When we disembarked from our cruise, we found ourselves in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage city, an amazingly diverse city with architectures from so many periods in history. For us, and for everybody we’ve spoken to on our journey, Luang Prabang is one of the favourite places to visit in Laos. We had a fantastic hotel overlooking the river, we enjoyed a boiling hot steam room powered by an old locomotive engine, we visited and swam in some beautiful waterfalls and we spent a couple of lazy afternoons in what was probably the most chilled bar we’ve ever been to, “Utopia“ where they encourage you to come in, spend the day if you want, sleep if you want, buy a drink if you want, and enjoy watching the peace of the beautiful river drifting by.
Too much chillin’ makes us lazy and fat, so after a few quiet days it was time to move on.
What a contrast was the next town that we visited, Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is known as the party town of Laos, and is also considered one of the most dangerous town in Southeast Asia due to the combination of outdoor activities, lots of alcohol, and (apparently) freely available drugs.
After 26 deaths in one year, the government closed much of the town down, but it’s still very clearly a young persons/backpackers place. We actually enjoyed our couple of days here it was certainly lively, the biggest problem we had was with the convoys of Dune Buggy’s that cruised down the streets, as noisy and as irritating as Jetskis, and which covered everything in dust every time they went by. Our danger was only slightly less scary, we met up with a Scot’s couple, Brian and Rosie from the Scottish borders. We spent a fun couple of evenings, drinking beer and sharing life stories. It’s fun meeting Brits abroad, we get new people to add to our diary to go and visit when we’re back in our Motorhome in the UK 😀.
Time to move on again, and by this time we were desperate to get down to “Si Phan Don” better known as “The 4000 Islands”. After much deliberation we decided to risk the 24 hour bus trip to cover the 600 mile trip – there are no trains in Laos, so buses are the only option.
Other traveller reviews of this journey ranged between “fantastic”, and “the worst 24 hours of our lives” so we boarded the bus with some trepidation!
The journey actually included about four different buses, but for the actual overnight sleeping bus we really enjoyed the experience. We had a nice flat 4 foot wide mattress for the two of us and we managed to get plenty of sleep. I’m sure it’s not the same for single travellers however, who find themselves teamed up with a total stranger for the night!
The 4,000 Islands is a beautiful place. The water is obviously the main attraction with The Mekon River being more than 20 km wide in places in this area, and when the waters of the river are low, 4,000 islands is probably an underestimation. There are a couple of main islands, Don Det and Don Khon. We started on Don Det, but after a couple of days we transferred across to the quieter Don Khon. It was easy to hire bikes for a pound a day, although trying to find a bike with brakes was challenging. Luckily there were no hills!
Highlight of our time in the islands was joining a group on a kayak trip for a day. However as we went past a local dam and some rough water, our kayak was pushed sideways into a standing wave and we were unceremoniously tipped into the river. Bearing in mind that we were probably the most experienced kayakers on the group, our pride was well and truly dented.
No harm was done other than a broken toe for Phil, a ruined pair of binoculars, and red faces when we caught up with the rest of the group.
Everything was made ok an hour later as we sat on a boat just over the Cambodia border, watching the Irrawaddy Dolphins cruise around the river.
A bit fatter and a bit lazier we decided we needed to get on the move again – this isn’t a holiday! As we were as far south in Laos as we could get, we had to head north towards Pakse, from where we were going to fly across into Cambodia in a weeks time.
We chose to head up into the Bolaven Plateau, which took us into the Laos coffee plantation region. This higher, cooler, and wetter part of the country is perfect for growing coffee and while out walking we enjoyed walking through the coffee plantations, seeing the different types of coffee being grown on the different types of plants.
The houses around the coffee plantations were much bigger and grander; it was clear to see that money is in coffee!
Unfortunately Phil picked up a tummy bug soon after we got up to the plateau, and the next week was spent getting over the bug and recouperating. I guess it’s always a fact of life when travelling in different countries that somewhere, something’s not going to agree with you, but that could happen at home as easily as it does when you’re travelling, shit happens!
And so tonight, we find ourselves back in Pakse, full health restored, ready to embark on our propeller plane tomorrow to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We’re so excited about visiting the very very world famous site of Angkor Wat.
Overall, we’ve really enjoyed our travels in Laos. The people have been fantastic and have always given us big smiles. It’s very clearly still a recovering country, it was bombed mercilessly by the US as part of the Vietnam Campaign, and much of the country is still full of unexploded ordinance. But China is now taking an interest in investment and infrastructure and this very poor country will gradually start to generate more wealth as Chinese goods and tourism takes off.
As our first visit, we’ve stuck mainly to the core tourist route following the Mekong River from the north all the way down to the southern border with Cambodia, but there’s so much more to to this country, and lots more to explore on a future trip. We won’t leave it too long however. Once the China/Thailand train line is completed in the next five years, this country will change forever.
For those of you interested, or for anybody visiting Laos for the first time, we’ve put together some thoughts HERE on our time in Laos that may just help if your planning on visiting.