Laos


Kuang Si waterfalls
Travelling the length and breadth of a country by bus, surprisingly, has its advantages. Whilst you may be in a cramped minivan for 7+ hours, spiralling up mountains on single track dirt roads and fearing for your life at every corner, you also get a real glimpse at the lives of local people.


Whether it's women carrying great hand woven bamboo baskets on their backs, or children blissfully playing naked in ditches of water by the roadside, you often feel like you're trespassing into the hidden lives of the country's rural dwellers.

Laos is possibly the most beautiful country that I've visited on my travels so far. Its luscious green forests and jungles cover the land, while wide, flowing rivers such as the Nam Song and Mekong run through the entire length of the country. There are also deep networks of caves furrowed in cliff sides, and beautiful waterfalls shrouded by jungle. 

However, Laos has one huge problem that almost ruins its beauty: the people have a complete disregard for preserving the environment. Locals don't think twice about throwing their empty drink cans, crisp packets and plastic bags out into the countryside. It's such a shame because if they carry on polluting their surroundings, they will ruin not only the country's charm, but the natural habitats of so many rare animals.

The view for most of the bus journey
We endeavoured to Laos by bus from Sapa: a journey not recommended by our hotel or the traveller community. However it was much cheaper than flying, so we took our chances. Getting to the border town of Dien Bien Phu was easy: we took an overnight bus and arrived at 5am. However when we
got there, we were told there was no connecting bus to Luang Prabang. Luckily, our very kind bus driver took pity on us and found a bus driver who agreed to take us to Oudomxai, a village north of Luang Prabang. From there our second driver got us on to a minibus heading to Luang Prabang. After some waiting around and a 7 hour journey traversing the bumpiest road imaginable on the uncomfortable backseat of a minivan, we got to Luang Prabang. The whole journey took around 28 hours and I'd never been happier to just stand.
Luang Prabang was my favourite town in Laos. It is a beautiful UNESCO world heritage site full of old French colonial buildings housing cafes, bars and restaurants. The Nam Song river runs alongside it, and there's a beautiful waterfall a tuktuk ride away with the bluest waters I've ever seen.
Me and Alex at the waterfalls

The night markets were the best I've been to in SEA; not as bustling or hectic as those of Hanoi or Chiang Mai. And the small street food market close to the night market offers delicious and cheap food. For $2 you could fill a bowl with tasty vegetarian dishes: curries, stir-fried dishes, Loas style crackers, and spring rolls, amongst others. 
So much choice at the markets!
Fresh or friend spring rolls  
  
Som Tam station 

All the bars close around 11pm due to the curfew, but the bowling alley still serves beer until around 2am.. So naturally, after a few drinks in super-chilled Utopia bar everyone goes drunk bowling. My bowling skills definitely got worse as the night went on! 

Utopia bar also holds morning yoga classes for around $5. It's a beautiful setting; you practice on outdoor decking whilst over looking the wide river as the bright sun rises in the sky.

Another great thing about Loas is the baguettes! After months of noodles and rice, it made a nice change to have crusty baguettes stuffed with  delicious fillings. And for just $1, it'd be rude not to!

After a few days in Luang Prabang, we caught the bus South to Vang Vieng for tubing. Up until a few years a go, the place was a mental mix of crazy activities, rope swings, cheap drink and hard drugs. After the death of quite a few (mainly Australian) tourists, they closed a load of bars and toned down the atmosphere. There were 5 bars open along the river when we were there, and we had so much fun. Lots of drinking games, free shots and dancing, but surprisingly little amounts of tubing... The bars are all clustered within minutes of each other! If we'd had longer there, I'd have liked to have spent a day tubing the full 3 hour journey down the river rather than just the two minutes to the next bar. 
  

Another great thing about Vang Vieng is that most of the restaurants on the strip play episodes of Friends all day and night: perfect for nursing the hangover.

Next, we headed north to Luang Namtha: a border region with not much in it except a few guest houses and cafes. However, it is located next to one of Loas' biggest national protected parks, full of dense jungle and exciting wildlife, such as bears and monkeys. We spent a day trekking through bamboo forests, stone-hopping over rivers, and looking out for rare animals. It was much easier than the 8 hour mountain climb we did in Sapa (thankfully), with only a few short uphill climbs. Unfortunately we didn't see any monkeys or bears, but we did see huge, furry tarantulas, beautiful butterflies, and lots of birds. 

Highlights of Laos:

The beautiful lush green forests and jungles that fill every inch of the landscape.

The delicious crusty warm baguettes! (Left over from the French colonial rule)

The wonderfully friendly and genuinely happy people. The kindest I've come across in Asia so far.

The rustic charm of each town; quiet and peaceful, hiding natural beauty as if they were secret gems. 

What I won't miss:

The relentless bug attacks.. They have more varieties of flying insects than I've ever seen in my entire life!

The incessant littering by the locals

Terrible roads! So windy and barely paved

And even more first world problems... It's 38 degree+ heat and nowhere has aircon?! 
Or working wifi..


Next stop is northern Thailand for two weeks!

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