The Lowdown on Laos

When I started planning my trip to Southeast Asia I knew I wanted to visit more than one country before heading back to the States. The traditional backpackers route starts in Thailand, travels to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Other destinations include Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore. And if you’re really adventurous Myanmar can be included. One of the main reasons I chose Laos was that Stray Asia offered bus passes through the country, and a much more comfortable way to travel as Laos’ roads are windy and bumpy. Stray is a New Zealand company and has an extensive route in New Zealand and I knew they were reputable. And I wanted to visit Laos before it became too touristy, like Thailand has become. Laos has only been open to tourism since the 1990s, and it is probably the poorest country in Southeast Asia, but very welcoming. The people are very friendly and live a rural life in huts on stilts where livestock cross the roads and the roosters crow in the early morning. Everything is laid back here. The common phrase is “Laos time”, which roughly means whenever. So my time in Laos has been lesson in patience.The landscape is more dramatic than Thailand, but unfortunately, much of it was obscured due to to the haze.

Stunning backdrop of Nong Khiaw

I crossed the border from Thailand to Houayxai, the northern border of Laos where our orange Stray bus was waiting for us. We then traveled the length of the country to the south, ending in Don Det, one of the 4000 islands. At most locations, we stopped for only one night. The exceptions being Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. I hopped off the bus in Luang Prabang, a World Heritage Site since 1995. Luang Prabang is the culture capital of Laos and is rich in French-Indochinese architecture. I spent a day walking around the city, climbing Phou Si hill and visiting Wat Xiang Thong, one of the most famous temples in Laos. I spent one day at the nearby Kouang Si waterfall, which is a 60 m waterfall that spills through a series of crystal blue pools. It’s a great place for a swim and a rope swing into the pools.

The gorgeous Kouang Si waterfall

Wat Xiang Thong in Luang Prabang

Vang Vieng was also interesting. This is the backpackers mecca of Southeast Asia. On a typical day, people rent tractor trailer tubes, load them on top of a tuk-tuk and head to the Nam Song River to go tubing. In reality, most people don’t make it more than a couple hundred meters down the river as they stop at the many riverside bars. This place is like a playground for adults. There are rope swings, high dives, and ziplines into the river, and a lot of alcohol. Needless to say, I was more interested in tubing down the river so after a few stops at the first bars, I jumped back on my tube and paddled my way down the river.

The start of tubing in Vang Vieng

Our trip through the south of Laos was only one week, and including camping by a waterfall, a homestay at the monkey village, and elephant bathing in Tad Lo. The trip ended in Don Det, which is one of the 4000 islands on the Mekong River. We took a boat trip on the Mekong to look for the rare Irrawaddy dolphins in which there are very few left. We were lucky enough to see several during our trip. Then on the ride home, our tuk-tuk ran out of gas and the driver took off towards town leaving us with the vehicle! Luckily, he came back with another tuk-tuk otherwise it would have been a very long walk back.

Homestay visit in Xe Champhone

Dolphin tour on Don Det

My trip through Laos was a bit of a blur as it was full of activities, but I hope to return one day to do some more exploring.

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