After meeting some cool friends in Thailand, I decided to sporadically buy a ticket and wander around with them for a couple weeks in Laos, as well as Cambodia. Thankfully, they didn’t think it to be creepy at all that I followed them to another country! Nice lads. Hiding their true thoughts and everything.
Our first stop while wandering around Laos: Luang Prabang.
So, after taking off on a jet (propeller?) plane from Bangkok, we landed in the itty bitty city of Luang Prabang. Let me just say that this place was extremely underwhelming. The airport is teeny and you walk outside into what seems to be the middle of nowhere! After wandering around for a while, trying to find a ride to the middle of town, we just ended up walking a bit and getting a tuk-tuk.
When we finally flagged one down, we realized all of us only had a shit ton of Thai baht on us and not the local Laos currency, which is the Lao kip. This ended up being a sort of hassle, considering the tuk-tuk driver wanted to be paid in kip. In the end, we finally convinced him to take a wad of baht to get us where we were meant to be.
After a quick ride, we were dropped off in the middle of Luang Prabang. We wandered around a while before we found a hostel called LPQ Backpackers to stay in for the time being. We booked a couple nights there and settled in. Definitely wasn’t the nicest place and the dorm we were staying in had a group of people in it that were extremely unsocial… which was shit.
After our first two nights, we moved to another hostel called Downtown Backpackers Hostel, which was much nicer and more social than our previous hostel. Sadly, we were only there for one night but it was awesome.
Keep on reading to find out what I did, where I stayed, and what I recommend when wandering around Laos.
So, some things about Luang Prabang and what to do there:
Beware, everything closes down around 11 pm.
No matter where you go in the tiny city (town?), everything – and I mean everything – will be shut down by midnight. We tried desperately to find somewhere to eat around 11:30 at night and there was literally nothing. The only place we went that was open was a small bar for some drinks – and they closed while we were still there. We did find a tuk-tuk driver that took us to what we though was going to be a night market – it was actually just a single sandwich cart. Although, I did get a baguette, which was nice.
Luang Prabang has some interesting markets.
Whether it be the morning market or the night (should be evening*) market, you’re definitely going to see some interesting things. The morning market consists of a lot of food stands selling raw meat, wriggling fish, or barrels of spices. The night market has a lot of stands consisting of bags, t-shirts, little trinkets, and more. Both are great to wander around in.
For a chilled out evening (or day), hit up the Utopia Bar.
This place is one of the best bars I’ve hung out in yet in southeast Asia. Located right on the river with a great view, Utopia is so relaxing and they offer some good deals on cocktails and drinks. Also, their pizza is amazing. I veganized one of their pizzas by just having them make it without cheese and adding a bunch of veggies. It was delicious!
Sadly, Luang Prabang is boringgg.
At least in my opinion, I found Luang Prabang to be extremely underwhelming and boring. Other than exploring the markets, drinking at Utopia, and wandering around the area on motorbikes, there’s not much to do here. Especially with the toddler curfew, the nightlife is pretty non-existent.
And although it may be boring, I don’t regret stopping there because the little city does have it’s redeeming qualities.
Like the nearby Kuang Si waterfall.
Now let me just say that this waterfall technically isn’t in Luang Prabang; it’s actually a ways away. On a motorbike or in one of the many vans that do a day trip here, it’s about a 45 minute ride away. But it is gorgeous. Seriously one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. It’s a magical place; having little fairy pools and teal-blue water that just takes your breath away. It’s like stepping into a fairytale land.
Although if you visit, beware that the fish in the little pools love to take teeny nibbles out of your feet… and the bigger fish take bites. It scared the shit out of me. LOL! I absolutely hated it, so I made sure to continue swimming to deter them from nibbling.
So… yeah, that’s about it for Luang Prabang. Here’s a little recap of things to do:
- Morning and night markets.
- Avoid the 11 pm curfew.
- Chill out Utopia all day (or just the evening if you fancy). *Really recommended. Don’t miss out on this restaurant and bar; they’re food is as amazing as their drinks.
- Visit the Kuang Si waterfall.
- Explore the area on a motorbike – it’s beautiful and the roads aren’t too bad.
Recommended place to stay:
- Downtown Backpackers Hostel. This place is awesome; very social, nice atmosphere, and friendly faces. Their facilities and accommodation areas are clean and comfortable, and all at a reasonable price. The hostel also sets up various transportation to different places in Laos, as well as neighboring countries.
After realizing what a sleepy town Luang Prabang is, we ended up cutting our stay there short and headed out after a couple days. Next on the Laos list was Vang Vieng, a small city south of Luang Prabang.
Wandering around Vang Vieng, Laos
From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng it’s about a 4.5 hour ride if taking the mini-van; around 6 if taking the VIP bus. We ended up going on the mini-van because it’s more comfortable, faster, and only slightly more expensive; it costs around 100,000 kip, which is around $7.50 USD.
Our delightful journey started off with some light rain and a packed bus. I ended up in the far back and it was a very bumpy ride but all part of the experience. All in all, we stopped for a quick lunch and bathroom break halfway through, trekked through a couple rock slides due to the torrential downpours, and (thankfully) made it to Vang Vieng safe and sound, if not a little nauseous.
Compared to all the other places we went, rhis was definitely my favorite in Laos.
Vang Vieng is no doubt a party place.
In most hostels – and bars – they hand out free whiskey from about 7 pm to 10 pm. It’s nuts.
Also in Vang Vieng, you’ll find multiple bars that hand out various drugs like mushrooms, marijuana, opium, MDMA, nitrous oxide (laughing gas) balloons, and more. But I wouldn’t recommend taking anything you’re not sure of; a couple of the guys I was traveling with attempted to buy a few pills of MDMA and it ended up not being that at all. Someone told them it was actually a form a meth, but who knows if that’s true either.
Also while we were there, a group of Brits that were staying at the same hostel as us were arrested and taking into custody for smoking weed. They were detained and had to pay $600 to get their passports back and be released.
So, case in point, maybe just stay away from drugs and stick to drinking the free whiskey. It’s a win-win situation!
Now back to the fun stuff…
Exploring the area around Vang Vieng.
This was my favorite part about Vang Vieng; the area around it is absolutely stunning. Surrounded by lush jungles, mysterious caves, and striking mountains, Vang Vieng was the perfect destination to explore for a week.
For a couple days, my travel buddies and I rented motorbikes to wander around on, which is no doubt the best way to travel around Southeast Asia. We explored the nearby blue lagoons, made some friends with local cows that seemingly take over the roads, trekked up to an enormous cave, and went tubing down the glorious Mekong river.
So nearby Vang Vieng, there are two popular “blue lagoons” that people travel to. Unless it hasn’t rained in the past week, don’t expect them to be very blue; they’re most likely going to be a light blue-brownish-grey color.
If you only have time to go to one of the blue lagoons, definitely go to the less popular one. When making your way to the blue lagoons, you’ll come to a fork in the road and most people go to the one on the right, but go to the left instead.
Next, while on your way to the lagoons, become friends with a few locals.
In Laos, whether it be in the middle of the city/town or in the countryside, there are more than likely going to be some cows on the road. They are EVERYWHERE! And it’s amazing. They are so freakin’ cute!
I mean, holy cow (pun-intended 😉), just look at this adorable face! She’s posing for me and everything. 💕
After you’ve built up a cow clique and made it to the blue lagoons, explore some of the nearby caves.
At the more popular blue lagoon, there’s an enormous cave called the Tham Phu Kham Cave you can hike up to and explore. It’s pretty cool; there’s a Buddhist Shrine in the middle of the cave and you can go back pretty far into it. And while we were visiting, there were no other people hiking up or in the cave so we had the entire thing to ourselves.
Before you go up, some people will try to sell you headlamps but they’re not necessary; an iPhone flashlight will be just fine.
Additionally, the hike up to the cave is pretty intense so be prepared! At least, I about died going up but that’s probably just because I need to exercise more. Oh well, I made it in the end!
Grab a tube and ride down the Mekong.
One of my favorite things we did while in Vang Vieng was tubing down the Mekong river. It was so much fun! Even though the major pub crawl down the river has been shut down, visitors can still go tubing, but only for a short time. Before the tubing pub crawl was only two bars, there used to be two different routes people could take; one route had about 20 something bars (or so I’ve heard) and the other had about 7. Both of those tubing adventures have been closed due to people becoming too intoxicated and either getting seriously hurt or drowning.
Although the other pub (river?) crawls have been shut down, the one we did is still just as fun! At the end of the tubing, you stop at a bar where you can play beer pong, volleyball, or just have a drink, sit back, and relax.
Take in and admire all the views.
If you do nothing else, at least do yourself a favor and explore the area around Vang Vieng by motorbike… or if you’re me, hop on the back of someone else’s – sorry Dan! 😉
The scenery in this part of Laos is absolutely stunning and it’s 100% worth taking the time to just wander around. Just take a look at the pictures below for yourself!
So, there ya have it; things to do around Vang Vieng. In short, here’s a helpful list:
- Drink the local whiskey for free at either your hostel or some of the bars (Viva Pub is by far the most fun – go there and dance your ass off).
- Avoid doing the local drugs because they’re not reputable and could really hurt you.
- Hit up the (not-so) blue lagoons for a nice swim.
- Trek up to the nearby caves.
- Make some new cow friends.
- Go tubing down the Mekong.
- Rent a motorbike and just explore the area.
Recommended place to stay:
- Barracks Hostel. It’s pretty clean, comfy, surprisingly soft beds, the owners are probably the nicest people I’ve met yet, the food is cheap-ish, and they hand out free whiskey in the evening.
Since we all enjoyed our time in Vang Vieng, we ended up losing track of time and stayed here for a week (what?). Next, we were off to the capital of Laos: Vientiane.
Checking out Vientiane, Laos’ quiet capital.
After doing some research on Laos’ capital, Vientiane, I wasn’t expecting very much. And to be completely honest, it didn’t do a lot for me. I found the city to be underwhelming and kind of boring… similar to Luang Prabang. Although, unlike Luang Prabang, Vientiane isn’t surrounded by beautiful scenery, so it didn’t even have that going for it.
Anyways, here’s a breakdown of what we did with our time in Vientiane:
In my opinion, this place is the best part of Vientiane! It’s a large park filled with peculiar and strange Buddha statues.
Also known as Xieng Khuan, the weird sculpture park is located a ways out of the city and contains about 200 different Hindu and Buddha statues. And although the statues appear to be centuries old, the park was started only in 1958.
COPE Visitor Centre.
This place is hard to visit but completely worth it. It’s a rehabilitation center focused on making artificial limbs, walking aids, and wheelchairs in Laos. The center has a museum part that offers a myriad of information on the bombings that happened in Laos.
From 1964 to 1973, the United States army dropped more than 2 million tons of artillery on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita. Of those 2 million tons, 80 million failed to detonate and are still affecting the lives of the Lao people today; one person is either killed or injured by an unexploded bomb everyday.
It was absolutely heartbreaking to learn about the bombings America unloaded on the peaceful country of Laos; to make matters worse, I didn’t even learn about our involvement with Laos in school. It was truly eye-opening to visit this grim centre but it was 100% worth it.
Next, we checked out the Laos National History Museum.
Not going to lie, I wasn’t expecting much from this museum but it ended up being FILLED with cool information. The museum kind of walks you through the history of Laos; from the days when clay pots were used to bury children, to the history of the French invasion, to the way women helped influence how the country is today.
There are several rooms or “exhibits” showing off different things; the first floor contains various artifacts like ancient clay jars, dinosaur bones, pottery shards, and Khmer sculptures. The second floor depicts the turbulent history of Laos; going over the Siamese invasion and the French colonial period to the American bombings and presence during the Vietnam war. There’s quite a bit to see here, it took me longer to walk through it than I previously imagined.
That’s about it for Vientiane… similar to Luang Prabang, I found very little to do here.
Here’s a recap of things to do:
- Buddha Park.
- COPE Visitor Centre.
- Lao National History Museum.
Recommended place to stay in Vientiane:
- Dream Hostel (either 1 or 2 – they’re right next to each other). It’s a clean place with a nice atmosphere and a good location; close to lots of food options, shopping, and a good area to just explore around.
Welp, there ya have it. Everything myself and my travel fam did while wandering around Laos for a couple weeks! Even though there wasn’t much to do in the main cities, I still found it to be one my favorite countries thus far. The scenery is crazy beautiful and there are tons of outdoor activities to do.
Have you ever wandered around Laos? If so, what was your favorite place or thing you did? Let me know in the comments!
Wander on friends,
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