Laos or formally known as Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR), is the only landlocked nation in Southeast Asia. Probably, few people may not heard of it yet or see it as a “so-so” destination, brace yourselves, this article might dramatically change your perspective.
How did we get there?
It was the second leg of our 10-day Southeast Asia trip (Thailand-Laos-Vietnam). We hopped on an overnight sleeper train from Ayutthaya to Nong Khai, and from there we rode the next train heading to Thanaleng, the border crossing of Laos. Supposedly, Filipinos are visa-free in Laos for 30 days, but upon our arrival the border control officer asked us to pay a certain amount. Anyhow, our takeaways were worth more than what we paid. Let’s begin!
Explore Vientiane (Capital City of Laos) on Day 1
It’s also called Xien Khuan, which means “Spirit City”, and was built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. It holds more than 200 religious and peculiar sculptures portraying the gods and spiritual characters of both Buddhism & Hinduism. It’s a public park maintained by the government, hence, you will see not only foreign tourists but also Laotians particularly pupils having a school trip.
The name literally means Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph since it was built in memory of the Laotian soldiers who fought for their independence from France. The monument has 5 towers that represent the Buddhist principles of thoughtfulness, amiability, flexibility, honesty, honor, and prosperity. It essentially resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, hence, it’s also called as “Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane” or “Patuxai Arch.”
Riverside Night Market
It’s a long strip of vendors on red-roofed stalls offering countless travel mementos, knickknacks, Laotian inspired clothing, etc. Make sure to try eating at the food carts near the market too!
Take a Breather in the Sleepy Town of Vang Vieng for 2 Days
During the second day, we travelled in a minivan from Vientiane to Vang Vieng. The travel time was roughly 4 hours, so, we left early in the morning and arrived at the town after lunch. Tip: You can approach the hotel’s concierge for information and contact numbers of the travel agencies offering the trip.
Vang Vieng is my favorite place in Laos because it’s the home of the most affordable hot air balloon ride and I love the town’s quaint vibe and surrounding karst hills. We used the rest of the afternoon searching for an agency offering the best rates of outdoor activities we wanted to try the next day.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
You may choose to do it before sunrise or sunset, we opt for the first because we have to leave for Luang Prabang in the afternoon. We chose a package that included transfers, hence, we were picked up from the hotel just before dawn and reached an empty field with three enormous balloons ready to be fired up.
We were quite full in the balloon, nonetheless, I enjoyed every second of the ride while in awe of the majestic sunrise and fascinating landscape.
Want to see the view from the top?
After the remarkable ride, we went back to our hotel and got ready for rock climbing. It was not my first, yet, I’d be a hypocrite if I’ll say the obstacles weren’t a challenge. I didn’t worry though, a professional guide and safety gears were all provided.
We were able to finish the activity just before lunch and in time for our trip to Luang Prabang. The journey was quite longer, so, we arrived in the city late and famished. Good thing our hotel was just at the heart of the city where restaurants are at reach.
Immerse Yourself in the Historic City of Luang Prabang on your Last Day
Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls
Tat Kuang Si (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is the most picturesque waterfalls I saw in my entire life, having the perfect combination of green foliage and turquoise pools. It’s a three levelled waterfall, all but one are open for public swimming. Along the trail, there’s a rescue center operated by the Free the Bears organization protecting especially Asian Black Bears or Moon Bears.
Wander Around the City
Luang Prabang is a wonder itself, full of French colonial buildings, remarkable wats and monasteries, rustic-themed shops & restaurants, and the home of the Royal Temple Museum. Do it during the golden hour for perfect snapshots!
While strolling around, I was dumbfounded by how a Laotian man cut his nails using a machete (see picture below). I mean, doing so requires expertise and a peaceful environment with no chance of surprise… or else! Update: I left the place knowing the man was not harmed.
Tourist Night Market
Located at the city proper, you can shop till you drop at the night market displaying assorted goods like herbal teas, souvenirs, handcrafted scarves and bags, street food, and more.
Tak Bat or Morning Alms Walk of Buddhist Monks
If you’re an early bird, you can witness the silent ritual between the almsgivers and Laotian monks. It is a sacred ceremony where the monks are given sustenance in their meditative life, while almsgivers take merit for spiritual salvation.
Be a Volunteer at Big Brother Mouse
It’s a school that initiates literacy activities, they welcome English-speaking tourists to engage in casual conversations with their Laotian students. I was surprised with the number of children and young adults eager to hone their speaking skills, and I dared not miss the chance. Actually, it’s a “win-win” exercise where the foreign visitors can ask more about the country and their culture.
The day after, we headed to Luang Prabang International Airport to catch our flight for the next stop… Hanoi, Vietnam.
(All photos were taken using my Fujifilm X30)