Laos was another last-minute addition to my travel itinerary and a country that I heard really mixed reviews about. Some of my friends loved it, some hated it, some said it ‘wouldn’t add anything to my travels’… so I decided to find out for myself. Sadly, I fell in the ‘didn’t add anything to my travels’ camp – there wasn’t much to do, transport was expensive and I encountered a lot of unfriendly people! I did see some beautiful scenery, but it has definitely been one of my least favourite countries out of the 8 I’ve been to in SE Asia.
First Stop: Vientiane (2 nights)
Vientiane was a weird place. I didn’t dislike it, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I stayed at the Avalon Residences which was ok for a short period of time. They had free breakfast which was alright and the location was good – I paid £3.60/ night which was cheap for this area.
I enjoyed Vientiane’s night market, but it was mainly for clothes/ knick-knacks and I go to night markets for the food (shock). However, on the surrounding streets, there are a lot of food stalls with baguettes, rotis etc.
Temples / Monuments
There are a lot of religious sites, temples and monuments around Vientiane and I spent half a day walking around some of the most popular ones e.g. Pha That Luang, That Dam, Wat Sisaket. After 6 months of travelling, temples have lost their initial appeal for me so I can’t say that any particularly stood out, but if you haven’t been overloaded with temples they are worth seeing.
Vientiane’s version of the ‘Arc de Triomphe’ is definitely worth checking out and the surrounding park is good for relaxing or walking around.
I chose to miss out the Buddha park as it is around 25km from the centre of Vientiane, so a bidding war with tuk-tuk drivers or driving a motorbike is necessary – neither of which I particularly wanted to do.
The Buddha Park is open daily from 8am-6pm and costs 15,000 kip. It basically is a site with lots of reclaimed buddhas from temples / other sites, but I heard that it only takes around 10 minutes to explore – so may not be worth the trek (unless you’re really into buddhas).
Vang Vieng (2 nights)
A place with really mixed views – I hated it. The journey from Vientiane was longer than it should have been (6 hours), but I got to see some really beautiful views along the way.
I stayed for one night at Jennin Backpackers’ Guesthouse(cost £4/night but staff were really rude) and then at Real Vang Vieng Backpackers’ (£3.50/night) which was a lot better and had a free swimming pool.
Tubing down the Nam Song River is a very popular activity in Vang Vieng and one I was excited for. Most people take their time tubing, stopping at bars along the river so it can take around half a day. I had an unusual experience, meaning in the end I didn’t get to go. I booked with an agent in town, arrived at the tubing office where they said I would have to wait until 3 more people signed up because they needed 4 people in the tuk-tuks. I asked how long that would be to which they replied ‘maybe an hour, maybe more’. They seemed surprised when I said I wasn’t prepared to wait for over an hour and the manager got pretty nasty when I left to go and get a refund. Be prepared if you are a solo traveller – they might not be particularly helpful if other people aren’t signed up to tube with you.
Pha Ngern View Point
This viewpoint was the best part of my time in Vang Vieng – it really was amazing. You pay 15,000 kip to enter the site and when you are there you have two viewpoints to choose from. You can choose a lower level or a higher level. I chose the lower as I heard that the higher level was really steep and slippery (and I was in sliders). Even still, my view on the lower platform was stunning and made scaling a rock face worth it for me.
Last Stop: Luang Prabang (5 nights)
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend 5 nights in Luang Prabang, but I got unlucky with my timings and had to book a flight a few days later than expected. (My plan was to get a sleeper bus from LP to Chiang Mai, but they only run on Mondays and Fridays – so keep that in mind if you’re planning on doing the same thing).
I stayed in Y Not Lao Hostel (around £4/night) which was in a good location, had a decent breakfast and free whisky every night! I met a lot of people there and I had a great stay overall.
This is definitely one of the best night markets I have been to – mainly because there are so many good food options! It is open every night from 5pm and has lots of souvenir stalls and places to eat. I went every night and ate at the vegetarian buffet located on one of the side streets off the main market. Here, you could fill up a plate for 15,000kip (about £1.40) and it was delicious.
Kuang Si Waterfall
Through my hostel, I paid 35,000 kip for transport to the waterfalls and 20,000 kip for entrance. As one of the most popular tourist attractions in Laos, it was pretty bus but definitely worth checking out. There are a few different places where you can swim (in freezing cold water) and there are some nice places to hike nearby too.
The 355 steps up to Mount Phousi will definitely get your blood pumping and the view at the top stretches over the whole of Luang Prabang. The entrance fee is 20,000 kip and you pay this around half way up. Most people choose to visit for sunset but it can get really busy so opting for earlier in the day might be a good move.
I can safely say I didn’t expect to be bowling in Laos but because bars close early in LP (around 11.30PM) locals and tourists head to the bowling alley, which stays open until 2.30am. Games cost 20,000 kip per person and the atmosphere is great. You can also have a go at archery too!
I try to have a massage in most countries, but Laos doesn’t seem to be well-known for their style of massage (unlike Thailand or Bali, for example). However, my massage was really good – 50,000 kip for 60 mins. I can’t remember the name of the parlour, but it was very close to my hostel.
Final Thoughts on Laos
Although I didn’t really like Laos, I can understand the appeal in some respects – the scenery can be stunning and I’ve heard that the south (I didn’t have time to go) is really relaxing. However, personally it wasn’t for me – I didn’t have enough to do, transport was too expensive and I didn’t visit anywhere that really impressed me. Nonetheless, it is another country ticked off my list!