Laos – The Jungle calls!
Ancient beautiful temples, large stretches of jungle, endless cascading waterfalls and cheap beer, whats not to like about Laos?! We planned to be in Chiang Mai for the Yi Peng festival in the start of November so we had some time to fill. Last time we travelled through South East Asia (SEA), Laos was one of the countries that really stood out. We didn’t hesitate to spend some time here and the country didn’t disappoint!
We flew from Hong Kong via Hanoi to Luang Prabang with Vietnam Airlines. Upon our arrival, the customs didn’t hesitate to rip off all foreigners that didn’t have US currency on them. At a lousy exchange rate we ended up paying more like 45 than 30 USD for our Visa On Arrival. If you travel to Laos make sure to have USD on you!
We took a taxi to our quiet little homestay on the edge of town. We checked-in and had a delicious dinner across the street at Manda de Laos (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
The next day we got up late and enjoyed an elaborate breakfast at our hotel. We walked to town and strolled through the street market and picked up a fruit-salad and some drinks and had a tasty picnic at the Mekong River. We noticed Luang Prabang hasn’t been sitting still since we last were here. Lots had changed as tourism is on the rise, but thankfully it retains its mellow atmosphere that is hard to come by. We set our sights on watching sunset from Phousi Mountain in the middle of town. We headed up the stairs and got great views of town from the temple. A perfect start to our stay in Laos!
The following day we rented a motorbike for more flexibility and decided to go to visit the famous waterfalls in the area. During the one hour ride we stopped several times to take pictures of the locals cultivating rice and of the captivating green landscape. The landscape of Laos is really stunning, with dense green jungle and large pieces of rice paddies everywhere you look.
Kuang Si waterfall is arguably one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. It sits about 30km from town and is completely surrounded by dense jungle. Its stunning cascades and endless green pools are legendary and a real highlight on any trip through SEA.
Just like last time we visited I couldn’t wait to take a dip in its azul waters. As the temperatures were soaring it was a welcome cooling down. I also couldn’t resist climbing the rocks of the waterfall, which gave me incredible views of the pools below.
After some water fun, we got hungry and ate at one of the stalls at the entrance before heading back to town. As we drove through town, admiring the golden temples, we opted for a boat ride of the Mekong River during Sunset. We brought some beers and enjoyed the light spectacle in the sky and the relaxing music the boat-captain put on.
The following morning we got up at 5am to witness something spiritual and amazing that happens every morning here. The Luang Prabang monks go street by street to receive alms in the form of rice or snacks from the locals at the side of the street. This ritual is as old as Buddhism in Laos. As the monks pass by, wearing nothing more than their colorful orange robes, even without shoes, you realize just how lucky you really are to witness this ritual. It is truly a humbling experience not to be missed on a visit to Luang Prabang.
When we got back at the hotel we had a breakfast before getting some more sleep. The sleep appeared to be necessary as I only woke up at 2pm! We spend our afternoon walking by the temples and we picked up a nice dinner before hitting the barter market for some shopping.
On our last day in Luang Prabang we wanted to unwind a bit and wanted to swim in the waterfalls again. We hired a motorbike and went to Kuang Si waterfall where the cool water and sunshine created the perfect circumstances for a second dip in the pools. As I sat on my rock overlooking the pools I couldn’t help but feel happy and lucky to be able to make this trip.
We made our way back to town, swapped towels for fresh ones and headed on our way to the Tat Sae Waterfall on the other side of town. Covered by dense jungle this cascading waterfall has an authentic jungle vibe going on and seems far less touristy than its cousin. We crossed the river by boat and followed the rumbling cascades to the top of the falls. The walkways are far from well-maintained that adds to the adventure. As we made our way back to town we stopped at a bar on the way before calling it a day.
The following day, a travel day, we slept in and had another elaborate breakfast before we waited for our minivan to bring us to Vang Vieng. After four and a half hours of winding roads through the mountains we arrived in the centre of Vang Vieng. A small town with lots of bars and cheap beer surrounded by Lao Jungle and high peaks. My kinda town😉.
Vang Vieng became famous for its drinking and tubing about a decade ago, but after many deaths on the river, the government recently decided to clamp down on the bars and slides at the river, bringing an end to the festivities. Rumor has it that 35 foreigners died in a single year. Of course you never know whats true, but that’s a scary thought! Nowadays it has a chill atmosphere and people come more for the surrounding nature than the party street that has quiet down.
We crossed the bridge and found our hotel at the end of a dim-lit road. We celebrated our arrival with a cheap cold beer before turning in.
The view from our room is just incredible! Our hut sits next to a small stream adjacent to intoxicating green rice fields and towering mountains. The view is so great that we decided to relax the next couple of days at the hotel, mainly planning, eating, unwinding and doing nothing! Crazy what you get for 10 bucks a night! As the kids play in the stream below and the sun comes through the clouds, I couldn’t be happier we chose Vang Vieng as our destination. We went to town several times, strolling past the river, enjoying the amazing weather and atmosphere.
One day we decided on a tour, that would see us kayak the river for about 30km and visit the watercave! So we got up early, and were picked up at the toll-bridge by a tuk-tuk with a guide and a driver. We had a private tour, as nobody else signed up for that day. Our guide of VLT tours in Vang Vieng was very friendly and always having safety concerns. We kayaked for about an hour and a half before we arrived at a small bridge and town. We parked the kayaks and headed for the watercave. The Tham Nam watercave is THE highlight of the area, and with reason! We had lots of fun! We hopped in a tube and got a headlight from our guide. We followed our guide into the darkness. The narrow walls and crevices make it a daunting experience for people who have trouble with tight spaces (like Anna-Lena). Not deterred we entered the cave and saw amazing stalactites as we tubed by. Amazing experience. We even got out at a narrow part of the cave where there wasn’t anybody. Pretty cool!
After circling the cave we headed to the exit where our guide prepared us an amazing lunch! We walked back towards the river and crossed rice fields to get to the Elephant Cave. The cave and temple are called like it because the locals believe an elephant spirit wanders the cave. It also has a natural rock formation that closely resembles an elephant.
We went kayaking for another couple of hours and stopped on the famous part of the river that is covered by bars. Thousands of people used to come here to tube and party. Now it is very empty and many bars are closed. Only one group was tubing that day and enjoying cold drinks at the bar. We ordered a beer and enjoyed the madness before we continued kayaking. Overall a great tour!
As we booked a flight from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai, we ordered a mini-van to take us back to mellow Luang Prabang the next day. Unfortunately the van was not only late, but it also took six hours instead of four! We were happy to arrive back at the our old hotel, and we received a warm welcome, cold drinks and a fruit salad.
In the evening we went for a fancy dinner at the restaurant Manda de Laos across the street and ate like royals! A perfect ending to our Laos trip.