As you could see in my last blog post, The Gibbon Experience was the perfect start of my two-week Laos trip. After returning from The Gibbon Experience, I stayed another night in Huay Xai, this time in the Little Hostel, before I took the slow boat on the Mekong River towards Luang Prabang the following morning. Most of our Gibbon group took the same slow boat and so we were all reunited for two more days.
If you want to go to Luang Prabang by slow boat, you can get slow boat tickets either from the Little Hostel for 235’000 KIP incl. tuk tuk ride to the pier, or from many other tour operators in Huay Xai for a similar price.
The slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang takes two full days. On the first day, the slow boat ride takes about five hours before it stops in Pak Beng where all passengers leave the boat and spend their night in one of the guesthouses or hotels (accommodation is not organised by the boat company but is very easy to find). The second day is the longer travel day as it takes up to eight hours to get from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang. Travelling to Luang Prabang by slow boat was a nice experience, especially as the landscape is stunning. Yet, one day would honestly have been enough for me. Also, on the second day, they exchanged the big boat from the first day into a much smaller one, so that we all felt quite packed. Being tall doesn’t really help as the leg space was minimal. Anyways, it was an experience and I don’t regret doing it.
The slow boat pier in Luang Prabang is quite far away from the city center, but there are plenty of tuk tuks waiting for you to transfer you into the city. After checking in at the Sabai Sabai Hostel, I met up with the Americans for dinner. Adam had recommended the vegetarian buffet at the night market. When we arrived there, we were mesmerized by the smell and the look of the food. They had so many choices, from noodles, rice, fried delicacies to plenty of veggies and fruit. We filled our bowls as much as we could as you pay by bowl. This was probably my favourite place for dinner in Laos as it was delicious, authentic and super cheap (15’000 KIP). It was so good that I went back every single night!
After dinner, we strolled through the night market, which is lovely, went for coffee at Indigo Cafe right next to the night market and then had a drink at another place. Around 10:30 pm, we met up with Adam at the bowling alley. During The Gibbon Experience, he’d told us about the night life in Luang Prabang and that, instead of going into night clubs, everybody goes to the bowling alley on the weekends. It’s apparently the place to be on the weekend. We just had to give that a go! Believe me or not, but I actually won against the Americans – well, actually just the first round but I was still mighty proud. The alley got more and more crowded and we finally understood what Adam had meant. It turned out to be a super fun evening!
The next morning, I rented a bicycle from my hostel to get into the city center. My foot was hurting again after the treks in the jungle and I wanted to give it some rest. I was about to try one of the manifold cafes in Luang Prabang for breakfast. During my time in Luang Prabang, I wanted to find the best croissant as the city is known for its delicious pastry. Also, my mission for every destination I visit is to find healthy and vegetarian friendly options. So, I took off, ready to find some healthy breakfast, good coffee and a delicious croissant. And, I managed to find all of it at Novelty Cafe.
Let’s just say that the breakfast at Novelty Cafe made me super happy and I definitely wanted to go back. Yet, there were so many other places I also wanted to try. So much to do, so little time!
For the rest of the day, I was exploring the area around beautiful Luang Prabang by bicycle and trying out yet another place that a friend of mine had recommended to me, namely Utopia. Utopia is a Bohemian style restaurant. It’s a super cool location as it’s right at the river and has a very nice lounge where you can hang around for ages!
Utopia also offers daily Yoga classes, about which I was super stoked. Unfortunately, I never made it to a class due to my foot that was hurting until the end of my stay in Luang Prabang.
On my second full day in Luang Prabang, I headed to Saffron Cafe to try yet another place for breakfast. This place is a gem and should definitely not be missed. Everyone puts so much effort and love into the coffee making process that you can actually taste it. I also really enjoyed their menu as it incorporated a lot of healthy and fresh products. I went for the granola, which was absolutely delicious! I went back again the next day for breakfast and their chocolate chip cookies.
After breakfast at Saffron Cafe, I went to Le Banneton Cafe to get a croissant as I was told that their croissants are the best in town. Well, I’m not a croissant expert, but to be honest, I liked the one at Novelty Cafe way better. That’s just my personal judgement though!
After the croissant tasting, I met up with the Americans. We rented a tuk tuk to go to the Kuang Si Falls. Before we went to the falls, we visited the Free The Bears Rescue Center, a shelter for Moon Bears that had previously been held in horrifying conditions. Two Australian girls, Leti and Ashley, who were staying in the same dorm at the Sabai Sabai Hostel, were volunteering there and had already told me about it. The center’s mission is to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world and their vision is to create a world where bears are valued as an integral part of the natural environment and are no longer exploited or abused. A really great organisation, which hopefully will continue to save many bears’ lives in Laos.
The Free The Bears Rescue Center is a great initiative with regard to animal welfare as I feel like there is still a lot of work to be done in Laos. Leti told me about the lottery that works a bit differently in Laos than back home. Apparently, you don’t play for money but for animals. Elephants, tigers and chickens are only a few animals that you can win. Definitely another world with different values.
After visiting the Free The Bears Rescue Center, we made our way to the Kuang Si Falls. I’ve been so excited to see the falls since I’ve seen so many amazing pictures of the crystal clear water and the amazing scenery. Well, due to the heavy rain falls in the days prior to our visit, the water was brownish and muddy rather than turquoise. It was definitely not what I expected, but it was still so beautiful because it was the purest representation of the cycles of nature.
The colour of the water had changed with the weather and the season. Nothing one can do against it, so why complaining? Why not take the chance to take it all in the way it is? Well, that’s exactly what I did and why I enjoyed it so much in the end. One of the girls and I hiked all the way up to the top (with flip flops) and it was definitely worth it. Eventually, we were joined by the others and we spent some time up there before we made our way back down. It was pretty slippery, so it kind of reminded us of our time in the jungle of Laos.
For lunch, we stopped by at the sandwich and fruit shake place right across from the night market. There were about ten different stalls, all managed by women and all of them offering the same menu. So, it was quite hard to decide, which one to choose. I chose the one with the woman that was the least pushy and it turned out to be a great decision. I went for the Lao Style Sandwich, which contained tofu and fried egg. Oh boy, that sandwich was honestly one of the best and also cheapest I’ve ever had. Definitely best value for money! Also give the fruit shakes a try. My favourite was the orange and passion fruit shake. In contrast to many other stalls, these women don’t add any sugar or condensed milk. It’s just fruit juice and ice. So yummy! The fruit juice and sandwich were so good that I went back there for lunch all the following days. I always chose the same stall and the woman was always so happy when I came by. She was honestly so sweet and I felt how proud she was that I always came back for her. At my last day, she even gave me some free bananas. She was the perfect representation of the Lao people in general because they’re genuinely kind and appreciative.
On my third day, I went back to Saffron Cafe for breakfast and then made it up to Mount Phousi from where I enjoyed the views over Luang Prabang. Most people go up to Mount Phousi for either sunrise or sunset, but because it was rain season, it was too cloudy to see either. Afterwards, I went for a relaxing massage at L’Hibiscus Massage & Spa. This massage place was recommended in my Lonely Planet edition and it was actually really good value for money (60’000 KIP for a one-hour Lao style massage, which is similar to the Thai massage). It was pouring down for the rest of the day and so I decided to go back to the hostel and watch some cheesy movies. I was also fighting a cold, so a lazy afternoon was really all I needed.
The next morning, I had an early pick up for Nong Khiaw, which had been recommended by other backpackers that I’ve met throughout Laos. The ride to Nong Khiaw took about three hours but was really convenient as the minivan was brand new. When we arrived in Nong Khiaw, I explored the village on my own and decided to rest my foot for another day and do the hike up to the view point the next day. Well, at that point, I didn’t know that I would lie in bed all day the next day. Over night, I caught a really bad fever and was bed bound all day long. I went out once to get some food and water, but otherwise I stayed in bed all day. I was really sad that I didn’t get the chance to see more of Nong Khiaw, especially since I’d been so excited for some hiking. But my body obviously wanted me to slow down and take a rest, which is exactly what I did. I think a few months ago, I would have pushed it, but I’ve grown, become more mature in that respect and know by now when to take it easy and give my body what it needs. I really liked what I’ve seen of Nong Khiaw though and can definitely recommend it.
After two nights, I took another minivan – a much older one this time – back to Luang Prabang where I stayed another night before transferring to Vang Vieng. I went back to Sabai Sabai Hostel because I really liked it. It was not super central but the facilities were great and the staff really nice. Also, I looked forward to seeing Leti again, who I really liked. She was the one I talked to the most during my time at the Sabai Sabai Hostel. She was in a similar situation as she and her boyfriend also did long-distance at the time. So we kind of related to each other. Also, we shared a lot of other values and so it was great talking to her.
Since the minivan to Vang Vieng didn’t pick me up until 3 pm the next day, I had almost another full day in Luang Prabang. I actually very much appreciated that extra time in Luang Prabang because I loved this city so much! Luang Prabang has definitely been one of my favourite destinations so far. I loved the French colonial influence as well as the cultural richness of this place. There is so much to do!
There were still a few cafes I hadn’t tried, so I decided to head to Dexter Cafe for breakfast.
Dexter Cafe was also a super nice cafe with great breakfast and coffee, but it was not my favourite one. Actually, this is my conclusion after trying several different cafes in Luang Prabang: Novelty Cafe has the best coffee, croissants and interior design, Saffron Cafe has the best granola and chocolate chip cookies, and Le Banneton Cafe does the best pain au chocolat. I’m aware that this judgement is very subjective, so don’t take me up on it. They are just my personal favourites!
After breakfast, I had another massage at L’Hibiscus Massage & Spa before I went back to the hostel and watched some more movies while it was pouring down outside. The ride to Vang Vieng took a good four and a half hours and it was one of the least comfortable rides ever as I and a Dutch guy where jammed in the back seat. We were actually sharing a seat as the rest of the back seat was loaded with backpacks. In addition, we also had zero leg space. We laughed it away and said that it was all part of the adventure – that’s the way to go when you travel for so long, you just get used to things like that.
We arrived pretty late in Vang Vieng as we left Luang Prabang later than scheduled and stopped on the way for dinner. So I basically went straight to bed. Vang Vieng was actually only a very short stopover as I left again for Vientiane the next day at 1:30 pm. When I got up the next day, the weather was absolutely miserable. Anyways, I decided to explore the area a bit. Well, there was not that much to see because thick clouds were covering most of the surroundings, but I got a little glimpse of what Vang Vieng could look like if the weather was clear.
Originally, I had planned to stay two nights in Vang Vieng, but then I’d opted for two nights in Nong Khiaw instead. That was a wise decision because my impression from Vang Vieng was not the best, at least not with regard to what I was looking for in Vang Vieng. I’m sure the surroundings were very pretty and nice, but the city itself super busy and crowded with teenagers that were mainly there for partying and drinking. One of the main attractions of Vang Vieng is tubing down the river, stopping by the manifold bars and basically drinking as much alcohol as you can. Well, that might be exciting for some people, but those who know me know that this is not at all my thing. I was thus glad that I’d stayed two nights in Nong Khiaw instead of Vang Vieng even though I’d been in bed for most of the time during my stay in Nong Khiaw.
The bus ride from Vang Vieng to Vientiane was again super busy and chaotic, but we finally got there after a few hours. Since I hadn’t heard many positive things about Vientiane, I stayed there for only one night before flying out to Hanoi the next day. In Vientiane, I stayed at the Sailomyen Cafe & Hostel, which I can highly recommend as it is very hip and trendy. I really enjoyed staying there. On my last day in Laos, I had a few hours in the morning before my flight, so I decided to use this time and visit the COPE Visitor Center. If you’re staying in Vientiane and have some time, COPE is definitely a must. I was so impressed by the exhibit and deeply touched by the rich and very sad history of Laos.
Only few people know what Laos went through during wartime in Vietnam. Laos is basically a victim of a war they’ve never fought. In the exhibition, I learnt that the US dropped over 2 million tons of ordnance over Lao PDR between 1964 and 1973 on their way home from Vietnam because landing with bombs would have been too dangerous. At least 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped over innocent land as part of this bombing campaign. Yet, only 70% of the bombs exploded. So today, millions of people still live in fear and dozens of people die every year because of bombs that were dropped decades ago. COPE is an organisation created to raise awareness and help people in need. A great organisation with a great mission, namely making Laos a safe place again. Every donation is extremely appreciated in case you want to help. You can find more information here.
Laos has been amazing and I’m so thankful for all the inspiring people I’ve met during my two weeks in this beautiful country. Lao people are one of the warmest folks I’ve met so far. You always get a smile back when you meet them with one. Getting around is also fairly easy as long as you know how to organise yourself. Therefore, I can only recommend travelling to Laos. I’ve had the best time and will be back one day or another to explore more of this beautiful country.
After two weeks, I was ready to leave though as I was about to meet my boyfriend in Vietnam. At this point, we’ve had a long-distance relationship for three and a half months and I’ve missed him so much that I really couldn’t wait to see him again.
Accommodation: Little Hostel
Activities: The Gibbon Experience, slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang
Accommodation: DP Guesthouse
Accommodation: Sabai Sabai Hostel
Restaurants: Novelty Cafe, Dexter Cafe, Saffron Cafe, Indigo Cafe, Utopia, Le Banneton Cafe, vegetarian buffet at the night market for dinner
Sights: Kuang Si Falls, Free The Bears Rescue Center, Mount Phousi, several temples in Luang Prabang
Activities: Bowling alley in the evenings, massage at L’Hibiscus Massage & Spa, monk ceremony in the early morning
Accommodation: Meexai Guesthouse
Activities: Hike up to the two view points, day trip to Muang Ngoi Neua (you have to pay for the whole boat on the way back unless you stay in Muang Ngoi Neua for the night)
Accommodation: Maylay Guesthouse
Activities: Hiking, climbing, kayaking, tubing, etc.
Accommodation: Sailomyen Cafe & Hostel
Sights: COPE Visitor Centre