What an extraordinary country! Though the internet seems to be full of talk about Bali and Thailand, Laos is by far, a better experience. With barely a party scene to be found, simply a region full of beautiful people, incredible waterfalls, amazing food and a ton of culture and history. I started my trip in the far North - Luang Prabang, and ended in the far South, Pakse; each region distinctly different and wonderful. Choosing to arrive by flight, as you need to get your visa on arrival, and this seemed to be the simplest option. An adorable french colonial town situated on the mighty Mekong River, Luang Prabang offers a stunning home base to explore the area.
There are a ton of accommodation options, from hostels to homes, I opted for a lovely facility directly on the river, really not a hotel, but a location to learn about the local textiles, which happens to have a couple of rooms. Ock Pop Tok, was amazing in every way, the views, the food, the staff, the classes, all not to be missed, and only a short tuk tuk ride into the main part of town. Though I spent one full day learning the art of Batik, this still left plenty of time to enjoy the night markets, local shops, tour elephant sanctuaries, butterfly farms, take river trips and swim under incredible waterfalls. I usually travel solo, but on this trip, I had two friends from Australia join me. With that said, the entire trip was perfect for a gathering of folks, or as a single person. There was never a time we felt unsafe, and the locals were above and beyond generous and kind, most of which spoke some level of English. From here we hired a private car to take us to the remote village of Van Viang.
Getting information on this next leg of the journey was near impossible. Not many have written about the adventure, and the only access is by bus or mini van, if you don't want to private hire a taxi for the journey. There is a "new road" which was completed last year, but has many sections taken out from land slides during the rainy season, or so I was told. This access point can get you to "V V" in just a short 5 hours or so. The other option, the one we wanted to take, is not recommended, from what I read, as the road is quite precarious and goes over many mountain passes, with numerous washouts and other vehicle hazards. Seemed like a winner to us. Though is did take some cajoling to get a private driver for the route. We ended up getting hooked up with a great guide, who stopped for our many picture taking requests, spoke decent English and also found a superb local joint for lunch. The going was slow, taking us about 9 hours total, you just never knew when the road would be covered in mud, or that a cow, child, chicken, dog or pig, would be using the dirt highway, as their personal space. Not recommended for those with neck or back problems, as it is literally one giannormous pot hole after another. Van Viang, in the middle of nowhere, is definitely a backpacker party zone. Not really my style. BUT the crystal clear river running through town, makes water sports a winner, as the heat was far more oppressive than in the mountains of Northern Laos. The drive was well worth the 2 nights spent in town, which offered caving and zip lining in addition to tubing the day away with an icy Beer Laos.
From Van Viang, we took yet another private shuttle to Vientiane, the capital. This trip was a much shorter 4 hours and had actual pavement and everything! Though the city was nothing spectacular, it was just a night before flying out to the Champasak Region, it did have some interesting Wat's as well as yet another massive night market and some great deals on local antique textiles. Dry season it may have been, but don't let the time of year kid you, the farther South we traveled, the hotter and hotter it became.
Pakse, the gateway to the Champasak Region. Another location for which research was lacking in information. A much larger city than I had anticipated, just a short 60 minute flight, and unlike the rest of Laos, English was un- common. Not set up at all for tourism, making it unique in it's own way. Our reason for wanting to visit was the proximity to countless waterfalls, an area called 4000 Islands and an untouched "real" Southeast Asian adventure. We had a private driver for every area we wanted to visit, and for this I am grateful, the craziest road rules I have ever seen, closing my eyes more often than not while traversing the area. It was also the reason for which I inoculated myself prior to the trip, as the mosquitos were vicious here, especially at dusk. The stunning waterfalls, coffee plantations, and islands however, were more than enough to keep us amused for days on end. We even got to see the functionally extinct Irrawaddy dolphin. With just 92 left in the river along the Cambodia and Laos border, it was a true delight getting to see two of these beauties, up close and personal.
As a whole, Laos was amazing (Cambodia too, stay tuned for more).
I will definitely be back,
in fact planning a trip for early December 2019.
It will be a max of 7 people, and will include;
creating local artwork, taking cooking classes, visiting artists, gazing at historical monuments,
and swimming in the most amazing waterways you will ever see -
It will be an adventure of a lifetime.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon -