Laos has been on our travel list since we got to Singapore, to be honest I’d never heard about this country before, which is nestled in-between Thailand, Vietnam and just above Cambodia. Pronounced like l-ow as in cow, you leave the ‘s’ off. We’re still hoping to do a weekend trip here in the next year. But as we can’t travel yet I’ve roped my little brother into sharing his top tips on Laos and I thought you might enjoy the first ‘Journey to…’ guest blog post on Weaving my Way.
Little bit about my brother, he’s called Dominic, or Dom to his friends and Uncle Beardo to my kids and their friends. These days he’s normally found staring at a laptop writing world changing website code, growing a beard, photographing his food or doing handstands, basically your typical millennial.
When we moved to Singapore he had a case of FOMO and decided to quit his job, packed his flat up into storage and booked a one-way ticket to Singapore. That was to be just the first stop, he then spent five months hot footing it around Asia before going back to London, only to do the same again almost two years later. It’s safe to say the travel bug runs in the family.
So I sat down and quizzed my brother all about his trip to Laos, what to do in Laos, top things to experience in Laos and why we should add Laos to our Asia travel list too. Grab a cuppa or a glass of wine and let’s enjoy travelling vicariously through Dom.
What’s the first thing that springs to your mind about your trip to Laos?
Laos is typically one of the lesser visited countries in Southeast Asia and one I had originally planned to skip. I went directly from Thailand to meet you [Dee], and your family, in Cambodia. But having spoken to fellow travellers, on my journey through Cambodia and Vietnam, I changed my mind and I’m very glad I did!
Laos is mostly on par with the neighbouring countries on price but with a few less people travelling through, it feels more authentic and less touristy in parts. There are some real gems to discover. The people will surprise you, the ones I met were genuine, full of smiles and made me feel really welcome during my trip.
I decided to take the plane to get into Laos from Vietnam. I had heard too many horror stories of bus crossings from Vietnam to Laos and was advised to take this safer, although more expensive route. One I didn’t regret, it was fast and easy.
What was your Laos itinerary, did you wish you’d spent longer in any locations?
Stop 1: Luang Prabang – 4 nights
This is the ancient capital of Laos that lies in the North on the Mekong river.
I loved this place, there was a really nice vibe! It was super chilled and a nice break after having just spent 4 weeks in crazy Vietnam. Plenty of handicraft markets, street food, waterfalls and more.
Stop 2: Vang Vieng – 4 nights
A holiday hotspot for Korean’s, oddly. Wasn’t much to do here apart from hair around crazy wet, muddy, off-road tracks on ATV vehicles. People mainly hire ATVs from the town and drive around these tracks on the outskirts of town.
The other main activity is the tubing, which is a lot more tame and safer than it used to be apparently. It wasn’t too busy when I went in June. This basically consists of hiring an old tractor tyre inner tube and using it to float down the river. You’re taken to the start where it begins and there are three or four bars around the route where people stop and drink/do shots. It’s quite a young, party style crowd but in recent years has calmed down a lot. The water here is warm if a little muddy.
Stop 3: Vientiane – 2 nights
Vientiane is the capital of Laos now. There wasn’t much to do here be honest and I wish I’d stayed longer in Vang Vieng or Luang Prabang instead. But in hindsight it was good to pause for a couple of days and chill. If you’re pushed for time one night is enough here.
How did you choose your accommodation? Any places you can recommend?
I used Agoda for pretty much all my accommodation on this trip to Laos, it was really easy and I usually picked places to stay based on the ratings and reviews of other travellers.
Places Dom stayed:
Luang Prabang – Chill Riverside Hostel. Decent beds, nice vibe, good location, walking distance to the main town and market, but also had a few nice bars nearby.
Vang Vieng – I wish I could but I can’t recommend anything here.
Vientiane – My Box Hostel. Clean and central location, it was very close to the city centre.
What are your top 5 things to do in Laos?
1. Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang
Beautiful natural three-tiered waterfalls. Entrance was around 20k Kip and you’ll need to take a local tuk-tuk to get there. You can pick them up from near the market in town and it’s around half-an-hour to get there.
Once you get there, make sure you hike to the furthest point to see the best part of the waterfall. There are some steps to the left of the wooden footbridge where most people stop and it only takes around 15 mins to get to the top of the waterfalls.
There was no queue and don’t think there is usually. Best time would probably be late morning when it gets a little warmer.
2. Luang Prabang Night Market
A good place to pick up some holiday souvenirs and to have a stroll. There’s a whole bunch of craft/clothes stalls along the main strip in a closed off road. Then down one of the side roads you’ll find a small food market selling lots of BBQ style meat. I actually tried fish eye ball here which was… interesting (I’m glad I had my charcoal tablets on hand)!
3. Alms giving, Luang Prabang
Every morning at sunrise the local monks walk the streets and are given offerings by the local people. It’s a long standing tradition and the monks often depend on these offerings, I understand they are usually given sticky rice. (My mum learnt in Myanmar that the real monks always walk around barefoot. The imposters tend to wear sandals and beg for money).
If you go as a tourist it‘s imperative that you keep as quiet as a mouse in respect. So make sure those camera shutters are on silent!
4. Sunset from Phousi Mountain
The entrance to Phousi Mountain is in the centre of the old town of Luang Prabang and accessed via a path from the East end from what I remember. The walk up is around 20 to 30 minutes and offers great views of the Mekong river and the town. Best time to go is around sunset (check the correct times for sunset when you visit). There’s a crowded raised viewpoint but it can be worth the wait as you get a little higher than some of the tree cover. Better still…bring your drone for an amazing view of the temple.
5. Explore the Caves and Lagoons in Vang Vieng
I think they offer guided tours but we just hired scooters and drove around. There are a number of “blue” lagoons (not really blue – more green). Lagoon 1 is often crowded, but you can hike up and explore the caves around there yourself. They also often offer zip-lining, but not something I personally was going to put my trust in. Lagoon 3 is probably the nicest and quietest but if you have time make it to Lagoon 5.
Best Spot for Instagram in Laos?
Hahah, the best spot for the gram in Laos is most definitely Kuang Si Waterfall. Late morning I’d say. For the best type of photo you’ll want to do some kind of long exposure to get the waterfall looking smooth. Bring your tripod and ND filters if you can so you can keep that shutter open long enough.
The one place in Laos which surprised you?
Luang Prabang was the place in Laos which surprised me the most – I found it had such a nice atmosphere; interesting craft markets, good food, delightful people. Thankfully you don’t get hassled for tuk-tuk rides and there are some pretty sights to see too. I especially enjoyed the taste and smells of the street food down by the market.
Luang Prabang also has a fun little nightlife scene. LaoLao is a popular bar and if you’re up for it, the party continues at a strange bowling alley out of town. All the tuk-tuks will be offering to take you there as you roll out of the bar. When you arrive people buy bottles of spirit and mixers. The party then continues until the early morning.
What was your best meal in Laos?
My best meal was in Tamarind, a restaurant in the southern part of town that serves local food. You can get a tasting menu to experience the local food and if you’re game they also have a cooking school so you can level up your cooking skills.
What you left on your must see in Laos list, for next time you visit?
I’d like to go back for the Pi Mai Festival in Luang Prabang. The famous festival where everyone throws water at each other.
Been somewhere awesome? Got some great photos? Want to share your travel story on Weaving my Way? I’d love to discuss writing it up with you in a ‘Journey to…’ blog post, drop me a note in the comments below.