Dwarfed by it’s well-known neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, Lao lies tucked neatly above the two countries in the well traveled destination of South East Asia. Operating at a much slower pace, Lao’s is surrounded by mountainous dirt tracks that wouldn’t look out of place in Highway one California. With the winding river Mekong, a touch of culture and cuisine resembling that of her big sister, Thailand, visit here for a more nature led roadtrip.
First, I have to hold my hands up…. Lao had been a last minute adventure I had thrown in and an unknown adventure at that! However perhaps soon people will be adding it as their first stop. I was surprisingly blown away by the stunning landscape, plentiful outdoor activities and overall chilled out vibe of the country. It ended up being one of (if not number one) favorite country in South East Asia. The trip I did below was part of a 21-day adventure with tour company G Adventures. Here is my itinerary of glorious week spent in Lao.
Day 1 – Vientiane (the capital)
Flying into Vientiane airport is one of the easiest ways to enter the country – or by slow boat (more about that later). My advice would be to venture on quickly from the capital. Having spent 1 day there, the city felt like more of a big town, smattered with pagoda’s, an interesting night market and places to eat but not too much more than this. I felt like you could do this easily in a day and a half and the nature is really the best part of Lao.
Day 2 – Vientiane/ Vang Vieng
Staying in Vientiane in the morning, we covered 4 key sites in the morning; Buddha Garden, Golden Temple, Victory Temple and Landmine Museum. It is easy to arrange a taxi or tour to cover these areas. The Buddha Garden was beautiful, full of interesting Hindu stonework which had later had a Buddhist influence (if I understood correctly!).
However, it was the Landmine Museum that left a saddening impression on me. In this small but quaint museum, was an understated tribute to the hundred of thousands of landmines that were dropped by the American’s during the Vietnam war (2 million tons were dropped). The scars of these undetonated mines have affected locals greatly in particular the village people. Very sad, you would be hard pushed not to get watery eyed at the hundreds of prosthetic legs and stories of those that lost limbs and eyesight due to these land mines.
After a busy morning we were quite happy to relax and sit back for 4 hours on a bus to Vang Vieng. Prepared to relax, we had snacks, music etc but what weren’t prepared for the stunning scenery, huge canons of water as we made our way up and down mountains. Everyone on our bus was woke up from their naps at this point and excitedly peered out the window. Annoyingly I forgot to grab a photo of this!
Day 3 – Vang Vieng
Today was one of my favourite days of the trip! A few years ago Vieng Vang was known as a hot spot to go tubing. By tubing I mean going down the Nam Song river in a rubber ring and drinking in at various outdoor bars (made for the thirsty Europeans – yes). Oddly enough; drinking, rapid currents and rock beds somehow very quickly found its way banned due to a number of deaths along the river.
These days more activity based trips are on offer, we opted for a more scenic route which involved 5 different activities for around 20 dollars for the whole day, including lunch! Starting the day in a van exposed to the grey and rainy elements, with a group of 12 of us. Thankfully the grey skies lifted quickly, leaving the air fresh and sky clear.
We visited the caves, went kayaking (splashing pristine looking Koreans down the river was particularly fun), did a 1-hour hike (very steep!) and lastly finished the day at the lush blue lagoon, to cool off. The view from the top was particularly amazing. This tour did a great job of mixing the beautiful landscape of Lao in with adrenaline filled activities for a mix of ages.
In the evening we explored the small town of Vang Vieng, it had a great vibe and you could walk everywhere easily. Nice to have some beers in town after a day of activities!
Day 4 – Vang Vieng/ Louang Phabang
I don’t like living with regret…but I have to confess one; not going on the hot air balloon in Vang Vieng for sunrise across the mountains. At $99 dollars and over the scenic mountainous terrain, it is not only one of the cheapest hot air balloons I have come across in South East Asia but also offers one of the most stunning backdrops.
Instead we headed to Louang Phabang which took a total of 7-hours, nice after a heavy day of activities from yesterday (and erm…experiencing the local nightlife!) we were ready to relax and once again take in the stunning scenery.
Feeling a little groggy after sitting for 7-hours, we headed straight to the cute town of Loung Phabang and went to Utopia hostel/bar. Although we weren’t staying here we had heard they conduct bi-daily yoga classes. Annoyingly we had missed the class. I would definitely recommend staying here for a drink like we did and watching the sunset over river Mekong. This place has a cool indie vibe with music and beanbags.
Day 5 – Louang Phabang
Day 5, we headed to the Tad Kuang Si Waterfall, stunning landscapes. Tip: make sure you have your best swimsuit and camera battery charged! This place is ideal for taking Instagram envy inducing photo opportunities here. This waterfall is great to visit for 3-4 hours, you can go swimming in the cooling waterfall waters, do a short hike to the top of the waterfall (takes 20 minutes to the top) and pay a visit the bear sanctuary.
After this we sampled some of the local cuisine, I ate some grilled fish with vegetables. See the image below, all this food and the whole thing came to around 5 dollars!
In the evening we headed to Louang Phabang town, this UNESCO protected market/centre of town area is beautiful lit up at night. This was one of my favourites in south east Asia so far. You can buy beautiful artwork, lines, bed sheets, clothing and jewellery – my recommendation, go with an empty suitcase and your best bartering skills!
Day 6 – Louang Phabang/ Mekong River
A lovely thing to do in you are in Loung Phabang is watch the offering of the Monks. The main religion in Lao is Buddhism, and this can be seen through the numerous temples and monks walking around the town.
Every morning around 6.30/7am in the city you can experience the daily offering of the monks. In which you place food in the bowls of the monks, we woke up to what felt like 4am, and headed out to buy some food from the bakery. It did just seem to just be tourists who were doing the offering, but a super interesting experience none the less.
After this we headed to the slow boat on the Mekong river, for 5 hours before stopping at Bag Num village and did an overnight stay. Highly recommended! The village children (around 30 of them!) are keen to play and show you their town. My tip, make sure you bring some toys/food for the children, we forgot this and luckily our guide had some balloons. The children’s faces light up and there was a great energy that evening.
Day 7 – Mekong River
An early start! 5.30am wake up from homestay – I was feeling bizarrely refreshed after having slept on the floor with 6 others in the local homestay. It was super rustic, no electricity, carpet or English speakers. But it was a charming night, where we ate vegetable based dinner before sitting down with our ‘family’ that night, it was 5 of us in a room with the family.
We headed down the river Mekong. The waters of the Mekong have for centuries been the major highways in this
region, carrying goods, people and ideas up through the heart of Laos. After a long day spent in boat, we headed onto Chiang Mai, Thailand. So long Lao, thanks for showing us such a great time!