Laos wasn’t originally on our travelling itinerary but it made sense to visit because the country shares a border with Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, (as well as Myanmar and China). It was only an hour flight from Hanoi to the capital of Laos, Vientiane.
Unfortunately, we only had one week to spare which meant we had to miss out on visiting Luang Namtha, Nong Khiaw, Pakse, Thakhek and Vang Vieng.
If you’d like to read about the 10 days we spent in Vietnam beforehand, click this link.
I can see why Vientiane is often less frequented by backpackers who are travelling around South East Asia because to be honest, there isn’t much going on.
In hindsight, spending three nights here was too long because we saw everything we wanted to see on our first day. However, it meant we could enjoy some downtime at the hotel and plan for the next part of our travels in Chaing Mai, Phuket and the Thai Islands.
In soaring 32°C heat, we checked out Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan (one of many Buddhist monasteries in the city) and the Presidential Palace before admiring The Patuxai Monument – a ‘Victory Gate’ built between 1957-1968 which was dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France.
Later in the afternoon, we got a Tuc-Tuc to see the most important monument in Laos – the Pha That Luang gold-covered Buddhist stupa, which is regarded as being the national symbol of the country.
Luang Prabang / Louangphrabang
This mountainous UNESCO protected town was much more touristy with lots more backpackers, but it never felt too busy. This time, three nights was an ideal amount of time to explore around the ancient capital of Laos on foot and to see the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfalls.
On our first full day, we walked alongside the Nam Khan River to Wat Xieng Thong – ‘monastery of the golden city‘ built under the rule of King Setthatirath, and then ate lunch overlooking the Mekong River. It looked far less polluted than in Vietnam.
We then ambled around the Royal Palace where I took a nasty tumble onto the palm of my hand after slipping on wet cement when entering the grounds. That wasn’t the last or worst of my injuries of our time in Laos…
In the evening, we hiked up Mount Phou Si, Luang Prabang’s sacred hill to see the sun slowly set behind the mountains. We’ve been truly spoilt to some incredible sunsets in our nine months travelling.
Before calling it a night, we ambled through the night market and then bought some extremely cheap Taiyaki – a pancake battered fish with a custard centre.
Alms Giving Ceremony
I made the decision to wake Em up to go and watch part of the Alms Giving Ceremony for sunrise because it was 05:00 AM and I still hadn’t slept a wink. It was something we’d spoken about doing, so she wasn’t completely surprised by me waking her in the middle of the night.
The ceremony is a longstanding 14th century tradition in Laos Buddhist culture where offerings are given by locals to monks, who depend on offerings for sustenance during the day.
Unfortunately, this daily ritual was also a spectacle for tourists. I felt rather intrusive approaching and then photographing the monks taking their alms.
Note to self: Never ride a moped again!
I’ll never forget what happened on our second day in Luang Prabang for the rest of my life. I thought it would be a good idea to hire a moped for $10 USD from our hotel so we could scoot over to the Kuang Si Waterfalls, around a 50-minute drive away.
I’d never ridden a moped before in my life, (Em hadn’t either) but I thought we’d pick it up straight away. How wrong was I!
Apparently, you don’t need a U.K or International drivers license to drive a moped in Laos. Our hotel manager explained that if we wore a helmet and drove at the speed limit then the authorities wouldn’t bother us.
After signing my signature on what very little paperwork was required, we were then given a very brief demonstration on how to operate the bike. I must admit, I felt nervous and not totally assured of what I was doing.
Nevertheless, I reversed back and went to set off by what I thought was a very slight twist of the accelerator. The next five or so seconds are a bit of a blur. I remember losing complete control instantly and zooming towards a parked car.
Clearly I hadn’t got to grips with how much acceleration to apply because I crashed into a family’s gate no more than 10 yards away, (thankfully avoiding the car). I was more embarrassed than anything because this happened opposite a restaurant with a dozen or so people enjoying their meal.
The next thing I remember is two elderly women rushing out of their home and screaming abuse at me. There was nothing I could do other than to apologise profusely.
I’d got a nasty open cut on my leg so I took myself away from the situation back to the hotel room to clean up and let Emily handle the chaos. In the end, we had to pay 1,180,000 Laotian Kip (LAK) / £57 to repair the damage to the bike, which was thankfully only cosmetic.
The problem was agreeing a fee with the family. Originally, they asked for a settlement of 3 million LAK because they said they would have to call out a monk to bless their house again and prepare food for his visit, as well as to repair the gate.
They were an extremely religious family and now considered their home to have ‘bad luck’ because I’d crashed the vehicle into their property. Our hotel manager had never heard of this before, but who were we to argue. By the end of the day, we agreed on 1,500,000 LAK / £72.
Kuang Si Waterfalls
Eventually, after a disastrous start to the day, we got over to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. We made the sensible decision to pay a Tuc-Tuc driver 400,000 LAK / £20 to take us their and back on what was an incredibly scenic journey.
To reach the waterfall, we walked through the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre and then after a short climb reached the main three-tiered waterfall.
I can see why this is considered to be ‘the most beautiful masterpiece of nature in the whole country‘.
Before heading back, we had a swim in one of the pools. However, we weren’t in for too long because it was absolutely freezing.
A shorter blog post than usual, but that concludes our time in Laos.
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Thanks for reading, until the next time…