Laos is a pearl in South East Asia. North of Cambodia you can travel this beautiful country along the Mekong River. Laos didn’t has modern metropolises or dream beaches but it is the most beautiful and most fun-to-travel country in SEA for me. Laos is a very poor country and not developed. Experiencing adventures while being surrounded by stunning nature and history, on rarely developed roads, makes travelling Laos special.
Laos is the small country between Thailand and Vietnam and north of Cambodia. There are no direct flights from the western world to Laos, so if you come by plane you have to fly from the neighbor states China, Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand in. Me coming from Germany, I took a flight to Bangkok and from there a small prop airliner brought me to Luang Prabang. At the airport in LP I got my visa on arrival, I just had to bring my own photo with me. If you don’t have a photo with you they will make one but you will have to pay an additional fee.
For a stay of max. 30 days the visa charges 30$ if you have your own photo with you.
Luang Prabang, also called the King´s City, is a small town in the mountains north of Laos, along the river Mekong. LP was used by the French army as “place to recharge” for the soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War.
You can still see the European influence when walking through Luang Prabang streets and eating croissants in some of the French cafes. LP is also a very holy place with a lot of Buddhist history. I have never seen so many temples in one place than in this mountain town.
Don’t miss the Phou Mountain in the middle of LP. Walking up there you will have an awesome view over the city and the mountains and you can discover small Buddhist statues and temples along the way up. On the top the stupa That Comsi is waiting to be seen.
Luang Prabang is located in the middle of the mountains, surrounded by the jungle. This makes exploring the areas around the town very exciting. We got ourselves a scooter and just drove aimless around. There are small streets through the mountains and the Kuang Si waterfalls to explore, same as a bear rescue center.
In the evening we visited the market and the street food places and before getting back to our hostel, we check out the Utopia Bar. This bar is located on a green platform over the river, you will sit or lie on the ground and enjoy some drinks in the middle of the jungle with the stars above you. I loved this place, so we have spent every evening meeting people and relaxing here.
A unforgettable evening in Luang Prabang
In Luang Prabang I had one of the best evenings in my life. An evening I will never forget.
It happened on a small 1m x 1m table in front of our hostel “The Central Backpackers Hostel”. In den middle of the night, we were 10 travelers from 9 different nations. We had the most fun, just sitting around this small table, chatting, making music (the Japanese guy had some instruments in his bag), writing our names in the different languages and laughing as there is no tomorrow.
When the sun came up we all went to bed and I just had one question in my head, “What for do we have war in the world, if we can just simply be with each other in peace and having fun?!”
All in all, for me Luang Prabang is one of the best towns in SEA.
From Luang Prabang we went to Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng used to have the image of a crazy party place, where all the backpackers are meeting up for tubing in the river, while drinking lots of alcohol and consuming drugs. The Laos government ended this excessive partying, by shutting down the tubing including the bars along the river, years ago.
There are still a lot of bars but it doesn’t get super crazy anymore. With this change VV became quieter. Still Vang Vieng is worth visiting or even better now, because of it’s surrounding and options of outdoor adventures.
It is a place for jungle hikes, exploring and relaxed days in the river. BTW you can still tube along the Mekong River, but this will now be more a relaxing than a partying thing.
Travelling with the Bus in Laos
From Vang Vieng I made my way to Vientiane. The drive with the night bus was quite funny. Some movies in different languages and music were played at the beginning and the whole bus was lighted with colorful lights, similar to a night club! 😀
As you drive the whole time through the jungle, you are not allowed to leave the bus. This means no toilet stops! Don’t make the mistake to start drinking a lot, if you don’t want to refill your bottle 😉
Travelling with the bus in Laos takes a lot of time. We once needed 6 hours for 200km. The busses are Chinese busses. So don’t expect much place in the night busses as the beds are apparently made for a height of 1,60m. Same is valid for the day busses, if you have long legs it gets uncomfortable. Also the suspension of the busses is not made for the bumpy jungle roads which caused me some aching muscles several times.
Vientiane is the capital of Laos, but not to compare with others Asian capitals like Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. There are some places and temples to explore, like the Buddha Garden, but I didn’t really liked the capital on the Mekong River. For me it was kind of just a boring city.
At least this gave us time, so my travel mate taught how to drive the scooter by myself and I gained much more freedom for my upcoming trips. From the first second on, I loved driving the scooter by myself and this you can read through all of my posts. 😉
As it was also rain season and it rained straight for days, we decided to take a plane to the south of Laos. Booking the ticket just one evening before our departure in the morning, was as easy as buying a bus ticket in Europa. We booked it in an agency and it was done within 2 min. The airport itself is also not much more than a big bus station. Again a small prop airliner took us to our destination. I liked travelling with these small airplanes. Flying over the jungle was much more exciting than over the clouds in a normal plane.
Getting to Don Det
Arriving in Pakse, we asked the tuktuk drivers how to get to the 4000 islands. One of them took us to the central bus station, but we had to figure out that there were not busses going to the 4000 islands at that time.
We found a food truck, which was supposed to pass the harbor in Nakasang, from where you can take a boat to Don Det. Don Det is one of the three islands, where you can stay on in the 4000 island delta.
The food truck was going from village to village and from farm to farm and brought animals and supplies to the people living there. Going with them took some time (est. 5 hrs) but was an exciting experience as we had the chance to see the “real-life” of the Lao people on the countryside.
Arriving at the small harbor in Nakasang on the opposite side of the Mekong to Don Det, we wanted to take a longtail boat to the island. As we arrived short before sunset we had to ask one of the fishermen to bring us across the river.
The name “4000 islands” literally describes uncountable spots of land in the river. There are just two real islands where you are able to stay, because they are big enough for paths and some houses. The one is Don Det and the other is Don Khong.
Most of the backpackers are on Don Det but the 2 islands are connected by a bridge so you can easily change from the one to the other. These islands are the most laid back and chilled places I have ever been to. It is easy so forget time and reality here. The life is guided by the sun and the nature and if you want to you can simply do nothing and enjoy this paradise. You can also be active and discover what the nature has to offer. Either way, this is a place to forget about the world and be simply happy.
The island is really small. With the bike it took us something around 15min to cross the whole island. For me this place is simply paradise. I have seen some places before I got there and I have seen a lot of places afterwards but I will never forget about Don Det.
We totally forgot the time, here as time is not really existing on this place of the earth. We stayed 5 days, instead of 3 days, without really recognizing it. If you ask me, how I have spent my time there, honestly I have no idea. I have taken a lot of time for everything. Let’s say I have let the time be the time without any pressur about anything and it was amazing. Let me tell you more about Don Det and the 4000 islands in my post here.
Crossing the border to Cambodia
From Don Det we made our way to the Cambodian border. We took a boat back to the harbor at the main land and from there we took a Bus to the border. I can’t remember anymore how long the journey was exactly, but it can’t be more than max. 2 hours.
At the border you have to go through 3 “check-points” where your passport will be checked and you can get your visa on arrival (check your visa requirements before). When you arrive in Laos and get your visa stamped in your passport, they will hand you another small paper which is your departure-ticket. If you, like me, lose it during your trip you better be ready to pay a few dollars extra at the border, to avoid any discussion about your lao visa.
At the last check-point they wanted to do a medical-test, which was simply just taking our temperature. They wanted us to pay 10 dollars, which we refused. It didn’t affect the visa if we had done this “medical test” or not, so don’t get trapped here. Once we were through the 3 check-points we were ready to explore a bit of Cambodia.
Get lost, but don’t get hurt!