Hiding In Plain Sight
March 17, 2018
Laos is by far one of the lesser visited countries in South East Asia and what a hidden gem it is. There is so much to discover in this amazing country, it’s hard to fit it all in in one trip. I’ll talk you through my favourite itinerary and fill you in on my travel tips along the way. I like to give an outline of the best things to do in each area, however I don’t want to spoil it for you so I’ll leave the rest for you to discover when you visit. The culture and environment remain largely untouched, making this Country a real adventure, I found the Laos people to be very welcoming and the scenery is like nothing I have ever scene. When it comes to getting around, Laos is spread out and very mountainous, meaning it can take time to cover short distances. Transport is however easy to book and relatively cheap, unless you wish to fly, Laos airlines are not cheap.
My journey began with touching down at Luang Prabang airport, it was evening and pleasantly warm. I secured a taxi for a reasonable price from the desk by the exit and asked him to take me to my favourite part of LP, Old Town. Old Town is the most scenic part of LP and allows easy access to my favourite sites. Luang Prabang has a feel unlike any other city, I love just wondering through the ancient streets and exploring the city. A short way out of town is located one of my favourite waterfalls, Kuang Si waterfall, this spectacular stepped waterfall is idyllic with its turquoise pools surrounded by luscious rainforest. Climb to the top to experience the amazing rainforest views from your very own natural infinity pool.
After a couple of days in LP it was time to move on to the next stop, this is one of the most interesting locations I have ever been to. Xieng Khouang province offers some amazing history spanning back over 3000 years and also more recently, during the Vietnam war. Depending on budget you can fly or take the bus, be warned the bus route takes around 7 hours up some very windy mountain roads, not for the faint hearted! On the plus side, the bus route offers some incredibly beautiful scenery. The temperature does dramatically drop up in the mountains to be prepared with some warm clothing.
The centre of the province is Phonsavan, I stayed in the centre of town close to the market. It’s well worth spending a few days in the area as there is a lot to take in and see. This quaint little town played an important role in the secret war and is the most heavily bombed place on the planet (don’t stray off the beaten path). After checking in to your hotel, head over to MAG (Mine Advisory Group) for some information about this amazing area.
On my first full day I headed off to Plain of Jars, Spoon Village and old city. The history of these areas dates back over 3000 years, with the more recent history of the secret war (Vietnam war). Until recently the purpose of the Jars remained a mystery for archaeologists, there are three main sites to see the jars, all are worth seeing. Spoon village and the old city are linked to the Vietnam war and are very interesting to discover. In the afternoon visit the food market near the centre of town, the food here is very traditional and I must say it’s some of the best food I had in Laos. My third day in Xieng Khouang was another adventure starting out with caves & hotsprings, then it was off to visit some of the ethnic minority villages around the area. One of the main cultures established in the area are the Hmong people, this culture is fascinating and the people are extremely welcoming.
It was time to head back down the mountains to the famous Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is a small town located along the Nam Song river in central Laos about 4 hours North of Vientiane. The area is famous for tubing down the river and drinking at the bars, many of the bars along the river have now been closed by the government due to a safety risk but there are still a small number offering a decent night life. This area has some of the most amazing scenery, the pictures do not do it justice. Kayaking, caving, tubing and waterfall tours are a must. Another amazing activity is to take a ride in one of the hot air balloons to get an aerial view of the amazing limestone landscape. I spent a couple of days here, however I could have easily spent several more.
After the 4 hour, relatively smooth bus ride to Vientiane (Laos Capital) I began to notice how different this city was to the other Asian Capital cities. It has a kind of calm, quiet feel, with an occasional burst of life. The city is relatively tidy and well kept, despite the generally poor residents, wealth shows itself on many of the streets.
I stayed in a nice welcoming hotel, not far from the Laos National Museum, this area of the city is picturesque and has a lot to offer. Tuk Tuk is by far the easiest way to get around town, however Vientiane is flat, so bicycle is also an option. Scattered throughout the city are numerous temples, each with something special to offer, set aside at least a day just to travel around the city and visit them. One of the highlights is ‘That Luang Stupa’ (the symbol of Laos), which is also printed on their money, some of the other amazing temples are Wat Sisaket, Haw Phra Kaew, Wat Inpeng and Wat Chan. If you have time to spend another day in Vientiane then head out to Buddha Park during the day and then perhaps take a walk through the market along the Mekong river in the evening, before heading to a local favourite restaurant Khop Chai Deu.
For the final leg of the journey I headed south to Pakse and 4000 islands, words cannot describe this place. This is a nature enthusiasts (like myself) dream! Pakse is a city at the far South end of Laos where the Mekong meets the Se Don river (on the border with Cambodia). Despite there not being masses to do in Pakse itself it is a gateway to some truly spectacular areas namely the Bolaven Plateau, 4000 islands etc. 4000 islands are a haven for wildlife and home to the critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin, this area is also the location of South East Asia’s largest waterfall, Khone Phapheng Falls.
The most logical way to see this archipelago is to use Don Khong as a base, Wat Phou is worth a stop along the way. Take the boat over the Don Khone and visit the waterfalls, before heading off to see the dolphins. I suggest spending a minimum of 3 days in this area, more if you are a photographer or wildlife enthusiast. Be aware there is currently a high risk of Malaria in this area, make sure you protect yourself with deet and take anti-malarials.
All in all, Laos is an amazing country with a lot to offer. This country is very inviting and the scenery is to die for. You can visit as a 2 week trip or perhaps combine it with Cambodia for an extended stay. Transport is easy to book and overall it is easy to get around, however the journeys are time consuming due to the mountainous terrain. When it comes to budget, Laos can be very cheap for accommodation, transport and food.
If you would like to know more feel free to get in touch Sam@honestabouttravel.com