Archiv der Kategorie: Laos

Laos – Summary & Pictures

People: The Laotians themselves are rather distant and not so open/interested in us tourists. This probably is connected with the low level of English that most people speak. In principle though, most people were quite nice/polite/helpful. Bargaining situations were an exception though. I do love bargaining, but please do it right. If you have once agreed to a price, it should stay like this – a couple of tuk tuk drivers saw this differently in Laos… The Laotians are also quite relaxed. For me almost too relaxed, because I don’t really appreciate waiting hours and hours for my food… 😉 Tourists: Mainly backpackers, and in Luang Prabang a couple of package tourists on excursion from Thailand.

Food: I was not too fond of the real Lao food. The fried noodles / the fried rice were just not able to compete with the dishes from Thailand. There were few vegetarian alternatives. Exception: The typical noodle soup which is served for lunch from about 1€. Very simple, but very delicious! In addition, there are lots of Indian restaurants in Laos where we often stuffed our stomachs 🙂

Weather: A mix of everything! In the North we often had fog until noon and it was rather cool, then later blue skies and heat. In the North-East it was bitter cold and fog was creeping through the streets. In the South (Pakse, 4000 Islands) it was already warm in the morning and later humid and hot!

Costs: Laos was more expensive than expected. Especially the higher bus costs (compared to Thailand) impacted my budget. If you take less long bus rides, you can definitely save something. Also food was often not that cheap – there are street food stalls, but you have to search more for it than in Thailand. This is why in total my daily costs in Laos amount to 23 Euro.

Accomodation: Again, a mix of everything! We had the best room of my trip so far in Phonsavan, but also a real shithole in Pakbeng, where you really did not wanna get in touch with the sheets 😉 And everything in between… Sometimes it was difficult to find hot water, the quality of mattresses was of varying degree, free Wifi was advertised everywhere, but I’m not going to comment on the quality 😉

Infrastructure: Busses and tuk tuks. And a couple of times minivans. I was actually positively surprised by the busses, as well as the road condition. The roads often consist of a single lane only (and I’m talking the main roads in a region), but in comparison to other countries they were mostly very well maintained. As mentioned though, the costs for busses were a bit high…

Illnesses: Sometimes I had some small stomach issues, but at least my knees are all fine again now (who knows why!) 🙂

Safety: I never felt unsafe. Why should I!? In Laos you definitely don’t get the feeling that anything could happen to you.

Highlight: Rock climbing in Vang Vieng.  And the two motorbike loops!

Lowlight: Xam Neua.

Click here for all my pictures of Laos: Tempel in Laos

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Laos – What Happened to Those 30 Days!?

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! 🙂
I'm a millionair!

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 🙂SAM_2977

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…
Tempel Hopping, Luang Prabang (13) Tempel Hopping, Luang Prabang (14) Tempel Hopping, Luang Prabang (16)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!
Phou Si, Luang Prabang - sunset timeThe 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!

Kuang Si waterfall near Luang Prabang

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.
Nong Khiao (6)

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.
Vieng XayCold 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.
Vieng Xay cave tour

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!
Vieng Xay cave tour (3)

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 😦

11.01.-13.01.2013 Phonsavan

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.
DSC06288We 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.
DSC06349I even got the chance to cast my own spoon 🙂 DSC06352

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.
SAM_3368The caves weren’t exactly stunning, but the scenery around Vang Vieng was – I love karst mountains!!!SAM_3382

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!
DSC06426On 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 🙂P1050142In the evening we continued partying a bit and were joined by Anna and Lucas.
P1020468

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…
P1020473

18.01.-19.01.2013 Vientiane

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!
DSC06457In 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.
DSC06508DSC06517DSC06529DSC06546All 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! 🙂DSC06570I 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…
DSC06606 P1020623and 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.
DSC06659The 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!

25.01.-26.01.2013 Pakxe

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! 🙂DSC06739 DSC06773The scenery was comparatively underwhelming, but the small villages were nice…
DSC06796

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…
DSC06835A nice ending to our 30 days in Laos – which sadly passed faaaaar too quickly!DSC06846