We were told that you only need three weeks to travel Laos comfortably – but truth is, my brother and I totally fell in love with the country. If we didn’t have scheduled plans, we would have probably stayed there (despite how much we loved Northern Thailand).
The expenses are cheap, close to that of Vietnam if you’ve ever visited? The landscapes are postcard-perfect and the people have a cheeky charm that gets me smiling. I actually struggled to switch (my little knowledge of) the Laos language for Thai – but truth is, the country and its unexpected personality stayed with me! Here’s 10 suggestions, in my own personal order, to ensure an honest rating of Laos…I hope that they can be of use to anyone visiting there soon😆!
1: The Thakhek Loop
It rained, it poured, we got lost, there was fire, there was (lots of) mud and getting stuck in it, there was one pair of my (favourite) trousers that got so ruined by the end of the three days that I had to chuck them away 😢 – yettttt The Thakhek Loop still raced its way up to being one of my favourite travel experiences OF ALL TIME. Click here to read more and for top tips and recommendations👍.
2: Tubing in Vang Vieng
Here was another activity I loved so much that I wrote about it in full detail to encourage others to join in on the fun. There was whiskey, and much of it, new friendships & of course a new experience that is recommended by travellers worldwide – my brother even heard about it in 2010 when he met someone in Eastern Europe! Non-surprisingly, I recommend it too🤣! Read more here…
3. Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang
Never before have I seen water so clear. I always thought that photos of the Kuang Si Waterfall were heavily filtered – but once you see it for yourself, you discover how mystifying this pale blue tone is and how desperate you are to share its beauty with the world…
The pools were so still that they gave the illusion of crystal ice, but adjacent to that, the flow was so powerful that it was like watching a flurry of life.
We could have walked around all day! Just sitting near to one, hearing the water rush and trickle, was relaxing and peaceful and reminded me of how I love to listen to the music dance.
We set off early, around 8am via a Minivan service from our accommodation (Moukdavan Guesthouse) which was sorted for us for 50,000K each (£4.25/$6). The journey from the center of Luang Prabang is around an hour and is one full of winding mountains and overwhelming hillsides that are scattered with charming villages. We were going to rent a motorbike in Fox sibling style for 120,000K (£10.20/$14.45) – but with this being our final day before heading to Northern Thailand, we had to cheap out and join a tour (which was a shame). However, the driver literally takes you there, collects your money for tickets (20,000K/£1.70/$2.40), and simply picks you up three hours later so that there’s no real regimented schedule because during this time you roam as you please.
There’s a bear sanctuary at the beginning of the ‘National Park’ that rehabilitates unlucky bears that were captured by poachers; some without limbs and some so very young. I’m highly against zoos, elephant riding or anything of the nature – but just like the Chengdu Research Center for Pandas in China, you can see that the rescue bears are happy, healthy and have a lot of space.
The center makes it clear that they’d rather the animals be fully free but the funds they make from donations etc are what keeps them alive. Regardless, they are by far having a better life than they would have in captivity with their previous owners, and sadly they are too damaged to return to the wild. They were gorgeous and playful and seemed to be enjoying their swing in the hammocks and gentle play fights.
There are three main waterfalls to see, all of the same stunning shade – but the last is the biggest and most impressive.
You can swim in the natural pools that are jotted along the route and you can climb the slippery steps to great heights to reach views that are sadly a little too overgrown for a good overall picture – but still, it was nice to get some exercise before our 30 hour journey back to Thailand…
Overall, this day was the perfect way to finish our time in Laos, with nature and wildlife impressing us in the way that the country did throughout our visit… honestly, from head toe, it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited!
Food & Drink on site: Chicken leg skewers – 30,000K (£2.55/$3.60) for two (after some haggling) Water: 10,000K (85p/$1.20)
4: A Night in Vang Vieng
Anyone that knows me knows that alongside the culture, the days out and the food, comes the night life of a country and how enjoyable and crazy it is… hence why Vang Vieng had stolen the boozy award for Laos.
Head to Sakura bar around 8pm for an entire hour of free whiskey with generous helpings EVERY SINGLE DAY! The atmosphere is buzzing with beer pong tables and a camp fire, and once the hour is up, people are full of liquor and the confidence needed to hit the floor and dance the night away. On a plus, the music is pretty f**king decent for South East Asia too (apart from the weak few minutes where Gandnam style was played 😱 but we’ll just overlook that hiccup). Once you have to reach in your own pocket for cash, drinks are still reasonable with cocktails going down to 60,000K (£5.10/$7.20) from 9-10 pm. But be mindful of weird Chinese men wanting to buy you drinks, as it’s not uncommon to be spiked out here – but other than that, let loose and have a ball!
For a more chilled vibe, Gary’s Irish Bar is the place to be with pints on tap & live music to give a real feel of home. Head down in the day on a head-spinning hangover and enjoy some real Western grub like homemade pies and bangers and mash for around 60,000K (£5.10/$7.20). After seven months with only bars and hostel rooftops to choose from, it felt pretty damn good to have that pub atmosphere that reminded me of my local boozer back in Essex! We also bumped into a great couple I met in Cambodia here and we ended up having such a laugh that they sacked off their plans to go to the Jungle Party and enjoyed the rest of their night with us instead!
Gary’s is definitely a pleasant place to meet up for a good chat and a good sing-song too!
Beer: 10,000K for 1/2 pint (£85p/$1.20) or 12,000 for a big bottle of beer Laos (£1/$1.45). House Vodka & soda: 20,000K (£1.70/$2.40) Gordon’s G&T: 30,000K (£2.55/$3.60).
To end the night (if you’re still standing), it’s Space all the way. However, get there before 12pm as that’s when the place stops serving. You can get an array of shakes over the bar and other bits and pieces too – but ensure you finish everything whilst you’re there because the police are currently cracking down so that Vang Vieng doesn’t turn into Southern Thailand with messy Brits abroad stumbling all over the place.
Iff you want to know more about prices etc, simply drop me an email or message me on Facebook 😋.
Other notes: Hostel: Real Backpackers 2 for 41,530K (£3.50/$5) for a bed in an 8 bed dorm. The staff were generally accepting of us being top messes all the time on their front steps, and even sold emergency cigarettes behind the bar which was grand 🤣👍. The location was great, being close to all the fun – but the rooms were super basic, as was the breakfast (although we spent little time in the room/waking up in time for breakfast so it hardly mattered ha). It was also the first hot shower I’d had in ages (although you had to pick out the good one) so that won brownie points!
5. Kong Lar Cave in Kong Lar
The Kong Lar Cave is the highlight of the Thakhek loop and the main reason people often indulge in this adventurous motorbike route. I’ve seen many caves during my travels, but none have inspired me like these huge caves did. Whilst drifting along, I was typing away fairytale plots whilst being cautious not to drop my phone in the rocky waters. Read more about the ins and the outs of Kong Lar Cave here…
6. The Bamboo Bridge over to the Handicraft Village
Whereas Vang Vieng is full of young backpackers on the hunt for a good time, Luang Prabang has the complete opposite vibe attracting a typically older generation wanting to relax amidst the beautiful scenery… and beautiful it is! The entire town is a world heritage site with a strong religious influence; you’ll see Buddhist temples at every corner which young monks in orange robes are flocking towards.
The river is calm yet mighty, and the landscape on the horizon is green and jungley!
There are two bamboo bridges you can pass over to explore, but I recommend the second, the one at the top of the river, because there’s a handicraft village on the other side. The rickety bride costs 20,000K (£1.70/$2.40) to cross and amazingly it’s rebuilt every year during the dry season because the heavy rainfall can wash it away during the monsoon (but don’t worry, it feels very safe and sturdy)!
The village has everything your creative heart could desire; handmade stationary, home decor, jewellery and more!
I could have walked along the sand paths wandering in and out of shops for hours admiring the locals handiwork, however there was absolutely no food on this side of the bridge other than pancakes (and my stomach couldn’t hack the flour). Therefore we had to head back early to seek out a late lunch which cost just 25,000 (£2.10/$3) from one of the little street restaurants.I recommend you trying the beef with basil & rice when in Asia if you like a kick of spice because we had it plenty of times in Laos and was never disappointed!
Other notes: Moukdavan Guesthouse in Luang Prabang cost us 448,524K for a double bed mattress on the floor of a Chalet for 3 nights (£38/$54). Both a little underwhelmed by the price, we were pleased with how well we actually slept (although we were pretty much outside ha). But the staff were super helpful, providing us with towels rent-free and bowls for our breakfast from the street vendors in the morning and they also sorted out our bus to Chang Rei so we didn’t have to faff around arranging it in a travel agents (270,000K/£23/$32.50).
Utopia Bar: if you’re looking for a chilled out vibe overlooking the river, walk the twisting backstreets to get to Utopia! They host food and drink, with memory foam body-pillows to lie upon whilst you enjoy the scenery or catch up with a friend. We wanted to detox in Luang Prabang so did not drink, however I’ve heard that this is the place to be come night fall – however it has something special in the day too as they put on yoga classes which I’m sure would be utterly serene by the river!
Ginger tea: 25,000K (£2.10/$3). Berry smoothie: 30,000K (£2.55/$3.60).
7: Patuxi Victory Arch Vientiane
Vientiane has little to offer, hence why tourists tend to make a fly-by visit, staying only for a day. But if you are heading there and need to fill that day, I’d highly recommend a visit to the Victory Arch. An impressive building from the outside, its Gothic design reminded me of an Asian version of the Notre Dame with cheeky gargoyles protecting the strong monument – although mythical creatures are common in Laotian design too. The arch was built between 1957 and 1968 and was dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France.
The beige building looks worn, but that’s also what makes it beautiful. It stands in the centre of the city surrounded by tropical trees (and a roundabout you can easily overlook) with a regal air. For just 5000K(40p/60c) to enter, you can explore the inside too, including a tapestry-inspired ceiling and many floors full of stands selling touristy goods and gifts.
When you get to the top, you have a (rather underwhelming) view of the city – but I imagine it would be glorious at sunset.
You can take a walk towards the Presidential Palace on the other side of the street too which is like the ‘White House’ but smaller and in need of a lick of paint 😌 – however it is not to be confused with the Presidential suite as it is only a venue for government functions and ceremonies.
Hostel: Ali Backpackers – 117,400K a night for a double bed room (£10/$14). This hostel was good value for money including an average yet sustainable breakfast, and reasonable comfort. Wifi wasn’t great, only working in the lobby. Also, the laundry we put in came back fluffy, although it was fast and the staff apologised for the inconvenience – but these are things that can be overlooked when you’re only staying for a night. Honestly, I don’t think we’d have wished to stay much longer than that.
8: Sunset on Mount Pousi, Luang Prabang
When the weather begins to get slightly cooler, it’s time to climb the famous Mount Pousi (which sounds exactly as it sounds and feels very awkward to say in public 😌) just in time for sunset. We were meeting our Aussie friends from Vang Vieng, but there’s a couple of different entry points so perhaps meet at the pay-point at the top if you’ve made plans to watch it together. We were lucky that we climbed up early to nab all the best seats right on the edge of the mountain face, rushing past the Buddha’s and other ornaments to get there quicker. It truly felt like we were on our own with a mighty view away from any silloettes or obstructions (except for an old tree which could really do with a trim👀) and when we turned to our left, we saw a magnificent sky full of colour overlooking the mountains, the lake and the town.
However, when we looked to our right, there were hundreds of tourists scuttling for a photo without someone’s else’s arm being in the lens! We were sooooo lucky to be sat where we were or else I’m sure it would have been an entirely different experience (and not an enjoyable one at that 🙄)… so get up there around 4.45/5pm if you can and grab a good seat!
Entrance fee: 20,000K (£1.70/$2.40).
9. Night market of Luang Prabang
I’m a great lover of a night market, and whilst most people are simply walking through having a quick look here and there, I take it all very seriously when looking out for a bargain!
The night market of Luang Prabang sits at the bottom of the steps for Mount Pousi so it’s the perfect way to finish your day after watching the sunset and it goes on and on and on so you can really shop until you drop. Then when you get peckish, there’s amazing offers down the side alleys where you’ll find stalls galore of cakes, meat sticks and hearty vegetarian all-you-can-eat buffets for an amazing 15,000k (£1.30/$1.80)!
TOP TIP: Wait until you get to the main food section of the market rather than the streets off of the market which offer all-you-can-eat for 10,000K (85p)$1.20) because for the extra 5,000K you get much more to choose from and an authentic Asian atmosphere which is not to be missed!
Although street food always excites me, what I really liked about this market was how all the goods are laid out on mats on the floor, and we saw unusual goods compared to the same-same stuff you get at most markets, including the one in Vientiane. There were even key-chains and cutlery made out of bomb material from the war and I got myself the most adorable Laotian bracelet for just 3000K (25p/35c). I personally think it’s a great place to visit if you’re on the hunt for inexpensive gifts for back home!
10. Wat Si Saket Vientienne
Sometimes entering a Buddhist temple and nodding your head in respect to the cracked Buddha and this age-old religion is all you need to feel calm at the end of a long day. Well, try nodding your head to the thousands of ceramic and silver Buddha’s that lace the temple walls of Wat Si Saket – believed to be the oldest temple in Vientiane – all hidden within the holes created in the interiors to home them; some headless, some decaying, but all present to give an impressive sight as you walk inside.
Entrance fee: 5000K (40p/60c) …
Althoughh these are my Top Ten recommendations for our time spent in Laos, the reason we could have stayed so much longer was because of some amazing suggestions from friends. Sadly due to time constraints, we couldn’t make it to these places, but I’d highly recommend you check them out when planning for your own adventure…
“I am in love with Don Det 💙. The 4,000-islands lie just over the border of Laos and come into the islands by the splitting of the Mekong Delta river. The first day we rented a bike and we toured the islands of Don Det and Don Khon – on Don Khon you have the Somphamit waterfall 💦. The second day we did a kayak tour and yes, we had a bit of muscle pain from the paddling … but during the kayaking we passed two waterfalls and spotted the Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins 🦈.” – Romy Sierra, The Netherlands
Plain of Jars
I sadly didn’t stay in touch with the two Aussie girls we met in the minibus on the way to the Kuangsi waterfall, but they told us of their excitement for the Plain of Jars in Xiangkhoang Plateau. The plains consist of thousands of archeological stones that are scattered around the upland valleys and lower foothills that are dated back to the Iron Age and are believed to be associated with prehistoric burial practices. Over the years they’ve discovered human remains, burial goods and ceramics! I’m genuinely gutted I didn’t have a chance to go here, as I just know I would have found the concept fascinating.
Wat Pha National Park
“Wat Phou is an Angkorian temple complex from the 10th century. It’s located at the foot of mountain Phou. Originally the temple complex was Hindu, but since there’s not many hindus in Laos anymore the complex is now owned and honoured by buddhists. Lots of Buddhists still come here to catch some of the ‘holy water’ that’s dripping out of the mountain in a bottle. To reach this beautiful temple you could take a motorbike from Pakse. From here it’s about 45 km, but the stunning view absolutely makes up for it!” – Tineke Ellen’s – The Netherlands
The Gibbon Experience
“The Gibbon experience was by far one of the best experiences of my entire life! We slept in a stunning tree house for 2 nights and spent the days hiking and zip lining through the jungle (we must have done over 25 zip lines in total). We saw Gibbons as well on the last day playing in the trees” – Katie Helprin – Australia
Enjoy Laos. I’m sure with these recommendations you’ll love it as much as we did and feel free to send me a message if you’d like some more information! 😃
Love always, H x