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.
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Beautiful view, but dangerous rough roads
Food market stalls selling snacks and fruit
Transport is not as developed as in Thailand yet. The streets are pretty rough with a lot of holes and bumps in the roads and the driving style is certainly something to get used to. Hold on to your seat tight if you don't want to be thrown around in the bus (is all I will say to that for now). A lot seems to be done on boat here, since the mighty Mekong runs through pretty much the whole counrty, so to get from north to south you can take a two day slow boat trip to Luang Prabang (see my post about Crossing the Border to Laos if interested). It works the same way upstream, although not as many people do it that way around. Many other places you can also get to by boat, like Nong Khiaw (more on this later) and Muang Ngoy further north of Luang Prabang, or further south to Vientianne, Thakhek and Pakse just to name a few. There are buses as well and it seems to be a choice of either very expensive Minivans to places or taking the local bus (personally I prefer the local bus).
The people in Laos are extremely friendly! Almost even more so than in Thailand. They are very warm and welcoming with huge smiles on their faces. Learn a few phrases like Sabaide (Hello) or Khop Jay (Thank You) which they always like to hear and usually are impressed if you can thank them in their own language! They are hungrier than Thais as well in regards to tourists so their efforts to satisfy you go a long way! They try harder and they speak much (MUCH!) better English!!
The food in Laos is very good as well! They have similar dishes to Thailand, but with different spices and done in slightly different ways. They are definitely more vegetarian friendly (which always helps) and every restaurant and menu has a whole section usually dedicated to vegetarians. Stir fries with different vegetables, noodles, rice, soups and curries are all time favourites. Smoothies are just as common as in Thailand and are delicious as well, although done in a slightly different way usually adding coconut milk!
As mentioned before the country is not as developed yet, so it is a lot rougher than you might expect. The first few days I spent in bed with food poisoning from a very touristy night market (and I certainly was not the only one), and some areas further up north often have power outages throughout the nights (like in Nong Khiaw) or some villages don't even have electricity at all. The wifi is okay-ish, but you need a lot of patience in some parts of the country to use it....
Nevertheless it IS a beautiful country with amazing friendly people and good food - definitely worth the adventure. BUT it is an adventure and not to everyone's taste!
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Some of the great food and smoothies in Laos
Great food, great view - love all the vegetarian choices!
A typical day market with fruits and vegetables and snacks
The amazingly delicious fruit smoothies, so much choice and they are everywhere. Not a day went by without one!
A local with mask to keep away the dirt and exhaust fumes on a comfortable but speedy bus ride
The dirty streets of Vang Vieng, a very rough and dirty place with a crazy nightlife scene