Laos is a great little country. Very poor, a little harder to get around than some places, but charming and nice. It’s not in my top 3 of Southeast Asia, but f0r no fault of its own, I just really like a few other places. The three main places to go are Luang Prabang, Huay Xai, and Vang Vieng. While I did go to the first two, I’ve heard that the last has lost its luster. Vang Vieng has seen a number of deaths due to drowning, as it is famous for tubing the river (much like we do in Texas). Therefore, a number of bars have closed, and so now is it not only dangerous, apparently it is also not that fun.
Therefore, I recommend going to just Vang Vieng and Huay Xai, and if you just have a ton of time feel free to research Vang Vieng and see if things have changed.
I recommend taking a bus to Huay Xai from Thailand and then doing a “slow boat” from there on to Luang Prabang. I did not do this, I did an incredibly fast, uncomfortable, and slightly scary speedboat from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai, and I do not recommend that. I only did it because of my schedule, because I wanted to go to the water festival in Chiang Mai, but if you can avoid my route, you should. This is mostly because you have to go upriver from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai, but also because most people take this route as well and so you are more likely to travel with friends.
Luang Prabang (Spent 2 days here, should have spent 3-4)
I was honestly not expecting much from this place, as all I had heard about it was that there were waterfalls and at night you go bowling (which I’m sure you also think is super random and weird). To which I thought, “I’ve seen waterfalls before, and why the hell would I come out here to go bowling. However, I should stress that these waterfalls are incredible. In the dry season you can’t do the waterfalls in the east, and so make sure if you go when I did (March and April) then be sure to go to Kuang Si Falls, as the other one is largely empty of water.
In addition to the waterfalls, at the time of this writing, there was a sort of schedule for the typical backpacker, and it went as follows…
- Wake up at around 10:00
- Eat lunch early and book a spot on an afternoon bus/truck to Kuang Si (or the other one if it is the right time of year. I strongly recommend doing it this way. Usually renting a motorbike is better, but everything in town is within walking distance, the road is a bit long, and the tuk-tuk/bus or whatever it is are cheaper anyways.
- Go back, shower/change
- Go to one of the largest night markets I have ever seen (I bought half of my souvenirs here, good deals, plenty of options, etc.)
- Go to Utopia Bar to drink and dance
- Go BOWLING
Yes, it is incredibly weird that everyone goes bowling at midnight, but supposedly the owner pays bribes and/or (who really knows) is outside of the city limits and so he can still sell alcohol.
Kuang Si Falls
Huay Xai (With Gibbons Experience spend 2 days, without it, skip it)
Now, Huay Xai itself is actually incredibly boring, but you should come here for the Gibbons Experience. This is either a two day one night, or three-day-two-night tour through the jungle where not only do you zip line for miles, but you also spend at least one night in an incredible treehouse.
I’ve zip lined in Costa Rica, Texas, Vegas, Belize, and now Laos, and the latter was easily the best I have ever been to. The views are beautiful, the lines are fast, long, and numerous, with a very nice mix of hiking in between.
Once you get to the treehouse you will understand what I meant by how great it is. There is a bottom floor to shower and use a restroom (showering 100 meters in the air is very, very cool), the second floor is the kitchen with running water, dining table, and spots for beds and the 3rd floor has more places for beds. I recommend keeping your water bottles and not tossing them, and in the middle of the night do what I did not and hang out in the middle of the zip line to star gaze. We didn’t think about that and I regret that.Photos are below.
Country level of difficulty – 5/10