Laid back Laos

As our Thailand adventure came to an end we decided we would head into our second country, Laos. We had heard that it was a super relaxed vibe compared to Thailand so we were quite excited to see what it had to offer. However, we had to get there first which meant a lonnnng bus journey awaited us.

We left Thailand behind and travelled for several hours before reaching the border where we saw, what would be our home for the night. It was, effectively a standard bus turned into a night bus. There were bunk beds, however one bed which would comfortably fit one person, had to have two in it. It was also a single layer deck bus so laying down was pretty much your only option. The journey began and we slid around like we were on an ice rink. We stopped countless times in the middle of nowhere, for no reason and finally arrived in Luang Prabang around 5am. It was not the best experience to start our time in Laos bus we tried to put it behind us before our new adventure began. It’s also hard to complain when the journey costs around £5! As we arrived so early we actually managed to see the monks receiving alms* around 6am as our Tuk Tuk took us into town. If you’re ever able to you should definitely wake up to watch in the ceremony, just be sure you are dressed respectfully and don’t go wild with photography, it is still a religious tradition.

Our first stop was Luang Prabang, a quaint town with historical french architecture. (Luang Prabang is actually a UNESCO world heritage site.) We stayed in the nicest home stay with a personalised breakfast served every morning. Unfortunately Laos didn’t quite have the weather of Thailand; we were met with grey skies and rain a lot of the time, however we didn’t letting stop our exploring. In the middle of the town there is Mount Phousi with a Buddhist temple at the top, which has incredible views of the surrounding city and the rolling hills beyond. It was a beautiful view but slightly spoiled by the locals keeping tiny birds in wicker cages for tourists to buy and ‘set free’ at the top. The one thing I’ve felt hard travelling is the treatment of animals; unfortunately you cannot do anything as it is the way of life. The only way to create change is to educate, not only the locals but tourists visiting and being involved in the activities.

One of the nicest things we did in Luang Prabang was stroll around the markets. They have an array of homemade items, (unlike many other markets in Asia where souvenirs are shipped in) so you can find cute little bags which have been made out of recycled cement bags, home made soaps and many other gifts. 

They also have food markets and one that is always running is ‘Buffet Street.’ You can wander down the alley and see an array of foods being cooked and sold, bare in mind a lot of it is meat so if you are a vegetarian just keep an eye out. We decided to eat at the one dollar buffet. Now the name suggests maybe you should avoid it, but alas we were on a budget so gave it a go. I did wake up the next day not feeling 100% but we went back again! More fool us!

If you fancy some great western food, head to the Utopia Bar. It’s tucked away down an alley and overlooks the Mekong river. It’s filled with bean bags and lanterns and is the perfect pace to relax and drink the night away!

One of our lasts stops in Luang Prabang was the famous Kuang Si Falls. We had heard a lot about these waterfalls and we were eager to see for ourselves. Unfortunately because of the season we were visiting in they told us they would be quite dry but we were pleasantly surprised. The water was crystal clear and contrasts the surrounding greenery perfectly. You are allowed to swim in certain areas of the waterfalls but others are off limits which a lot of people pleasantly ignored. If there are signs to avoid an area, please do; not just for your safety but for the biodiversity of the area.

The only issue I had with the place was that upon your entry there are bears in cages which I definitely need to research more. It made me feel quite uncomfortable seeing caged animals; however the bears have been rescued from poachers, so the cages are a kindness. The place is called the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre if you’d like to hear about the tribulations the bears face in the wild. The falls are wonderful though and if you get a chance you should visit them. Many of the hotels offer transport to the falls for a smaller fee than otherwise advertised.

After a short stay in Luang Prabang we continued our journey south with our next destination being Vang Vien. We had heard lots about this place being a bit wild so decided to check it out. The main reason people visit Vang Vien is to tube down the Mekong river. It used to be much more popular as you tube down the river in single dingy stoping at pubs along the way. In it’s prime the river was home to 10+ bars but you only visit 2 now as it became to dangerous. Nevertheless is was super fun and we met loads of people. After the long day of tubing we decided to hit the town. This place has gained a huge Korean audience over the last few years because of a reality tv show shot there and so a lot of the bars and restaurants serve Korean food and music! We headed to a few bars before the music took its toll on us and we headed back to our hostel.

Feeling a bit worse for wear the next day we thought we would take it easy and head to the Blue Lagoon 1. We only visited the first one by Tuk Tuk but you can cycle there too. It was a nice place to visit but if you have the time definitely go to the third one which is further away but it gets less visitors so is more impressive. 

After our wild few days in Vang Vien we made our way to the capital of Laos, Vientiane.

As capital cities go, this wasn’t my favourite. It is a good place to stop if you are travelling through Laos but I wouldn’t recommend more than 2 days. While we were there they had a market on and lots of outdoor exercise (I got my fix of Zumba in) which was nice but there really isn’t anything super to see. As with Luang Prabang they have a slight french influence and actually have their own Arc de Triomphe, although it isn’t quite Paris! 

Our last destination in Laos was Pakse. We arrived after a night bus journey which was better than the last but still not the nicest way to travel! We knew we weren’t going to do much when we got there as we were so tired but lucky for us as there really isn’t anything to do there! Unfortunately for us, the whole town had a water outage for the whole time we were there which was hell in a hostel! 

It was then our time to move onto our next country; Cambodia! First we had to cross the border which was the worst. If you are crossing the land border between Laos and Cambodia watch out for visa runners. They’ll scam you into letting them do your visa and you’ll end up spending more money. When you arrive at the border make sure to go straight up to the counter and just ignore any men hanging around asking for tickets or passports. They are not legit!

*Giving and receiving alms happens between the people of Laos and the Buddhist monks, the Lao people rise early to cook and offer food to the monks who in turn offer good will and merit which will help in future lives.