Somehow I personally had a bit of a rough time in Laos, but that does not change the fact that it is still a beautiful country and worth the visit if you are up for an adventure!
First stop for me wasLuang Prabang after a two day Slow Boat Trip across the Thai Border and down the Mekong River on Lao side (read my article Crossing the Border into Laos if you are interested in this - I can only recommend doing it, I loved this way of travelling!). Luang Prabang, a beautiful old city, with French Colonial architecture (a lovely area to stroll trough and enjoy the views over the river) and a hill in the middle of town, Phou Si Mountain. It is worth the small entrance fee and the walk up to the top - an absolutely spectacular view over the city, the Mekong river and the surrounding area! The Night Market on the main road every evening is also worth checking out. A nice market where all the backpackers come together for cheap food and the many gifts, clothes, and hand made goods they sell - so many beautiful things! I wouldn't recommend eating there though, I got food poisoning from the food there and was feeling horrible for four days straight. I was also not the only one, a friend of mine and everyone else I spoke to afterwards had the same problem.... So stay away from the food there, as tempting as it is!
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The spectacular view from the top of Phou Si Mountain in Luang Prabang
Views over the Mekong River in Luang Prabang and the amazing slow boats
Even though Laos is right next to Thailand, and I must say I somehow expected them to be very similar, there are definitely also a lot of differences.
The first thing I noticed is that the people and the country are a lot poorer! Thailand seems to be quite well off with all the tourists and the boom it had in the last few years, but Laos isn't quite like that. There aren't that many tourists here yet (which on the one hand is also very nice and makes it a lot easier to get in touch with locals and actually be part of the community and their way of life! But also means it can get quite lonely at times) and the country is still very poor. Saying that though, I also never had the feeling that they tried to rip me off, be it in local markets buying food and fruit or for bus rides - you pay what the locals pay.
Life is slightly more expensive in Laos than in Thailand. Thailand is super cheap, but expect to pay about double the price here in Laos (which is still cheap compared to other countries like Europe or the US) for food, drinks, and transport. A meal is roughly between 25,000-40,000 Kip, water has a set price of 5,000 Kip, and transport depends on where you go and how far you travel.
After going to Chiang Rai from Pai for a few days (changing buses at Chiang Mai, since there is no direct route to Chiang Rai), I did one more stop further up North before heading over to Laos.
Mae Salong is a great little mountain town with the most spectacular views you will see! I am not even joking! It was ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL! It is a bit out of the way and other than the spectacular views there is not much the place has to offer, but if you want to go to a very local place on the top of the mountains this is the place for you. To get there from Chiang Rai, take a bus to Mae Chan (about one hour for 25 Baht) and change into a tuk tuk bus for 60 Baht, another hour into the mountains. If you don't get car sick you will love the ride, it is a huge build up with all the great mountains and valleys and tea plantations until you arrive at Mae Salong. It's not a backpacker town so don't expect a hostel or even a cheap room. Luckily I was travelling with someone at the time and we shared a room at 'My Place' a great Guesthouse/Hotel with an amazing view to wake up to in the morning. We found this to be the cheapest with best value, 400 Baht per night for a twin bed room, bathroom and (hot!) shower. Click to Read More (Button Below Image)
What a beautiful double rainbow leaving Pai
Stunning blue temple in Chiang Mai, so much intricacy! Probably one of my favourite Temples