02.01.2013 Huoay Xai
From Chiang Mai, passing through Chiang Rai and Chiang Kong, we travelled to Huoay Xai, in Laos. Leaving Thailand, I had to pay an expensive overstay fee… but a few minutes later I was a millionaire: Less than 100 euros equal 1 million Lao Kip! 🙂
03.01.-04.01.2013 Slow Boat Huoay Xai – Luang Prabang
Starting the next day, we spent 2 days going down the Mekong by boat to arrive in Luang Prabang. The scenery was less than exciting, but we did have a good time relaxing and testing BeerLao 🙂
05.01.-06.01.2013 Luang Prabang
We only stayed for 2 days in Luang Prabang. Somehow the town didn’t exactly knock my socks off – it sports many fancy boutique hotels and French cafés… which is nice enough if you have the money for it and want to feel like you were in Europe. Nothing in it for me! So we gorged ourselves on as many sights as possible during those two days… temple, temple, temple…
the rather underwhelming Palace Museum, the very interesting ethnology museum… and obviously we were not going to miss the opportunity to watch the sunset from the well-known viewpoint up a hill!
The abundance of tourists could do no harm to the beauty of the sun disappearing into the Mekong. For the following day, we had booked a tour to visit Kuang Si Falls. Minibus tours are not generally my cup of tea, but for 3 people this option was clearly cheaper than renting motorcycles. It was absolutely worth seeing the waterfall, and we also very much enjoyed our bath there!
07.01.2013 Nong Khiao
We had decided to venture into the un-touristy north-east of the country. Our first stop after about 6 hours of travel was Nong Khiao. I fell for the little town straight away! Stunningly beautiful… an extremely nice chill-out place; otherwise there is little to do here.
08.01.-10.01.2013 Xam Neua/Vieng Xay
A 12 hour bus trip brought us from Nong Khiao to Xam Neua. Luckily, the bus trip was less disastrous than anticipated – quite on the contrary! We had good seats and the landscape and villages on the way were very beautiful and well worth seeing. We arrived in Xam Neua in the middle of the night… found a guesthouse with great difficulty… and on the following day woke up to a bad (and cold!) surprise: Fog, light rain and temperatures around 10 degrees! Brrrrrrr… After a short stroll through town we spontaneously elected Xam Neua Shittiest City Ever and decided to take the next bus to Vien Xay. Ha-ha, that’s what we thought! For when we got to the bus station, we first had to wait for almost 2 hours, only to then suddenly hear that there was not going to be any bus today. Naturally this led us to take an expensive tuk tuk, being spectacularly ripped-off… Hmpf. Once in Vieng Xay, there was no improvement, either. Fog touching down right to the ground, wet, COLD, COLD, COLD. Everything was closed. A ghost town feeling.
Cold air seeped in through the walls of our guesthouse bungalow. We put on all the clothes we had brought. During all our time there, we never even once felt warm. Luckily there was a single restaurant – although that was not a closed room and thus open to receive the full blast of the cold. We couldn’t stop the question building: What the hell are we doing in a deserted place like this!? There is only one reason why one would visit Vieng Xay: the cave shelters that were built during the Secret War in Laos (happening at the same time as the Vietnam War). So the next day we went on a tour to see them, with a guide and audio comments.
I have to say… YES, it was enormously interesting and very well done! They tell you a lot about the history of the region and about the Secret War which is mostly unheard of in the West. I was very impressed to discover how people organised their lives at the time!
Even though the cave tour was excellent, we were keen to get back to warmth and civilisation. Unsurprisingly, trying to get a bus was another fail. Again we were ripped off in a tuk tuk, only to find out that the only bus to Phonsavan was cancelled that day. Niiiiiice… we get to spend another night in ugly Xam Neua 😦
Phonsavan is a relatively uninspiring road village. To us, however, after our adventures in the east, it felt like paradise! We found what is most likely the nicest hostel of my whole trip, we were suddenly spoilt for CHOICE in restaurants, there was a supermarket (!!), internet (!!!) aaaaaand it was finally WARM again!!! We were more than happy! J With Indochina Travel we arranged a tour for the next day, to visit the Plain of Jars. I highly recommend the travel agency! They had the cheapest offer by far, and their guide was great and told us many things – top! J The jars were not as impressive as I had expected, but the underlying stories were quite interesting.
We also visited a village where whiskey is distilled, and the War Spoon Village where scrap metal from the war is used to make spoons, among other things.
I even got the chance to cast my own spoon 🙂
14.01.-17.01.2013 Vang Vieng
I looooove Vang Vieng. We spent a wonderful 4 days here! On our first day we rented mountain bikes and pedalled to some caves north of the town.
The caves weren’t exactly stunning, but the scenery around Vang Vieng was – I love karst mountains!!!
Those mountains are very inviting for climbing, of course, so we booked some rock-climbing for the following day. It was brilliant and a whole different feeling! I had only ever climbed indoors with my dad, and had never done it on actual rock before. A great experience! I mostly climbed routes up to 6a/6b which were challenging but feasible. I thus discovered something new for myself – now I also want to go rock climbing at home… 🙂 The Green Discovery team is highly recommendable – those guys were super guides and it was a lot of fun with them!
On our third day in Vang Vieng we went tubing. There isn’t THE famous tubing any more, with many bars, Tarzan ropes and diving platforms. Too many deaths caused the bars to be shut down a few months ago. As a result, there are almost no tubers any more, and it has become a lot safer. You can only drink what you bring yourself, and this means that it is more a relaxing than an extreme experience. So this is what we did: lazily floating down the river, drinking a few beers and being pretty relaxed 🙂In the evening we continued partying a bit and were joined by Anna and Lucas.
The following day I was a bit hung over, but still joined a cycle tour to the Blue Lagoon – which turned out more like torture, due to the states that I and the road were in, respectively 😉 Still, the lagoon is very nice and the trip there was worth the trouble. Mind you, I could also have taken one of the tuk tuks that go there…
The next day we took a bus to Vientiane, where it took us a while to find acceptable accommodation for a low price. After a little stroll around, we concluded that everything was rather mediocre here, and that there was nothing special about the place. The impression got reinforced the following day, as we embarked on our sightseeing tour: The Buddha Park can easily be reached by bus, but is much smaller than you would expect; ultimately, it’s a lawn full of statues. You can mount the giant pumpkin, though, which is fun!
In the afternoon we rented bikes (mine losing its chain a total of 7 times during the ride!) and visited a few temples, the important That Luang, gleaming golden in the sunlight… and the triumph arch, reminding me of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
All in all, I didn’t find Vientiane especially remarkable – as I said, everything was more or less mediocre.
20.01.-24.01.2013 Thakhek / Motorbike Loop
Arriving in Thakhek in the evening after a long bus trip, we moved into the Travel Lodge, where the next day we rented motorbikes to do the well-known Loop (4 days). We were a group of 6 people: my Laos travel buddies Mathijs and Lucas, Lucas and Anna (brother and sister) and Moritz from Germany whom we had met on the bus. Most of the time I had my own motorbike (shifting gears by foot), so I could finally learn how to drive! 🙂I really enjoy it now and shifting gears is actually really easy. Our trip brought us through wonderful karst landscapes, past a reservoir – looking more like a swamp – a few hours along a dusty/sandy Dirt Road (difficult to drive…), through small villages…
and of course to the big Konglor Cave. This cave can be visited by boat; at one point you get out and walk a bit. I’ve seen many caves already, but this one truly impressed me – especially by its size!! In any case it is worth visiting.
The last day was rather boring/exhausting, because all we had to do was drive 100km straight on the motorway back to Thakhek. A great loop, definitely making it on the list of my best experiences in Laos!
The next day was again mainly a bus day. Near Pakxe lies the Bolaven Plateau which can be easily reached by motorcycle. You should usually allow 2 days for this trip, but Lucas, Mathijs and I would soon have to leave Laos… so we quickly did the Loop in just a day. The waterfalls along the way were surprisingly nice and impressed me more than I thought they would; they were also less touristy than I had expected! 🙂 The scenery was comparatively underwhelming, but the small villages were nice…
27.01.-30.01.2013 4000 Islands / Don Det
The last item on our Laos agenda was CHILL OUT! We had travelled a great deal during the last month and needed some down time, doing nothing. And this is exactly what we did during our 3 days on Don Det: sleep in, leisurely breakfast, swim in the Mekong, relax in the hammock…
A nice ending to our 30 days in Laos – which sadly passed faaaaar too quickly!