Laos. It’s a landlocked country. Vietnam to the East, Thailand/Burma to the West. Cambodia to the South. China to the North. The great Mekong River flows from the north to the south of the country, making water a central feature here despite the lack of sea access. It’s a gorgeous country, with a small population (6 million).
We heard good things about Laos from other travels so we decided to check it out as part of our SE Asian adventure. We left Northern Thailand and grabbed a boat across the Mekong to the Laotian town of Huay Xai. From Huay Xai we caught the slow boat to the UNESCO Heritage city, Luang Prabang.
I need to say a little about the slow boat trip. It’s 2 days, about 6-8 hrs/day. The tickets cost around $22 each, which is a lot for our $33/day total (not each) budget. It really is the most beautiful way to get to Luang Prabang on a budget and the bus wasn’t really cheaper.
Slow boats at Huay Xai, Laos
The boats carry 80+ people and lots of luggage. On our first day, all the seats were ricketly small wooden benches. The discomfort was eased a bit by the beauty of the Mekong and its surroundings. What made the Mekong so unique were the large whirlpools and other interesting patterns in the water. What is underneath we wondered?
We made it to Luang Prabang and stayed a couple nights. The food there was amazing and we fell in love with sticky rice (made Lao style) and laab. Our favorite moments involved food – sitting by the Mekong eating, drinking fruit shakes, and checking out Tamarind, a restaurant that is geared toward tourists and explains the food on the menu (what/how it’s made, the tradition behind it, etc.). In the evenings we strolled the night market, buying nothing, but tucking away ideas for gifts and future home decorations.
We skipped the Pak Ou Caves and waterfalls trips that seem to be standard tourist activities and went to Phou Si hill right in the middle of the town. There are a couple of Wats up there, as well as the Buddha’s foot print. Wats are Buddhist temples. From the top of the hill you can see the town and both the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.
Naga with offering of sticky rice in his mouth (Phou Si Hill, Luang Prabang)
View from Phou Si hill, Luang Prabang
We slipped out of Luang Prabang early one morning and grabbed a tuk tuk to the bus station. We saw some monks collecting alms on the way, thereby witnessing the other major tourist attraction here. At the bus station we attempted to buy local bus tickets and failed. I am a fan of local buses. Mostly because I like the fresh air and being closer to all the action – it makes the ride pass by quicker. I am not sure if local buses exist or if they just won’t sell tickets to falangs (foreigners.. you heard the word a lot here… it’s good to know when you’re being talked about). We boarded the “King of Bus”” – a big Greyhound like bus with AC complete with loud Lao music The environment outside our tinted windows was stunning, perhaps the most beautiful we’ve seen in our travels and a reminder to us of how beautiful the Northwest USA is (another big reason to miss Seattle).
Monks collecting alms, Luang Prabang
Mountain between Luang Prabang and Vientiane
Vientiane is our last stop in this blog post. There isn’t much to say about it. I didn’t like it or dislike it. It was a decent place to stop for a couple nights, recuperate from the long bus journey, catch up on emails. We went to one Wat that was cool – Wat Sisasek. Loads of unique Buddha statues there. Sufficiently recovered from the 11 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang, we caught a 10 hour sleeper bus to Pakse. That’s the next post!
Buddha statue has one blue eye, one black eye (Wat Sisakek, Vientiane)