order to get to Laos without having to return to Hanoi, we had picked out the tai tran border. Not all border crossings into Laos provide visa on arrival service, so watch out which one you choose.
The bus left around 8.30am and would take the best part of 9h to get us to Dien Bien Phu where a connecting bus to Laos left next day. The mountain road was scenic though being squeezed into the back bench ruined most views. Shame really.
Once arrived, we discussed options with Bob from the US who was in the same bus and bought a ticket for the 5.30am to Muang Khua to take us across the border. He looks strangely like the actor Anthony Hopkins and is from Massachusetts, US. Bob travels most years for about 6mth in his off-season (and escaping the cold). He had been to Laos six years before and hence knew his way around better than we did. The night in Dien Bien Phu itself was unspectacular other than our last Pho Soup 🍜🍜🍜
Crossing into Laos
The bus terminal was buzzing already as we arrived. Still, there was time for an omelet for breakfast. Turns out that the three of us were the only travellers. Probably because of the upcoming Tet festival fewer people wished to cross the border.
Clearly, the bus couldn’t go that empty! So the driver drove somewhere and loaded up on all sort of snacks, potatoes and a handful local people. Suddenly the bus was full after all.
The border crossing turned out ok. Laura had overstayed her visa by a few hours and we read online about a U$25 penalty fee. But it was ok. On the laos side, we paid the U$30 visa fee plus the additional U$5 or so in made up charges that go directly into the pockets of the staff.
Welcome to Laos! The kingdom of a thousand elephants 🐘 🐘 🐘
Officially called the Lao People’s Democratic Republic it is the only landlocked country in Asia and has the lowest population density. It is a socialist, one party state with some 7m inhabitants. The ethnic mix is diverse with 53.2% Lao, 11% Khmu, 9.2% Hmong, 3.4% Phouthay, 3.1% Tai, 2.5% Makong, 2.2% Katang, 2.0% Lue, 1.8% Akha and 11.6% other. The prevailing religion is Buddhism for 2/3rd and Laotian folk religion for 1/3rd.
An evening in Muang Khua
It took a further 2h by bus to the town of Muang Khua. The feel of the place was instantly different. Fewer people, less hassle.
1/10th of the population density of Vietnam… And you feel it immediately
We sat down in a cafe and chatted more with Bob before heading to guesthouses for a well deserved nap. 😴😴😴
Late afternoon we had time to take a look around. Late lunch, new SIM cards for Laos and a little stroll. The best part was an unexpected Karaoke show in a restaurant where locals celebrated. They let us sample different kinds of food – quite spicy at times! Laura order some soup. Turns out it was full of intestines and not very much to our liking sadly. So another soup elsewhere before hitting the beds!