THINGS I LOVED:
» Natural Sites: The natural sites of Laos are some of the best I’ve seen anywhere. We explored caves that have been turned into Buddhist temples, we jumped into a beautiful blue lagoon from a giant tree branch overhead, we kayaked in a river with beautiful mountains that looked like they had been painted with watercolors and explored some of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen in my life. It was so great to do so much outside.
» The Mountains: I haven’t seen my beloved Blue Ridge Mountains since January. So, being in the mountains instantly made me giddy. As we drove from Vientiane to Vang Vieng, I kept pointing and emphatically saying, “Look at the mountains!” to Stacey, as if she didn’t see them. Although, we didn’t hike in the mountains, I never tired of seeing them, and wanted a restaurant or café with a view as often as possible.
» Coffee Shakes: Coffee shakes are basically the greatest coffee drink in the whole of the earth. Laos coffee in general is some of the greatest coffee I’ve ever had. Then, you take that coffee, add sweet condensed milk, some ice and blend it together and you get the nectar of Buddha! It’s so tasty and has ruined me for any other blended coffee drink.
» Luang Prabang: This city became an instant favorite of mine. Although others are special to me and I enjoyed pieces of them, sometimes there are just places you connect with. Luang Prabang is that for me. This is the first city outside of North America that I have actually thought to myself, I could live here for a very long time. It’s a stunning city in the mountains and beside a river. There are a great mix of tasty Laos foods (especially at the night market) and some of the best Western-style cafes I’ve ever eaten at. The town is filled with beautiful Buddhist temples, has a funky, laidback feel to it and so many fun things to do and see around it. Matt, pack your things, we’re moving. Ha
THINGS I DIDN’T LOVE:
» The Food: To be honest, other than Luang Prabang, I didn’t like the food in Laos. Therefore, there’s unfortunately no food envy for this country. When we went to night markets in Vientiane the street food was essentially meat on a stick that still very much looked like the animal it came from (which, doesn’t work with my aesthetic-vegetarianism). I even ordered veggie noodles a few times, only to find it cooked in fish sauce, which apparently I don’t enjoy either. Sorry for being picky, but I can’t help it. I like what I like. In Vang Vieng, we had some of the saddest interpretations of Western food I’ve ever had- the worst being pizza with ketchup as tomato sauce. However, I did have an incredible veggie burger in Don Det and some lovely Indian food along the way, but that isn’t Laos cuisine at its finest, is it?
» Tuk-tuks: I described tuk-tuks as moped drawn carriages in my XOXO, Cambodia post, but that was not the case in Laos. They came in all different shapes & sizes, most of which left me feeling like I might, at any moment, fly out the back. What to do? Along with that the drivers were quick to try to scam and very unhappy when we called their bluff and negotiated a fair price.
Pan’s Place / Chansavang Guesthouse: This was a toss-up because we loved both of these Guesthouses equally, but for different reasons:
» Pan’s Place in Vang Vieng ($4/person for a private) was great because it still had that social atmosphere to it with a common room & restaurant that served beer, they had a movie room, which was nice on a cozy, rainy evening, friendly staff and a good room. Its cons were the bathroom wasn’t amazing, the food wasn’t anything to write home about and we shared a bed.
» Chansavang Guesthouse in Luang Prabang ($6.5/person for a private room) was a very clean room and wins the best guest service award. Our sleeper bus arrived three hours earlier than it was supposed to, so at 5am nothing was open. We were literally pulling on doors when we found theirs open. The man working showed us a private room, but it still needed to be cleaned. He let us sit in the common area and said the room would be ready around 10am. However, he rushed it getting cleaned and we were able to be in our room, napping in our own beds, by 7 am. The rooms were cozy, in a great location and the fans kept it extremely cool – felt like A/C. Its con was no food on site, but there were plenty of options nearby.
TOP THREE SITES / EXPERIENCES:
» Kuangsi Waterfalls: These waterfalls are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life, at least in the top three. I have always loved waterfalls, but these take the cake. There were so many different levels, and I’m sad to say that I think we missed the tallest level of them, but even missing that they were so stunning. It was some of the most beautiful turquoise water I’ve ever seen. There were pools to swim in, ropes to swing from, scalloped edges of rock to walk along, and plenty of places to stand with the waterfalls pouring down over you. I couldn’t help but laugh as the water fell over my head and shoulders. I loved it there.
» Pac Ou: This was something that was on my top 10 things to do in Southeast Asia. While, I don’t know if it will make my top 10 of the trip, it was definitely in my top three of Laos. We took a slow boat down the Mekong River for about two hours until we reached Pac Ou. It’s actually made up of two different caves and filled with over 4,000 Buddha figures. It’s so interesting to read about the cave’s history and what this site mean for Buddhists in Laos. It was definitely worth the visit.
» Climbing Phu Si: There’s a 300-ish-foot hill in city center (Phu Si), and on top of that is a stupa (That Chomsi). Stacey and I felt ridiculously out of shape climbing the steps to the top, but we were so glad we made the hike when we got to the top. The stupa was beautiful and there was a tiny temple as well, but the views of Luang Prabang, the Mekong River and the mountains stole the show. It would be a perfect place to bring a picnic and spend the afternoon.
LAOSISMS (“oddities” and culture shock):
» Fake-Western World- while in Don Det and Vang Vieng Stacey and I felt a bit as though we stepped into this weird western twilight zone. Don Det was filled with western food and it seemed more Westerners than natives (although, we eventually found where they spent time). Vang Vieng seemed like a town built up around the tourism of tubing while intoxicated and other party novelties. It didn’t feel like we were in Laos, but it didn’t feel like we were home either. We were caught in a world surrounded by crappy imitation western food, friends and a ton of other backpackers who were getting stoned or wasted.
» Vientiane only needs one afternoon: A friend of mine who lived in Laos for some time told me that it could be completely passed over, and he’s right, it could be, but I would’ve been sad to miss Buddha Park. However, it didn’t need the two days we spent there. It was the perfect place to cross over into Thailand, so perhaps book a night train from there to Thailand and leave enough time to run to Buddha Park.
» Barter Down 20%: The prices aren’t hiked as extremely in Laos as they seemed in Cambodia. So, when we were shopping at local markets we would just try to get what we thought was fair (usually about 20% less) and they will let you know when they aren’t willing to barter. It was a totally different market-world there. Also, tickets were all priced the same, which was different from Cambodia. All the bus tickets were the same advertised prices; things like laundry were even the same. This was nice because it saved us time searching for the best price and gave us peace of mind that we were paying what we were paying and not getting scammed.
LAOS TOOK A WHILE TO WIN US OVER, BUT ONCE IT DID, IT REALLY DID. LUANG PRABANG WAS BY FAR ONE OF THE GREATEST STOPS OF OUR TRIP. IT WAS SO DIFFERENT FROM CAMBODIA. OUR EXPERIENCE WASN’T ONE OF CULTURE SHOCK OR EXCITIMENT AT EVERY TURN. I’M NOT SURE IF THAT’S BECAUSE WE WERE MORE USED TO THIS WAY OF LIFE, OR IF IT WAS BECAUSE OF THIS WEIRD WESTERN FEEL TO THE PLACES WE CHOSE TO VISIT. REGARDLESS, THE MOUNTAINS, LAGOONS AND CAVES WERE WONDROUS, THE SPIRIT OF THE WATS WERE BEAUTIFUL AND LUANG PRABANG WAS A DREAM.
WITH LOVE, FROM LAOS