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
A place I can only recommend and loved eating at, was the Bamboo Garden Restaurant, opposite the Wat Wisunalat. It is a lovely young Lao Mom that cooks outside for you, speaks English well and is extremely friendly. The food is delicious and she has many vegetarian options for a good price, roughly about 15,000-20,000 Kip for a delicious meal. If you want to go out in the evening, Utopia is the place to be! It is the best place in town to go out for drinks in the evening and you will find all the backpackers here as well. A very chilled and cool place with mellow music, dim lighting, cushions on the floor to sit on, and a great place to enjoy a cheap cocktail around the table with friends. If you are looking for something more relaxed, L'Etranger Cafe does nightly movie screenings and has some of the best movie choices! Usually recently released movies that you can watch in the lovely attic with a hot cup of tea or some snacks. A good and cheap place to sleep is Mojo's Hostel, just next to L'Etranger Cafe. It's a backpackers hostel close to everything you need, very central and clean beds for a good price of 20,000 Kip per night. One thing you definitely CANNOT miss while in Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si Waterfall! It is one of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL waterfalls I have ever seen! Jokes aside - it is stunningly beautiful! Set into the jungle, you will walk up different steps, past the bear protection area which is amazing as well, and up to the bottom part of the waterfall. Clear turquoise blue water flowing over limestones and different steps stretching out over the whole area, leading up to the amazing fall from far above! You will not be let down, it is worth the effort and money to go there! The cost for a shared tuk-tuk service to the waterfall and back is roughly between 30,000-50,000 Kip (depending on your haggling skills) and another 20,000 Kip entry at the waterfall itself.
Next stop Nong Khiaw, a beautiful mountain town set further back into the country. It is a bit out of the way, about a 4 hour drive into the mountains, with spectacular views but very bumpy roads on a speedy bus. The bus ticket for the local bus is 40,000 Kip. A beautiful town with many trails to hike, hammocks to rest in overlooking the mountains and the river, caves to adventure through - I loved it! Since it was rainy season while I was there (July), there weren't many tourists, and a lot of trails were too slippery to hike, but it was a nice place to rest for a while and enjoy the quietness and the views. I stayed in a lovely Bamboo Bungalowoverlooking the river, with a double bed, attached bathroom, terrace and hammock to rest in for only 30,000 Kip per night - Bamboo Paradise Guesthouse. Delilah's is a nice place for a healthy breakfastand Coco Home is the best place in town for dinner! Try their delicious coconut and pumpkin soup - I was amazed! It is a beautiful place overlooking the river, nicely decorated, friendly staff and you might even meet the Austrian owner, who will happily give recommendations of where to go and what to see! It is a very small town, but perfect if you want some downtime with a book, amazing views and a hammock, or if you want to power out with some awesome hikes.
To get down to Vang Vieng, there is no direct bus from Nong Khiaw unfortunately, which means heading back to Luang Prabang for the night and then on to Vang Vieng the next day (like I said, Nong Khiaw is a bit out of the way, but was definitely worth it for me). Vang Vieng town itself is not the nicest place, but if you are on the way down to Vientiane anyway, it makes sense to stay for a night or two, and explore the surrounding areas a bit more. The town itself is very dirty, with trash laying around everywhere and a disgusting smell coming from every corner. It is unfortunately still a party place (even if it has gotten a lot better in recent years) where drugs and alcohol can be found everywhere. If you are not into that scene (like me!) think twice about going - I didn't enjoy it much. The surrounding area is beautiful though, and nice to explore some of the many caves there. My personal favourite, Tham Chang Cave! Set back a little walk away from town it is an amazing Cave to explore! It is very big with only a small entrance fee of 15,000 Kip and walking up the long flight of stairs will open up a great view over the fields and mountains! There is also a small blue lagoon right in front of the cave, so bring your bathing suit, the water is absolutely clear, clean and perfect for a swim! A nice place to stay in town is the Sunset Home Guesthouse. Price wise, it is the same price as the other hostels just around the corner, 30,000 Kip per night, but you've got your own little bungalow house with a bed, attached bathroom and little balcony to the front as well. Staff is really friendly and the attached Korean restaurant is amazing for the views! For food, there are a few really good places to recommend, which makes Vang Vieng slightly nicer to stay at. My personal favourite - Green Restaurant. It was a delicious place for breakfast overlooking the beautiful scenery surrounding town, a perfect place to chill out, read a book and enjoy some good food! Lunch and dinner there are good as well, they have a huge variety, the food is freshly cooked for average prices.
Further on to Vientiane, the Capital of Laos. An interesting busy big city with French Colonial influence (like the Patuxai, a Paris Triumph Arc similar stucture, which is absolutely beautiful - be sure to check it out!), built directly by the Mekong River. Strangely Vientiane was the first place I actually felt comfortable in, and where the local people were actually okay with me being there and were interested in talking to me. So many school girls came up to me practicing their English, and even Monks who wanted to have a chat with a foreigner. So be prepared to be stopped every few meters and have a new basic conversation with the locals, it's a lot of fun! In the city itself there is not that much to do, which is why two days are enough to see everything, but the feel and atmosphere here is amazing! The local Night Market just along the river front is nice for trinkets and some snacks and drinks, and the big Chou Anouvong Park next to it is nice for a stroll. The COPE visitor centre is a lovely small museum on a donation basis, explaining the brutal history of this neutral country in the Vietnamese War and how to date it is still the most bombed country. It definitely opened my eyes, let me understand the country and the people better, and why they react or talk to foreigners in a certain way. I left with a sad heart. A lot of pain and hardship the locals go through even today! If you want a very special and unique experience, go to the Wat Si Muang temple and sit inside to observe for a while and you will leave with a monk's blessing. Such a great experience, being showered with some water and a blessing in Lao, a bracelet to wear on your wrist and a Monk who ties it around. There are also a few great restaurants to eat at. Kung's Cafe close to the temple serving one of the very best vegetarian curries I have had so far, with amazingly friendly staff and a really nice atmosphere! Go there for breakfast or lunch, since it closes at 3pm. Prices are average and you can get a delicious meal for around 15,000-20,000 Kip. For dinner Lao Kitchen is a must! The BEST Lao food you will have! The menu unfortunately serves a lot of meat, but the handful of vegetarian dishes are all amazing!
To get to Thakeh, further south of Vientiane, take the 7 hour bus to arrive in the small town. Full of backpackers, the only hostel in town Khammouane Grand Backpackers is the place to be! Here you will finally meet some fellow travellers (somehow all of Laos isn't that big on tourism yet, which is really nice, but can also be a bit lonely at times) and find people to go on day trips with or to drive the LOOP with. Most people come here just for that, a three day motorbike trip into the countryside and through the mountains, all the way to the spectacular and famous Konglor Cave! Most travellers only stay for a night in Thakeh and start the three day trip the next day. In the evening go to the Night Market right in front of the hostel. It has the most deliciously amazing Banana Ice Cream Waffles you will ever have! Honestly, you will not regret spending the 10,000 Kip and probably come back every night for more!
Unfortunately I wasn't able to continue my planned route to Savanhakhet, Pakse, and the Four Thousand Islands further south in Laos! To find out more, stay tuned for the next article and where I went to after Laos! Any feedback, recommendations, or things you would like to know that I didn't cover, let me know! Get in touch, share or like this article on Facebook!
Easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have seen - Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang
Nong Khiaw and its stunning views over the mountains and river
The view to wake up to every morning from the Bamboo Paradise Guesthouse Bungalow, loving the Hammock!
View from the top of Tham Chang Cave - Vang Vieng is beautiful from afar!
Vang Vieng's fields and beautiful surroundings
The grand Patuxai in Vientiane, definitely an impressive structure worth checking out
The monks walking around in Vientiane stopping me to practice their English with a foreigner, what a lovely chat!
What a beautiful sunset over the Mekong River and Thailand on the other side, watching from Thakeh
Fabulous view from one of the many caves worth visiting in Thakeh - I just love all the nature!
Another spectacular view driving through the countryside Thakeh is surrounded by