After experiencing the delights of Northern Thailand our next stop was Laos. I was unsure what to expect from Thailands neighbouring country as I had read it’s considered a ‘forgotten country’ in terms of tourism, but perhaps this was what made Laos my favourite country on the Asian Adventure tour. Check this out for an amazing sunset as one of my reasons:
So what sold it for me? The beautiful mountainous landscape, the locals chilled out nature, sunsets as beautiful as Thailand, cascading waterfalls and of course the food. My top highlights were the buzzing nightlife of Vang Vieng and the French architecture of the beautiful Luang Prabang.
A little about Laos:
Food & Drink
Laos food is very similar to that of its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam. Predominantly most dishes seem to consist of sticky rice, spicy soups, meat/fish curry style dishes and fresh fruit all served in family style sharing dishes. The National dish is called Lab which is mince meat mixed with spices and herbs. There is also a lot of French influence throughout Laos so the bakery’s, Crepes and French restaurants are popular too.
Currency – Lao Kip
Exchanging from our western currencies such as British Pound, Australian and USA Dollars meant with the exchange rate we had all changed enough money to make us millionaires!
Continuing our Asian Adventure tour with Contiki (you can read about what we got up to in Norther Thailand here) the action packed itinerary continued in beautiful Laos. Here’s the down low down day by day what we saw, where we stayed, where I’d visit again and most importantly what we ate!
I’ve put a little * next to the hotels and restaurants I would recommend and go back to. Price wise the hotels are aimed at a slightly higher budget than your average traveller would pay in Asia, however still very reasonably priced at under £50 per room and under £10 a meal so not breaking the bank by any means.
Luang Prabang inn – 2 nights
This hotel was a good standard, lovely modern bathroom, surrounded by leafy gardens, a swimming pool and situated around 10 minute walk to the centre. I noticed there were plenty of very cute looking guesthouses which had tonnes of character so I did a bit a of research and narrowed down one that tickled my pickle and for a very reasonable price:
Le Vang Bua Villa – Around £35 per night for a double bedroom.
Eat & Drink
Uptopia* – This was one of the most memorable bars for me! Tucked away down a tiny alleyway, I was surprised this place was so busy – it seems to be the a secret river side bar that everyone knows about! Think Morrocan vibes, everyone sitting on cushions under candle light, cute fairy lights with a view looking onto the Mekong River. Good music, great cocktails and a mix of backpackers and party go-ers made it one of my faves! The food was nothing to rave about but lots of western options with salads and pizza.
525* – A swanky cocktail bar with tapas, beautiful garden and chic decor. Definitely one of the classier bars we’d been to in Asia however reasonably pricey for Laos at around £6 for a cocktail and £2-3 per tapas dish. So perhaps an option for a splurge night if you’re on a travellers budget but well worth it for a splurge night!
Apparently on a night out in Luang Prabang, everyone ends up randomly at the bowling alley so that’s exactly what we did. The alcohol was extremely cheap at £3 for a bottle of vodka – that’s right a WHOLE BOTTLE and beer was only £1.
One morning we woke up to a leisurely bike tour around Luang Prabang, it was lovely to cycle through the quaint streets in the morning, some parts really did feel like you could be in France!
Interestingly before the 14th century there was no Buddhism in Laos which is now the most popular religion in the country and therefore explains why most of the temples were built during the 16th-18th century.
On the bike tour we stopped off at the temple Wat Xiengthong which was built in the 16th century. Within the temple, there were fortunes written out on small pieces of paper and a cup full of numbered straws. Our tour guide told us you shake the cup and whichever stick falls out is the number of your fortune. Mine said I was beautiful but feeling lonely and I may need to hire a private investigator to keep an eye on my husband… (not looking good is it!) BUT I will have a very happy life from start to finish – I’ll take that as isn’t it everyone’s goal to be happy in life!? It was hilarious how specific everyone’s fortunes were so that was a bit of fun!
The next stop on the bike tour was Silk Road, a Silk weaver and cafe. There was a lady weaving in front of us which was mesmerizing to watch, most of the women who work here learn to weave from their mothers and a single metre can take as long as 3 days to make!
Alongside a lovely shop full of the handmade silk items, I purchased the cutest little elephant teddy for my baby bump niece to be! There was also a cafe was full of colourful furnishings, cool chairs and leafy plants; it looked idyllic for a coffee break.
Snake Whiskey anyone?
Think a big bottle with a cobra essentially infusing in rice wine… and there you have snake whiskey! We stopped off at what seemed to be a tiny corner shop on the street and they had huge jars and bottles full of reptiles and snakes to make the snake whiskey. It’s believed that snake whiskey reinvigorates and strengthens those who drink it. So bottoms up!
Kuang Si Falls
A scenic drive around 45 minutes from Luang Prabang, you’ll find these beautiful 3 tier waterfalls and turquoise waters. Well worth a visit for the super instagrammable scenery with lots of smaller pools for swimming and jumping off into the water.
Buried within the jungle a short walk from the waterfalls there is a bear sanctuary which homes the cutest Moon Bears you’ll ever see. We watched them frolicking in hammocks, play fighting and lounging around which as an animal lover was amazing, cue the ‘awwws’!
A super early start to the day, we rose at 4.30am for Alms Giving which is essentially giving food or money to Buddhist Monks. Its a very common practice among Buddhists, and locals participate to pay respect to the Monks with food and in return the Monk will pray for the giver of the Alms.
Buddhist Monks are only allowed to consume food which has been given to them and usually it is traditional to give them sticky rice. Although some Monks I noticed had been given fruit and even chocolate bars. The road was closed for the giving, they walk down the road in a line before sunrise and all givers are lined up, knelt on the floor ready to give each monk some of the sticky rice.
The following morning it was an early coach trip to Vang Vieng!
Elephant Crossing Hotel – 2 nights
The views surrounding the hotel were breathtaking, situated right on the riverside there are mountains in the distance, each room has a balcony to admire the views and the bar/restaurant also overlooks the river. Here’s the beaut view from our room on the second floor:
There was a fancier hotel called Lathira next door to our hotel where we for lunch one of the afternoons. It had lovely a modern pool overlooking the river views and looked like a banging choice if you want more luxurious digs.
Eat & Drink
On route to Vang Vieng along the winding mountainous roads we stopped for lunch. Green curry, stir fried vegetables, pork and ginger, fried chicken strips with satay dipping sauce was on the menu, all served in sharing style dishes which were all super tasty! This stop was had awesome views.. even from the toilet, it’ll be the best toilet break you ever take so longing it out is suggested.
Banging burgers, happy hour cocktails and a great vibe – all of the furniture is completed recycled and Earth claim to be Vang Viengs first 100% recycled bar which is pretty cool!
Up from the river bars there a street full of bars, one of which was Sakura opposite Gary’s Irish bar think beer pong, loud music and dancing on tables!
Garys Irish Bar
Never did I imagine during my trip to Asia I would infact be spending an evening in an Irish bar, let alone babbling about it on da blog, however after nearly a month of Asian food, sometimes all you need is something comforting that reminds you of home! Irish pies in a pub atmosphere with pool tables and darts like you would expect from back home.
Back in the day (only 10 years ago or so) Vang Vieng was known as a hotspot for tubing your way down the river and stopping off at the numerous bars along the way. Due to ever growing accidents and deaths due to people getting too drunk on the river, most of the river bars have since been shut down. However a few still remain and take it in turns to open during the day. You can still go tubing which looked like loads of fun!
We went kayaking and caving one morning which lasted over 2 hours so was a bit more of a workout than hoped on a hangover. If you’re a thrill seeker and don’t mind tiny dark spaces then caving will be right up your street. I consider myself to be fairly adventurous however I hated the caving because it was very claustrophobic and there was a massive spider – my idea of hell being stuck in a small place with what I can only describe as the King Kong of nasty huge spiders *shudder*.
We hit up the river bars in the afternoon (slightly over dressed as we were unaware that everyone else would be prancing around in bikinis!), starting in Viva bar with an epic game of flip cup and cheap frozen cocktails. For the next bar we had to walk down through the jungle – a bar crawl to remember, this was one of my all time favourite party places from my trip in Asia and a must do for anyone in Laos!
The capital of Laos but seen as a pretty chilled city compared with the madness of Vang Vieng… I wish I could elaborate more on this city however this is when sickness hit me hard and I spent most of the time in bed and hanging off the toilet – as did half my other travel buddies… it wasn’t a pretty sight. Shout out to my fellow travellers for the below photos of Vientiane!
Prior to the sickness hitting me like a slap in the face, I did get chance to visit COPE center, their mission is to help people with mobility-related disabilities by supporting access to physical rehabilitation and providing with prosthetics. Two thirds of their patients have been affected by the millions of un-exploded bombs which scatter the country. Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita ever and during the Vietnam war they were so heavily bombed that it was equivalent to one bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. One third of these bombs did not detonate and are still affecting Laos today.
Pha That Luang
The golden Pha That Luang is considered the most sacred monument, a national symbol and representation of Buddhist in Laos.
Patuxai Victory Monument
The Patuxai is the War monument commemorating the Lao people who died in war, built in the 1960s with cement donated by America – The cement was infact intended for the construction of a new airport but instead they built this monument.
Unfortunately I didn’t experience any food in Vientiane, it was a sad, sad time, so no Travoodie recommendations.
Laos was my favourite country in Indochina for so many reasons, I had an amazing time and have come away with so many memories. Its a country I hope to visit again soon and wholeheartedly recommend to travel to if you’re in SE Asia.
Next stop Cambodia!