A truly beautiful and unique country that offers some great adventures, especially if you love being in or on the water. Not as popular as neighboring Thailand but Laos still serves plenty of tourists and has all the necessary amenities. I would’ve liked to get deeper into the Jungle of Laos but time was not permitting and travel is slow on the windy mountain roads.
Language: Lao – Hello (Sabai Di) goodbye (sok di) thank you (khop jai)
Currency: Kip – Approximately 8,000 K to 1USD
Climate: October to January is the best time to visit. It rains the least and the temps are pleasant (70 to 80).
Religion: Theravada Buddhism – You will see monks often.
Government: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
A favorite of travelers and the landing spot when coming in from Thailand via the slow boat trip on the Mekong River. This city has a real peaceful feeling to it and I enjoyed just walking the cobble stone old fashioned streets.
Where to Stay: If you arrive via the slow boat there will be guest house representatives waiting on the docks along the Mekong River. If you pre-booked accommodation you can catch a ride to your hotel, if you didn’t pre-book, haggle your way to a great deal when you arrive. The town is very small and concentrated and most guest houses are located on and just south of Manthatoulat rd. which runs along the Mekong river.
Eating: You don’t have to look hard for a place to eat in Luang Prabang. The cuisine ranges from western to Lao and the prices are all goodx. . The ambiance and Lao food at the riverside restaurants are a must do. There are also amazing bakeries for breakfast and lunch options.
Nightlife: After sunset the night market is set up on the southwest end of town along Sisavangvong rd. This is also where you will find the cool spots to grab a drink. The bars close early and those looking to still party after midnight all head to the bowling alley at the edge of town by sharing tuk-tuk rides.
What to do: Walk up the steps to Phousi the Sacred Hill and look down upon Luang Prabang. At the top you will find a Buddhist temple called That Chomsi. The Royal Palace museum– Originally built in 1904 for the King this Palace turned museum houses the most sacred Buddha in all of Laos called Pha Bang.
Side Trips: Kouang Si waterfall – The light neon blue colored water cascading over white limestone rock for hundreds of meters draws many visitors. It will cost you around 50,000 K to get there via a tour agent and 20,000 K to enter the falls. Make a half day out of it; there are food stalls at the entrance gates, bears in cages, and a rope swing in the largest pool.
Even smaller than Luang Prabang this town has just two main roads and for the most part is built around the tourism industry. It’s nestled in a beautiful valley surrounded by limestone cliffs. The roads in and out are very slow to travel on and buses are often late. When you arrive in Vang Vieng you should not be in a hurry, many people stay for longer than expected to sit on the floor of one of the many bars offering 24/7 episodes of the sitcom Friends or Family Guy.
Where to Stay: Don’t go cheap in Vang Vieng, it had been known for its party atmosphere and thus some guest houses are a little rundown. Always remember to see the room before paying for it.
Eating: Vang Vieng has more western inspired restaurants than other place I visited. Pizza, pasta, and sandwiches are abundant at the restaurants that sit looking over the Nam Xong river at the north end of town. I found the best food at the upscale hotel and restaurant Ban Sabai across from the hospital.
Nightlife: What used to be one of the biggest party towns along the SE Asia backpacking route is now a little quieter thanks to the Australian government. The parties here along the river got out of control and too many backpackers died due to alcohol so many of the make shift bamboo bars have been shut down.
What to do: Tubing is still the main attraction, but now you need to bring your own alcohol. There are many tour agencies running trips to go hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking. You can also go rock climbing like we did.
Side Trips: There are many caves surrounding the city of Vang Vieng. Read the story of when we rented a motorbike and went out exploring some of the outlying caves.
Where to next: Vientiane to the south or Luang Prabang to the North
The bustling capital of Laos lies on the banks of the Mekong River. It doesn’t offer the outdoor activities like other Lao towns; however there is plenty to do in the city. Some people choose only to venture to Vientiane in order to get transportation to their next destination.
Where to Stay: Budget accommodation is available on Setthathilat Road and its side streets. From the bus station, train station, or airport you will need to take a tuk-tuk or shared jumbo taxi to get to your accommodation. The drivers will know you want to go to the tourist area so you won’t have to say much.
Nightlife: Start your night off watching the sunset along the Mekong River with a bottle of Lao Beer at one of the many stalls. Since you’re already on Fa Ngum Road grab a bite to eat there at one of the many restaurants. From there if you need to get your dance on take a tuk-tuk to Luang Prabang Ave on the edge of town and check out the discos that are visited by tourists and locals.
Shopping: From what I’ve read and understand you need to be aware of fake antiques and low quality silk here. I’m no expert on shopping, but I do remember everyone was saying that Luang Prabang has the best silks.
What to do: Three of the main sights are nestled together on the east end of Setthathilat road: The Presidential palace, Ho Phra Keo which is a museum with a large collection of Lao Art, and Wat Sisaket – the oldest temple in Vientiane. It’s no more than $1 to enter each of these sights which makes for a full day of exploring at a very cheap price.
Where to next: Bangkok, Thailand via the train.
Hanoi, Vietnam via plane. OR Pakse and Si Phan Don via bus.
Pakse and Si Phan Don
Surrounded by all of it’s neighboring countries (Thailand, Camboida, and Vietnam), this place is very influential place on the commerce and trading route. The Mekong River runs through Pakse and then becomes a series of streams and tributaries which make up Si Phan Don (the 4,000 islands)
Where to Stay: Pakse is a necessary stop on the way to Si Phan Don if coming from Laos. If entering from Cambodia you are able to get right to some of the islands. Don Khong is the largest and most visited island because of its easy access and decent accommodation/food options.
What to do: Many people head to the deep south and the islands of Don Det and Don Khon to try and spot the famous and rare Irrawaddy Dolphins. A freshwater fish that lives only in these waters and is slowly becoming extinct to overfishing.
Eat and Drink: Fish is on top of the menu of course, and pretty much always served with rice and maybe some vegetables or greens. Rich is such a huge staple in the diet of these islanders. It not only provides them with food but also drink, Rice Whisky, one of the most known and bottled is Lao Lao. It tastes nothing like Jack, Jim, of Johnny Walker but it will do the job if you are desperate.
Where to next: From Pakse is it very easy to enter back into Thailand and from Si Phan Don your best option is to head into Cambodia and make your way to Kratie or Phnom Penh