27th June – 3rd July 2018
Depending on where you are entering Laos, depends on whether you need a visa pre-arrival. You will more than likely be able to get a visa on arrival, that is unless you are entering from Vietnam. Always check the government guidelines a couple of weeks before you plan on entering a country to ensure you do not face any border issues. We obtained our visa on the border of Thailand and Laos. You require a passport size photo & around $30.00 – $35.00 (US Dollars) to pay for the visa itself. I had an issue with one of my $20.00 as it had a small tear in one of the corners – annoyingly I had to ask around to swap this with someone as I wasn’t in the position to argue. The visa on arrival allows you to travel for 30 days. I only crossed paths with one other person who had stayed longer than two weeks, so this is normally plenty of time.
I withdrew 2,000,000 Kip upon entry which equated to around £210.00. I paid an additional £90.00 for a flight out of Vientiane into Hanoi, as the bus journey was around 24 hours and the wound was to raw to be experiencing that again so soon.
We didn’t venture off the beaten track and stuck to the middle route of:
- Luang Prabang 2. Vang Vieng 3. Vientiane
L U A N G P R A B A N G
Day 1 – 4
As we arrived to the drop off point at around 5.30am, we decided it would be best to get a tuk tuk to the hostel (Chill Riverside) and although we couldn’t check in, we could put our bags down and were able to laze around in the hammocks situated on the Mekong River. The Hostel itself is very basic, however you can’t complain for the money you will spend on a bed for the night. The location is just perfect, smack bang in the middle of Luang Prabang and right next to Utopia, a day/night bar and restaurant/ only place really to go if you are backpacking. Once checked in, we took ourselves off to the centre and walked the 100m (300 stairs) hill up Mount Phousi. The ‘highest hill’ is a popular place to watch the sun rise and set, but this of course comes with a lot of tourists. We went around mid-day and there was little to no people up there – wise choice from them in what felt like 200 degrees. The view is stunning at mid-day, so I can only imagine what the view as sunrise/set provides – one side provides you with a view of the Mekong River and the other, the Nam Khan River. There is a temple at the top you can explore and you can choose to let a caged bird free here but obviously, for ethical reasons, please don’t entertain this.
After a bite to eat, we walked back to the hostel via the Mekong River. After showering and grabbing a bite to eat at the night markets, we headed to Utopia to watch the England/ Belgium game. As we lost, we decided to drown our sorrows and ended the night with the only possible way in Luang Prabang, Bowling. ‘Bowling, bowling’ will be the first thing you hear when leaving Utopia premise by several tuk-tuk drivers, so we went with it. As you are taken through a lovely peaceful and sleepy town, you suddenly arrive at a huge westernised bowling centre. It soon becomes apparent why this place is the go to, as you can buy bottles of spirits and mixers for very cheap. A somewhat sober bowling turns into intoxicated bowling, veeeeerrrry quickly.
The following day I awoke and took a stroll down to Utopia to get some sort of smoothie (nutrients of any kind) to soothe my pounding head. When walking back, I noticed a small library between the restaurant and the hostel. The good thing in Laos, is that even though it’s a small place, the urge to explore is huge due to their culture. I poked my head in and there was a lovely American lady, Fabiana, teaching young Lao children English! I mouthed whether it was OK for me to sit and observe to which she agreed, and at the end of the session she asked me, being English, if I would talk about my life and if I would answer some of the children’s questions! The class was a mix of pupils, from monks to young adults giving up their time to learn English to enhance their chance of learning resulting in a better life for themselves and their families. Once they overcame their shyness, they wanted to ask me all the questions under the sun about my life back at home. They could not get their heads around the fact I was travelling the world, so far from home. I was honored that they asked me back the next day.
In the afternoon, we took a trip out to Kuang Si falls, which are an absolute must (and what most people come here for)!! The different shades of blue and stages of this three tier waterfall are so picturesque. You can swim in the shallower of the pools, and jump rope in too if you’re brave enough. We treated ourselves that evening to a gorgeous beef burger and fries at Utopia (owned by Americans) and caught ourselves an early night ready for an early start observing Tak Bat (the morning alms giving).
Tak Bat is a daily tradition, whereby Lao Monks silently walk down the streets collecting alms at around 5.30am (sticky rice, bananas etc). This was amazing to observe but please don’t forget this is a religious tradition. Keep a large distance, be completely silent, cover yourselves and do not use flash on your cameras. Following this, off I went back down to Utopia as I noticed a sign when leaving the bar the night before, that offered a morning yoga class from 7.30am. As I was already up, I decided to go get my zen on and there was no more peaceful setting to do so. Following a shower, as promised I took myself back to the library to assist teaching a morning of English, followed by a VERY interesting game of scrabble with the locals. We spent the afternoon booking our flight into Vietnam, and our first few hostels; heading back to the street market for dinner. Overall, Luang Prabang was my most enjoyable stop in Laos, due to its natural beauty, history and culture.
V A N G V I E N G
Day 4 – 7
We took the morning bus to Vang Vieng. This in total took around 7 hours and was a very, very windy ‘road’. I say that loosely as most of it was off-roading, spending time face to face with another bus or lorry taking that only route. As we spent most the day on the bus, after checking in at Vang Vieng Rocks (shithole), we spent the evening chilling in Smile Bar, and grabbed some dinner at Greens. I can’t really remember much about either if I am honest so I’m not sure if I can recommend- sorry. The next day we ventured down to do what Vang Vieng is known best for, tubing, down on the Nam Song river. This apparently used to be a booze cruise down the river with lots of stops at bars, until it became too dangerous and tourists were continuously losing their lives. Now at first, I was kind of fuming to learn that there was now only a couple of bars open along the river. HOWEVER, that was until I sat in my tube and within 20 seconds was out of my tube, going under, watching my Go Pro sail down in front of me. The current was so strong and I was completely alone, I really was so scared. Knowing my friends had managed to stop at the bar as they were nowhere in sight, as soon as I could (after hitting a few massive rocks along the way- see bruise below), I managed to get myself on to the grass verge where I hoped someone would come for me! Now looking back, I’m like WTF but lo and behold, a little Lao man on his petrol motored boat came to rescue me. After an emotional reunion with my travel companion, (who thought I was dead), we continued the day and it goes without saying, I never let go of anyone again.
So if you ask me if I would recommend it, I would still say yes. Sure, you’re going to do it anyway. But just BE CAREFUL. The current in that river is no joke and I’ve not been so confident in open water ever since. After a boozy day on the river, we decided against an after party and grabbed dinner at the Parisian Café, before heading to bed. The following and final day spent in Vang Vieng, was regrettably spent with potential food/ water poisoning in bed. I had a TERRIBLE belly – thank God I had the bottom bunk, as the toilet became my very best friend. It’s safe to say I felt very sorry for myself spending a day in a ratchet hostel toilet with no air con. Fortunately, it was just a 24 hour thing and I managed to get on the morning bus to Vientiane the next morning!
V I E N T I A N E
Day 7 – 8
Our last and final, short stop was to Vientiane. There wasn’t anything we wanted to see here, but as we were flying out of the main airport into Hanoi the following day, we decided to briefly see what it had to offer. We visited the COPE Centre, a rehabilitation centre providing UXO survivors and mobility related diseases with prosthetic and orthotics, free of charge due to COPE supporters. The museum was really interesting and eye-opening for those who don’t know much about what happened to Laos during the Vietnamese war. I would definitely recommend visiting it if you have the time. In our last few hours, we visited the Laos Vientiane Mall, the River Side markets and finally watched the sun set over the Mekong River. We spent the night at Dream Hostel I (another shit hole, and quite far out – avoid!) before catching a flight to Hanoi the following morning.
All in all, I am really glad we did go to Laos – as after speaking to a few people in Thailand, we did contemplate whether to skip it. The country has a huge amount of history, of which I would have never educated myself on if I wasn’t there to witness it first-hand. I would say personally, a week was enough. Luang Prabang was my highlight and after that I was quite eager to move on, but this could have been that I was SO excited for Vietnam (and got sick in Vang Vieng). But listen, if you’re in SE Asia, definitely go and experience the lazy Lao lifestyle and learn about the insane amount of culture for a at least a week or two.