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Laos

Curious what backpackers do in Laos? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Apologies to Helen’s legion of followers but it's Matt doing the blog today. Thought it's about time I had a go and also to prove I'm still here and that Helen didn't leave me on the slow boat so she could spend all our money on cooking classes and the rest of her time geocaching.

    So today we went to the famous (ish) Kuang Si Falls. It's towards the top of any Luang Prabang to do list and we decided to employ our usual strategy of getting up a bit earlier to try and beat the crowds. Meant we were up at 7 and out the door not long after to try and negotiate a Tuk Tuk to take us up there. It's about a 40 min drive away. Safe to say neither of us will be getting the call to lead the Brexit negotiations any time soon and after some half arsed bartering I realised we were arguing over about 2 quid extra so the deal was done. We'd agreed a price (220k Kip which is about £22, everytime you go to the ATM here you're a millionaire) for the driver to take us up there and then wait for about 5 hrs to take us back. We'd paid a bit more so we had the Tuk Tuk to ourselves and weren't relying on other people holding us up but more on that later.

    Anyway after a typically bumpy (and speedy) drive up there we arrived about 8.30. You pay around £2 each to get in and randomly the first thing you see is a bear sanctuary where a number of bears have been rescued from poachers (their stomach bile is valuable in Chinese medicine apparently). There were loads of them just lying about and chilling out, they all looked very calm which was good as at least one of the fences looked very jumpable if they'd put their minds to it.

    The falls itself are over three levels and were absolutely beautiful. I'll put a few more pics on FB but they really don't do it justice. The pools on the first couple of levels are the best for swimming in and getting up early paid off as we were able to to swim about with only a handful of other people about. The water is the turquoise colour due to the water running over limestone. It was very clear and no nasties in there apart from a few little fish swimming about, meant you could get a free fish spa if you stood still long enough (we didn't).

    After spoiling a recently arrived tour parties perfect pictures by swimming in front of the waterfall for a while it was up to the next level. More of the same but less chance for swimming. Once you reach the third level you can trek up to the top of the fall itself which we did. Bit steep at times but worth it, there was another pool with a swing over it as well as a great view down the main fall itself. Glad we swam in the water before seeing what colour it is before the limestone gets involved.

    After a quick rest we decided to hike further up to the spring and cave right at the top. It was about 3km and hilly but again definitely worth it. There was a ‘restaurant’ at the spring which was basically a BBQ and a hut. Food was very good though, (the street food in Laos has been brilliant so far). There was another pool to swim in and unfortunately a rope swing and long log covering the pool that you could try and walk over. Obviously I tried both with Helen (quite sensibly) trying neither. Firstly I swung out on the rope planning to let go at the top of the arc and drop in to the cool water below. Got the angle all wrong and if I'd let go would have dropped on the long log so had to hold on and swing back to the bank where I bumped in to a tree while a French family and the guys working on the BBQ looked on, smooth. Undeterred I tried to walk across the log, twice, and got about a quarter of the way both times before falling in. By this point Helen had had enough and had gone to look at some butterflies.

    We then went a bit further up to the Hermit cave. They're very keen on putting buddha statues in pitch black caves in this part of the world and this was more of the same. You hired a flashlight before you went in and it was very dark and a bit creepy and then the flash light reflected on the bald head of meditating monk, momentary panic followed in case we disturbed him or Helen bumped him but turned out it was another of the weird wax works of long deceased monks. We didn't stay long after that.

    We smugly hiked right back down to where we started (we covered 12k in total today and the equivalent of 68 flights up). Smugly as it was very busy and the pool we'd had virtually to ourselves was packed. We then made a quick stop at the butterfly park near the entrance to the falls. It's ran by a Dutch couple, it was quite good but got us thinking what prompts you so say ‘I'm moving to Laos to open a butterfly park’. Anyway it was back to the Tuk Tuk rendezvous point where our driver was playing cards with his mates and told us he was waiting for some other customers before we could set off, turns out he'd dropped us off and hot footed it back to town to charge another group for the exclusive use of his Tuk Tuk. Shouldn't be surprised and wouldn't have mattered if some of the other group hadn't gone AWOL. After sitting in the back of the Tuk Tuk in 35 degree heat for half an hour the driver came back and said we'd have to go back with his mate in another Tuk Tuk with six other people but still wanted the full fare. We managed to get a bit of a discount but we're hot and hungry so in we got. To be fair had we not set off then we'd have missed what was honestly a boy no older than ten driving a truck loaded up with the local beer, Beerlao! Quite a sight.

    We picked up some food and then had our now customary couple of hours back in the room with the air con. After eating a lot of street food recently we decided to eat out proper and Helen found a tapas place that did a mixture of Laos and international food. It was delicious, one of the best places we've eaten so far. After that it was back home early as per.

    We're huge fans of Laos and Luang Prabang in particular. It's such a nice place and so relaxed, we’ll be sad to leave. Close run thing between here and Chiang Mai for my favourite place so far. Last full day in LP tomorrow before we fly to Vientiane Monday and then on to Hanoi on Tuesday.

    We've had some more laundry done and they must wash it on 90 degrees as everything is getting smaller but my waistline is also undoubtedly getting bigger. We have over eight weeks left and if both these trends continue worried I'll have to replace everything with the elasticated hippy pants (usually with elephants on) that are so popular with the many gap year types we've seen.

    Anyway enough of my ramblings, normal service will be resumed tomorrow with Helen back to tell you about our rice farm experience day.
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  • We had the warmest goodbye from the Day Waterfront Guest House in Chiang Khong which involved the couple who owned it forcing bananas on us for our journey and waving away our tuk tuk to the port like family members.

    Leaving Thailand and entering Laos is a mix of straightforward and faffy. You do Thai immigration, buy a bus ticket where the price is based on an eye ball of how big your luggage is, bus to Laos immigration which involves your passport disappearing through one window and reappearing 20 minutes later through another after dollars have exchanged hands. Then another tuk tuk to the slow boat which will carry us over the next 2 days from Houey Xay to Luang Prabang. Today was the Houey Xay to Pak Bang leg. Our tour guide is Mr Wong. His English is...ok. But he does use about 10 sentences of ramble where 2 would do which makes for some confusion. And says 'same same but different' a lot.

    There were about 30 of us on a long boat that's for a max of 40. Seeing as I'm anti social and don't like forced chat with strangers, especially for a whole day, I was delighted I managed to look surly enough to put anyone else off sitting in our booth. See photos for a pic of the boat but there are central booths, a seating area at the back and a flat you can sit on at the front. The scenery was stunning the whole journey passing lots of other boats, fishermen, cows etc and I was very happy catching up with my book/napping in between staring off the sides.

    We stopped at a local village on the way to Pak Beng. To be honest I didn't like it. The village was obviously not rich and the company give 2% of profits to the village in the form of clothes and school equipment so they gain in a way from it but it felt very voyeuristic. It was like going to a zoo but the exhibits were people. There were 2 boat tours visiting this small village at once, and I imagine others come every day, and the villagers didn't look thrilled as some of our group were leaning on their houses and taking close up pictures of their children. It was interesting to see another life less financially privileged but just made me unhappy that it has to be this way. A bit dose of perspective.

    After that we got back on the boat and had lunch which was very food considering it's mass catering on a boat. I then had a nice nap but realised I should probably go sit at the front and appreciate the view. Matt was already there with a beer in hand. We travelled till about 4.30 and after some more Mr Wong confusing rambles we got to the right hotel. And we even eventually got to the right room after assuming a key with 1 and 0 on it meant room 10, which was actually already occupied, not room 1 which was our actual room. Silly us. It's an interesting room. Dark wood walls and our first mosquito nets of the trip but also the first hot shower. The view from the balcony is awesome across the Mekong. We went to the bar next door for a pre dinner beer. I think it might have actually been someone's house that they've stuck some tables in and laminated a menu. We saw an elephant though on the opposite bank as the sun set and beer is about a £1 for a mega bottle so we'll take it. Dinner was a random set menu at the hotel included with the room which we ate on a forced shared table with a couple from Halifax but I survived.

    Another day on the boat tomorrow. If we make good time we can make a stop in whisky town. Whoop whoop!
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  • Another country, another cooking class Matt's dragged along to. Today our Laos cuisine class was with the Tamarind Cookery school. As it seems is standard for these now (well 2 for 2 so far) first stop was a trip to a local food market. Laos cuisine is pretty different from Thai food, mostly in the range of ingredients used. In Laos there's a huge emphasis on herbs - mint, coriander and dill all feature heavily. It's very much a food culture of nothing being wasted, including the blood and bile. Yummy. They'll also eat anything, there were stalls selling squirrel, rats and bats (not part of our cookery experience today though). Laos is land locked and it's only in living memory that a lot of the road connections with its neighbour's were made so there's a lot of self sufficiency.

    Our guide today was Sit. He was good fun and clearly very keen to improve his already pretty decent English. After the market we went to the pretty Tamarind cooking pavilion. Today was slightly different than our Thai equivalent class as we only ate once really rather than in between courses. They also served us booze mid (morning) class. First up we made jeow, a spicy dipping sauce. I made an aubergine one and Matt tomato. Most of the dishes today involved doing some aspect over hot coals, for this one it was scorching the ingredient skins. You can eat jeow with anything but it's popular with sticky rice at breakfast and I'll definitely be making it at home.

    Round 2 was making a fish parcel. We pummelled herbs, garlic and chilli in a pestle and mortar to make a paste which we marinated our fish in before making a banana leaf parcel - Sit made it look easier than it was but we made a valiant effort. This went into the fire whilst we made chicken stuffed lemongrass. Yes that is the right way round, we stuffed chicken into lemongrass. It involved careful, patient cutting of the lemongrass into a lantern style so obviously not my forte but we got there in the end. We dipped it into egg and deep fried it over the fire.

    Last savoury dish was Laap (or Larp, or Larb) which yesterday I said I wanted to learn to make. We did the beef version, with an option to add bile to make it bitter. I declined. It was very easy to make so it'll be coming to a UK BBQ soon. We sat down together to eat it all and get over-full before making a black sticky rice dessert with fruit. Very straight forward and somehow managed to eat it before rolling home.

    Afternoons are unbearably hot here for two pasty northerners so we sat in the air con for a few hours before wandering out along the Mekong river as finding a bar to drink mojitos as the sun went down. We did a mini bar crawl along the river, briefly stopping and quickly leaving a bar where the fly covered toilet was off the kitchen and you washed your hands in the kitchen sink. We went back to the food market for more BBQ chicken and papaya salad before calling it a night as we want an early start at Kuang Si waterfalls tomorrow.
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  • A short entry today seeing as I spent a large chunk of the day on the boat.

    After a restless night where I kept waking up in a panic that I'd missed the slow boat we actually did wake up on time and catch our prompt 7.45am departure towards Luang Prabang. It was really cold on the boat but luckily Mr Wong had blankets and was full of bants about us being so drunk we thought a 1 was a 10 on our room key yesterday. Hilarious. Most of the morning was spent reading and watching downloaded Netflix trash (basically my life at home) whilst waiting for lunch. The scenery was equally beautiful to yesterday once the fog cleared and I tried to spend as much of the afternoon as I could sitting on the front.

    First stop on the boat was to the Pak Ou caves. Basically caves with thousands of Buddha statues in them and impressive. You needed a torch for the top caves which were up 226 steps and pitch black inside. Second stop was to 'whisky village' where they making 15% and 50% rice wine and sell to tourists. Obvs we bought some plus I finally graduated to the travellers uniform of elephant trousers. As unstylish as they are comfortable.

    At about half 4 we made in to Luang Prabang and said goodbye to Mr Wong. Our guest house welcomed us with a strange drink and fruit platter before we walked into town. First impressions - I love Luang Prabang. It's small and laid back. There's a night market selling more clothes and trinkets where I could easily buy everything plus a cooked food market sent from heaven which I fully intend to gorge on for the next few days. Here's buffet stalls! And there's wine and it was on happy hour 😍 We did food like locals (/travellers who want to pretend to be locals) sitting at a street food noodle stall with baskets of herbs as condiments and had more beer before calling it an early one in prep for our next few days here. I think I'm going to like it here.
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  • We started the day fairly lazily with breakfast and more magically appearing fruit at the guest house before venturing into our first day of Luang Prabang proper. We started with the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre where we learnt about some of the diffident cultural groups in Laos with a focus on their clothing. There was a whole room about beads and a corner, possibly intended for children, where you could try on outfits.

    Matt then went for a massage to try and recover from his ex-prisoner massage. I meanwhile sat in a hammock drinking juice. It's so hot in LP (about 34degrees) so I'm a mega sweaty mess and was grateful for an air conditioned lunch. I must find a recipe for Larb (also known as Larp) when I get home. It's a delicious minced chicken dish with lots of fresh herbs.

    After a brownie pitstop we went to the UXO Lao centre. UXO stands for Unexploded Ordnance. During the early to mid 20th century Laos was the most heavily bombed country per capita due to its proximity with Vietnam. About a third of the bombs (80million) didn't explode and every day they're found by people, especially children, across Laos causing fatally and injury. It was a very sobering exhibit and extremely sad.

    We came back to the guest house for some more trip planning then ventured out to the food part of the market. It's very hectic but we managed to muscle our way to pork dumplings, spring rolls and skewers of BBQ sausage and chicken. The chicken especially was exceptional. We'll be back every night!

    We'll also probably be back at Lao Lao Garden most nights. After a detour for happy hour wine we came to LLG on a recommendation of a friend. Local spirit cocktails are 2-4-20k Kip (about £2) and several 'welcome shots' were thrown in. We've made it home pre-local curfew (11.30pm) as we have another cooking class tomorrow (Matt is thrilled) but I'm sure we'll be back there.
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  • Als ich in Thailand ankam erlitt ich einen kleinen Kulturschock, alles war so modern und fortgeschritten, normale Straßen und neue Autos/Busse. Ganz anders als die letzten Wochen in Myanmar. Und soooooo viele Touristen, zu viele für mich :D deshalb wollte ich so schnell wie möglich weiter nach Laos. Aber davor erfüllte ich mir noch einen weiteren Traum, ich besuchte ein Elefanten Camp in dem ehemalige Arbeitstiere ihr Leben genießen können. Wir waren 7 Leute und es gab 3 große und 2 kleine Elefanten, die wir erst mit Bananen, Kürbissen und Bambus fütterten und anschließend noch mit 2 von ihnen in den Fluss zum Baden gingen.
    Es war eine tolle Erfahrung. Die Babys waren zum Spielen aufgelegt und rannten ein halb um, im Fluss tauchte es unter und ließ nur den Rüssel rausschauen. 😂
    Hier lass ich jetzt mal mehr die Bilder sprechen ;)
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  • Nach 22 Stunden kam ich endlich in vang vieng an und hatte definitiv die Nase voll vom Busfahren, weshalb ich mich dafür entschied nur den mittleren/ oberen Teil von Laos zu bereisen. Der Süden hat zwar einiges zu bieten aber die Fortbewegung dauert hier sehr lange wegen schlechten Straßen und zu dem kommt das die Laoten fahren als gäbe es kein morgen.
    Die Landschaft ist sehr schön hier viele Riesen Berge und ein Fluss. Der Ort ist bekannt für Tubing, man schwimmt mit einem Ring flussabwärts und hält an verschiedenen bars um sich zu betrinken. Vor ein paar Jahren artete das ganze etwas aus und viele menschen starben, weshalb die Zahl der bars jetzt reduziert wurde auf 2 oder 3.
    Natürlich ließ ich mir das nicht entgehen, auch wenn es mehr trinken als tubing war war es spaßig. :))
    Ich lernte 3 Mädels kennen und fuhr mit Ihnen am nächsten Tag zu verschiedenen Lagunen und einem Wasserfall. Kurz vor Sonnenuntergang entdeckten wir einen view Point, wir wussten nicht das es so hoch sein würde und man eigentlich feste Schuhe dafür braucht. Trotzdem kletterten wir auf den top und genossen die Aussicht.
    Eine nicht so schöne Geschichte die mich etwas runterzog passierte einem von den Mädels mit denen ich unterwegs war, in dem Nachtbus in dem sie war war ein Typ der bewaffnet war und anfing zu schießen, einer kam sogar um s Leben. Es heißt Scheins die Strecke wäre bei Nacht nicht empfehlenswert aber das wusste sie vorher nicht. Über weitere Hintergründe wusste sie auch nichts nur das der Typ wohl betrunken war und es kein gezielter Überfall zB auf Touristen war. :(
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Laos, ላኦስ, لاوس, Лаоская Народна-Дэмакратычная Рэспубліка, Народна Демократична Република Лаос, Layosi, লাওস, ལཱ་འོས།, ལ་འོསུ, Laos nutome, Λάος, Laoso, Laose DRV, لائوس, Lawoos, લાઓસ, Lawas, לאוס, लाओस, Laoska Narodna Demokratska Republika, Laosz, Լաոս, ラオス, ლაოსი, Laosi, ឡាវ, ಲಾವೋಸ್, 라오스, Pow Lao, Laotia, Lawosi, ປະເທດລາວ, Laosas, Laosa, Laôs, Лаос, ലാവോസ്, လာအို, Den folkedemokratiske republikken, Laòs, ଲାଓସ୍, República Popular Democrática do Laos, Lùaôsi, ලාඕසය, லாவோஸ், లావోస్, ประเทศลาว, Lau, Лаоська Народно-Демократична Республіка, لاؤس, Lào, Laosän, Orílẹ́ède Laosi, 老挝, i-Laos