How we spent 22 days in Laos
Laos is stunning. Looking back on our photographs we can’t quite believe how beautiful our natural surroundings were. The slow pace of life, the small, scattered villages where majority of Laotians live, the sprawling countryside are best explored slowly and overtime. Yet, most visitors to the region tend to skip over Laos, occasionally making an exception for a few days stay in Luang Prabang. But while Luang Prabang is certainly a worthy stop, it’s starkly different from the rest of the country, if only measured by sheer density and prices. We would strongly advise to devote at least a few weeks time to this country and explore more than the Unesco Heritage city.
Hazy beautiful landscapes outside Kong Lor village and Phonsavan, Laos.
It’s not going to be the most exciting, fast paced adventure – but that’s the Lao way. You just need time – particularly to kick back and do nothing – if you are truly looking to explore Laos. Oh, and you MUST consume lots and lots of Beer Lao to understand where Lao are coming from. Also, consider exploring by motorbike, because there is no better way to see Laos than by being in control of how many stops you make. And you will want to make lots, because Laos is gorgeous.
Three days in Savannakhet
We started our exploration of Laos by crossing the border with Vietnam at Lao Bao. We took direct bus from Hue to Savannakhet, no problem. It did take most of the day. After our arrival, we ended up spending three more days in Savannakhet to celebrate Songkran, or Lao Pi Mai / Lao New Year.
Per Buddhist tradition the old must be washed away and the new welcomed in with plenty of water and cheer during Songkran. Savannakhet, Laos.
Three Days in Thakhek / Thakhek Loop
It seems like the Thakhek Loop is almost a rite of passage for any self-respecting backpacker exploring Southeast Asia. You know why? Because the roads – despite being kind of sucky – are pretty empty, the scenery is epic, the locals are friendly, and at the end of it all there’s a massive cave with an underground river that you can navigate by boat. Can you ask for a better three–day adventure? I think not. Certainly not in Laos. We had tons of fun.
Epic adventure complete with karst peaks, holy caves, and boats. Thakhek Loop, Laos.
Three Days in Vientianne
Laos capital is great. It’s a lot less touristy than Luang Prabang, but provides plenty of amazing temples – most of which are free, a sort of feel of a big city, and a super easy border crossing with Thailand. We actually ventured over to Thailand for a few days to catch up on wifi, and get our Laos entry permit renewed.
The great big wats of Vientianne are just as stunning as those in Luang Prabang (or at least so it seemed to our Western eye) but a lot less touristy and free! Vientianne, Laos.
Three Days in Vang Vieng
Formerly known as the backpacker party capital of Laos, Vang Vieng is a bit rundown and sad these days. We spent three days here mostly staying because we came across an opportunity to purchase a motorcycle with Vietnamese plates and all the proper papers (enabling us to cross the border into Vietnam by motorbike). There is some pretty scenery, and a neat lagoon in the environs though, and Vang Vieng still makes sense as a stopping point for day or two.
Not a bad view to wake up to by any stretch. Vang Vieng, Laos.
Five Days in Luang Prabang
The journey – particularly by motorbike – from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang is not to be missed for its gorgeous scenery, intense road bends, and sharp cliffs. Though words adrenaline and Laos don’t exactly go together, this is one place that comes close.
Views from the mountaintop. Laos.
At first glance we didn’t like Luang Prabang – small, touristy, overpriced, and very much unlike the rest of Laos. But you know what – between finding our favorite place to stay in Laos, to having the most fantastic day-trip adventure, to relaxing in the Lao sauna and taking yoga classes, we somehow ended up spending five nights in Luang Prabang.
If nothing else, you gotta give the photogenic prize to Luang Prabang, Laos.
Three Days in Phonsavan
Phonsavan, which translates as rolling hills of paradise fascinated us. Wondrous plains full of gigantic jars are immensely fun. Though the roads that lead from one site to the next might be a bit of a different story. Another part of Phonsavan that we really enjoyed was the scenery, which is quite different from what we saw elsewhere in the country. Do be careful exploring around these parts though — this area of the country was heavily bombed during the Secret War, and much of the landscape remains contaminated by unexploded ordnance.
Exploring Plains of Jars outside Phonsavan, Laos.
Two days in Vieng Xai
Vieng Xai was ground zero for Communist Pathet Lao struggle against Lao monarchy and Western hegemony. At one point there was even serious talk of moving the capital to Vieng Xai, but the government was short on cash and no sponsors stepped up to pony up the funds, so Vieng Xai remind as it was – a sleepy little village. But – it’s not a bad looking one, maybe even prettier than average.
Vieng Xai is also the gateway to the massive network of karst caves (more caves!) which were home to tens of thousands during the War. There is a hospital, a school, and many dwelling units open to explore with audio guide. The caves were off limits as recently as 2013, and having gone, we would highly recommend the trip.
Pathet Lao cave headquarters during the war. Vieng Xai, Laos.
We finished up our exploration of Laos in Vieng Xai, heading out to the border crossing of Nam Xoi- Nam Meo early in the morning.