Laos

A couple of weeks ago Kelly and I took a week-long trip to Laos. Why Laos? Well, we’d never been before, and it seemed to be a place which avoided the touristy aspect of travelling in Asia. Also, Kelly’s cousin-in-law is from Laos, and her cooking is feckin’ awesome!

I won’t bore you (and me) with an exhaustive description; instead, I’ll try a brief summary in point form. You can skip to the photo gallery now, but the photos will make more sense if you read the text first. Before you move on though, here’s something you may not’ve known about Laos:

Something you may not’ve known about Laos

Laos — pronounced like ‘grouse’ (!!!) — is the name of the country.
Lao — pronounced like ‘wow’ — are things of the country. E.g. Lao people, Lao language, Lao food, etc. Ok, let’s move onto a brief summary in point form.

A brief summary in point form

  • We began our trip in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we organised a taxi to drive us 2½ hours to Chiang Rai at a cost of ~$70 Aussie. Not too bad. The driver was crazy, so we were glad when we arrived without scars or dying.
  • Chiang Rai is a pleasant little town with an awesome night market selling all sorts of stuff, from handicrafts to junk, from noodles to cups of fried ‘waterbugs‘. Kelly bought a couple of handmade jewellery items from a young local designer. She was really happy and excited we bought some stuff. Like, really happy. Made us feel good :)
  • The next morning we crossed the Mekong to get to Laos. The boat trip took about 30 seconds. Organising the visa took about 2 hours. Luckily, Kelly had changed our travel plans a little, which included someone taking care of the visa for us, and abetter boat.
  • Visas in hand we boarded our boat to begin a two-day journey down the mighty Mekong river. The boat we boarded was not our original choice, but we were sure glad we’d changed. The original boat held maybe 50–60 people, and we’d read that to save costs, the company packed even more people on, to the point you could get stuck standing the whole trip, or seated next to the noisy motor.

    Our new boat was different. It cost a little more1 but it was worth it. Why? Because there were only 15 people on our boat, and we wanted to enjoy the trip down the Mekong. We spent the whole time eating, drinking, talking, and laying on the roof of the boat! For two days!

  • Highlights of the Mekong chug were:
    • Stopping at a few rural villages. Not the touristy ones, the real ones. Plenty of kids selling handmade bracelets (only girls around because the boys were off working in the hills). One village made its money by making rice whiskey, which tasted terrible, but melted warmed the innards.
    • Seeing real working elephants. They were loading felled logs onto trucks.
    • Seeing water-cows. Which are cows in the water. (I won the cow game)
    • Seeing water-goats.
    • Meeting some cool people. One guy in particular, when he had his sunnies on, looked exactly like Matt Damon. His voice and accent was identical too (he was from Boston). I thought he was Matt Damon until he removed his sunnies! (which might not sound noteworthy, but the first time I saw him without the sunnies was at our overnight stop, more than eight hours into the trip). Being in a state of constant wonder and guesswork for eight hours is tiring. Turns out the non-Matt Damon guy is called Ben, and he and his wife Laura were super-cool. They live in Hong Kong and offered to show us around if/when we get there.
    • Staying overnight in some riverside bungalows.
    • Being on a boat.
    • Being on a boat for two days.
  • We finished the boat ride at Luang Prabang, a small riverside town, complete with French Colonial architecture. We spent most of our trip here; 5 days in total. Beautiful scenery and delicious food. Highlights of Luang Prabang include:
    • Delicious local food. 99% of which is made from sticky rice.
    • Great weather the whole time we stayed.
    • Fresh baguettes and crepes being sold on every corner.
    • Good bike ride up to Kouangxi Water Fall, around 30kms.
    • Swinging out of a tree into lagoon-blue water pool, monkey-style.
    • A taste of Lao theatre, with awesome live music.
    • All day Laos cooking class.
    • No cups of fried waterbugs for sale.
  • Our plans to get a 40 minute flight from Luang Prabang to the Laos capital Vientiane didn’t work out (be sure to plan ahead people) so we were left with the next best thing: a 10 hour ‘VIP’ bus ride through the mountains! Yay… I don’t recommend spending that amount of time on a bus route that’s 100 times curvier than the Great Ocean Road. I really don’t.
  • Despite being the capital, Vientiane was a bit of a disappointment. Less picturesque than Luang Prabang, and much busier. It’s a business city so it’s to be expected, but it’s a bit of a shock to the eyeballs coming from Luang Prabang. We spent one night and one day here before flying home KL.

Conclusion

Laos was an awesome and relaxing trip. Partly because of the country and the people, and partly because we didn’t pack too much in to the trip. I highly recommend a visit.

 

The photo gallery

(This is a selection of photos from the full set which can be seen on our Flickr page.)

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  1. 10 times more.