We entered Laos not knowing what to expect and maybe that was the best thing we’ve done all trip, because it completely took us by surprise in the best way possible.
We weren’t expecting a crazy-fun New Year celebration, or a lazy day spent floating down a river virtually to ourselves. We weren’t expecting wide, leafy boulevards with laid-back locals enjoying a slower pace of life.
We spent a total of 12 days in Laos. We over-landed by public bus (what an experience) from Hue, Vietnam, to Savanaket, Laos. The following day to took another 10-hour local bus to the capital city, Vientiane where we celebrated the Laotian New Year. From there we headed north to the little town of Vang Vieng, so we could get in on this tubing action. After two nights there we headed to our final destination of Luang Prabang, where we reveled in the old wonders of the UNESCO World Heritage city.
Laos was a welcome respite from the chaos that accompanied our trip through Vietnam. The capital city of Vietnam is virtually the polar opposite from the major cities in neighboring Laos. The old quarter of Hanoi is pulsating with life and there is so much going on that it makes your head spin. In contrast, Luang Prabang felt almost like a ghost town in the middle of the day while everyone retreated indoors to seek shelter from the relentless heat.
Laos fit out travel style perfectly; It was relaxed and quiet, with just enough on the agenda to keep us from feeling bored. Despite the heat, we spent much of our time outdoors. Luckily, much of it involved the water. We were quite impressed with the cuisine and by the end of our time there, we weren’t quite sure that we were ready to leave.
Now, For the Stats:
Number of beds slept in: 4
- Trip Total: 38
Modes of transportation: local bus, minivan, boat, taxi, tuk-tuk
Number of beaches visited: 0; Laos is land-locked.
- Trip Total: 40
Coffee Culture: Surprisingly, Luang Prabang has a very nice cafe scene. We can thank the French Colonization for that. We had a few good brews. Our favorite place was a chain called Joma because it had really fast wifi and really cold air-con. We went there more times than we would like to admit.
Favorite Meal: In the capital city, Vientiane, we ate at a restaurant called Laos Kitchen three times. It served excellent local fare prepared for a western palate (less spicy and less fermented fish). Even though curry is particularly Laotian, the dish there was top notch. We could practically drink the curry from the bowl…it was that good!
Best Experiences: Our favorite experience was the day spent at the Kuang Si Waterfalls. They were seriously gorgeous and I’ve always wanted to swim directly beneath a waterfall. It was a really fun day!
The other really cool experiences we had in Laos were celebrating the New Year and tubing down the river in Vang Vieng. Of course, it wasn’t as fun as Ichetucknee Springs in Florida (anyone who knows us knows how much we love to tube down the great Florida springs).
Worst Experience: We didn’t have any horrible experiences. Our least favorite thing about Laos were the miserable local bus rides that were each 10 hours long. We were packed in like sardines and the buses were carrying more than just humans across the border! There were people sitting on top of 50-pound sacks of flour and sugar in the aisles, and nearly everyone had a box at their feet. The luggage was stacked from bottom to top in the back. Many times there were 3 people in a two-person seat. Bathrooms breaks were scarce and sometimes it was on the side of the road. There weren’t really any true lunch stops. At the end of our last day they pulled a live goat out of the baggage compartment under the bus. We were shocked!
Luckily, we figured it would be pretty bad, so we purposely dehydrated ourselves and brought lots of snacks. We were never really hungry and we listened to lots of podcasts to keep us occupied. The scenery was nice. We were mostly just hot, as the air-con could not support the overload. Luckily, we both had real seats each day, instead of a plastic stool in the aisle.
Things we loved: We really loved the natural beauty of Laos. Compared to its neighbors and some national protection of land (China, Thailand, and Vietnam), it still has much of the forest remaining. Of course, deforestation is happening at a very unsustainable rate (but isn’t the the case with all of Asia?) so who knows how long that will last.
we hated that took us by surprise: We were surprised by the wealth discrepancies. Many people in the capital city seemed to be well-off. They were driving large, new, and expensive vehicles and dining at restaurants with prices comparable to back home. We saw people spending $5 on a single ice cream cone. However, the poverty was very obvious as soon as you got outside of the major cities. People were living in shacks with dirt floors. It’s crazy to think that the distribution of wealth is so uneven. Pretty similar to America, actually.
Things we hate we missed: We hate that we missed out on the Gibbon Experience. We did consider it, but we couldn’t stand the idea of hiking and sleeping in tree-houses when it was just so miserably hot outside. The program sounds amazing because it takes people that used to earn an income from illegal logging and employs them in the eco-tourism sector instead. We would love to try it when the weather is better.
- The Laotians seriously know how to have a good time
- Hotels with a pool are totally worth the extra money
- Monsoons are real scary things, guys. We were having a lovely evening and then the entire sky opened up on us. The wind was so strong I thought it would knock the bamboo bridge down! From here on out we will always carry a rain jacket in the rainy season.