On Monday morning, January 28th, I left Chiang Mai by Minivan and started my journey to Laos, which would take 3 days: 1 day to the border, 1 day to cross the border and to go by slow boat to Pakbeng, 1 day by slow boat from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang.
The minivan was completely full and being picked up as one of the last people, I got a very shitty seat, squeezed in between a bunch of backpacks and Miguel from Spain. The journey was long and I was grateful for the lunch break we had. I was very happy when Lawrence, Richard and Jeff left the minivan in Chiang Rai and I got a better seat for the next 2 hours to Chiang Khong, the town closest to the border where we would stay the first night. I was a bit sad though that it was these 3 guys who left, because they were super nice and very funny; I’m sure we would have had a good time together on the slow boat…
In Chiang Rai we had a short stop to visit Wat Rong Khun, the white temple. It is very new, opened only in 1997, and it’s absolutely beautiful! I’ve seen a lot of nice temples in the last couple of months, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been that impressed by one. It really is completely white and the architecture is amazing. I definitely recommend you to go see it.
Around 4 or 5PM, we finally arrived to our destination for the day: Chiang Khong. We stayed at the Chiangkhong Green River Guesthouse that organizes the whole trip: the minivan, the overnight stay, the border crossing and the slow-boat ticket. The owner was super nice, maybe a bit eccentric, but okay. He gave us a lot of information about our trip and he explained how things would be working. I spent the afternoon/evening with Miguel from Spain and with Christine from Norway, two very nice people in their 40s. Christine and I shared a dorm with 2 girls from Sweden, Janni and Katarina, who were quiet, but nice girls.
Dinner and breakfast were included in our tour and surprisingly good. The beds in the dorm and the shower weren’t the best; the bathroom was smelly and the beds hard, but never mind. The best thing there was the sunset view over the river: it was gorgeous! Also, being in your hostel, seeing the Mekong River and Laos from your balcony is quite cool! 😊
The second day, we went by minivan to the border. The crossing from Thailand to Laos is quite easy, but takes a long time: about 2 hours. There were many forms to fill out at the immigration for Laos and it would have been much easier, had they given us the forms in the guesthouse the night before, but maybe that’s not allowed, I don’t know. Anyway, we made it through and then we took another minivan to the point on the river from where the slow boat would start.
The lady there who gave us the boat tickets told us that she could also book guesthouses for us and that it would be cheaper and easier than finding something on our own. I had been told before that this is not true, but the rooms were pretty cheap (4$ in a 3-bed dorm) and Christine wanted to book a room, so Naki from Germany and I agreed to share with her. Booking this room took more time than expected and so we were the last people to go on board. There were 2 boats and we were lucky that we got on the one that was emptier. Most people had taken seats on the various tables and benches and the only space left were the sofas in the front of the boat, which was definitely lucky for us; we had so much space that we could lay down and we had great company: 2 couples from Sweden joined us and they were definitely up for a party, drinking heavily from the start on.😄 It seemed that most people on the boat had brought a couple of beers or even strong alcohol, but I hadn’t and so I would have had to buy it on the boat. The Swedish guy was super nice and he offered me one of theirs (they had like 20 big beers!😄), insisting the first one is for free. 😊 It was pretty fun with them; we played GuessUp, a guessing game on my phone and had a great time together. When we all got tired from the heat and the alcohol, we slept for a while, listened to music and just enjoyed the beautiful landscape. Boat tours can be pretty boring, especially if it’s 2 full days, but here, the landscape was so amazing that it didn’t get boring at all!
Once we arrived to Pakbeng, we all went different ways. Our guesthouse wasn’t great; we had paid way too much, there was no breakfast included and the people there weren’t super friendly. So we left soon after arriving and went for dinner out with some other people in our guesthouse: Euan, Alex and Fabia from England, Rionach from Ireland and Saidi from the US – who would all become close friends in the next days. We went to a nice restaurant close to our guesthouse and the food was quite good (BKC) and then we went to the «Happy bar» just next door. There, Stephen from the UK joined us, but he was already pretty drunk and high and he was nice, but seemed a bit weird at first (later it would show that he is weird but a very sweet guy).
The next day, Christine, Naki and I had a delicious breakfast in the Monsavanh Bakery and bought some supplies (chips, cookies, beer) before boarding the boat again. Today, there was only 1 boat leaving and all the people who had been spread out in 2 boats the day before now had to squeeze into 1 boat!!! Imagine! It was super crowded, but fortunately all the people I had been with the last night had got seats. Some other people had to sit in the back of the boat, where it was boiling hot and others had to sit on plastic chairs in the front …
In the morning, it was pretty quiet; Euan next to me was sleeping, some of the others had a big hangover and were just surviving and I was working on my blog. Around lunchtime, I finished my work and I decided to start my first beer in which I was joined pretty soon by Christine and Naki, then by Stefan from Austria, Stephen and Euan. From that moment on, the boat trip was more and more fun and we all enjoyed a wonderful afternoon, connecting, drinking and watching the landscape. 🤗
We arrived to Luang Prabang around 5PM and all went to our different hostels; Rionach, Sadi and myself went together to the Chill Riverside hostel. This hostel was pretty cool: it had a nice terrace from where you can watch the river, the breakfast was amazing and the rooms were quite okay. In my dorm, I met Alessandra from Italy who would spend the next evenings with us. Later we all met up again: Fabia and Alex, Euan, Naki, Stefan and Stephen. We went to the night market, but we couldn’t find any food there, only clothes and souvenirs, so we went to a restaurant close to our hostel. We had to wait for quite some time, especially Naki, but the food was okay. Later we would discover that only Naki’s food – traditional Lao food – had been bad, because he got pretty bad food poisoning…
Afterwards, we went to Utopia, the best bar ever! It’s huge, with lots of chill out areas and even a few bonfires for the cold evenings. 🤗 Me and the other girls were pretty tired and so Alex and Fabia, Rionach, Saidi and I went to bed early while the guys had a late night out.
The next morning, Rionach, Saidi and I went out to discover Luang Prabang. It’s a pretty small but cute town with lots of temples, small streets, bars and restaurants. I enjoyed exploring this place a lot, but around noon, it got just way too hot and we needed a break. So we had lunch at the food market and ate a good sandwich. Laos has been part of French Indochina from 1893 to 1949 and that’s why the food here is very western and – obviously – French, with lots of sandwiches and good bakeries.
In the afternoon, Saidi went back to the hostel, while Rionach and I went to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre and afterwards I continued on alone to the UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) Visitor’s Centre. Both museums were quite small, but very interesting. In the first one, I learned about the different ethnic groups in Laos (there are more than 149!) and in the second, I learned about how much Laos was bombed during the different wars in South East Asia ; more than 580.000 bombings were made in Laos with cluster bombs (bombies) as the main bombs ; more than 270 million bombies were dropped here and today there are still about 80 million unexploded bombies in Laos ; about 1 person per day still dies because of them! Imagine!
Around 5PM I met up with the others and we went up the Phou Si Mountain in the centre of town to see the sunset. I expected there to be many people but the number of tourists exceeded even my estimation! We were lucky enough to get some seats and so we had a nice view.
Afterwards, we went to the Red bull bar to have a couple of beers and to eat some delicious baguette pizza before going back to Utopia to spend the evening there. We sat around the bonfires and couldn’t have had a nicer evening! We only left at 11:30PM, time Utopia closes and kicks out everyone. We finished the night hanging out at our hostel and went to bed quite late…
For the next morning, on Friday, we had planned to go to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. Unfortunately, I started having red dots on my stomach area and it was growing worse fast, so I got scared I might have shingles… Apparently, it’s contagious and I didn’t want to contaminate my friends, so I decided to go to the clinic first, get medication if needed and then see from there.
In the clinic, the staff was super friendly and the doctor spoke very good English. He confirmed that I had too many red dots for it to be the shingles and that it’s just a normal allergy. I was so relieved! 😊 Turned out, I had an allergic reaction to something in the new trousers I had bought just the previous day.
Fortunately, that all happened super fast and I made it back in time to go to the waterfalls with my friends. These waterfalls are gorgeous, with very clear, turquoise water and not too many people. We enjoyed the little hike up the waterfall and afterwards, we went swimming down in the pools. We had such a good time, it was sad that our tour allowed us to only stay 2 1/2 hours… They also have a bear rescue centre and we got to see some very cute black bears, I was happy! 😊
When we came back, we had a beer and some snacks at Utopia and then we went to the food section of the night market – the one we hadn’t been able to find on our first night in Luang Prabang. They have a lot of different kinds of food there and we had some very good vegetarian food (noodles, rice, vegetables) for only 1,50€ and afterwards some amazing chocolate cakes from Ori bakery next door. After dinner, we went back to Utopia, but I was pretty tired and so I just went to back to the hostel when the bar closed and didn’t go out or anything. It had been a wonderful day, Luang Prabang and its environment is really beautiful!
On Saturday, we all wanted just to relax and do nothing and that’s exactly what we did.😊 Stefan, Rionach and I went to Saidi’s hostel (ours had been full and she had to change hostels) to book our bus to Vang Vieng for the next day and then we went to the bakery for a coffee, but we spent the afternoon at Utopia just reading and drinking a couple of beers.
In the evening we went back to the food market, had some dinner, some sweets from the bakery and then – again – went back to Utopia (honestly, if Utopia had dorms and it’s own street food market, we would probably never have left this place! 😄) for a couple of drinks before finishing the night in our hostel. Rionach and Euan wanted to watch a rugby game, but it only started at midnight when all the sports bars here were already closed and they couldn’t find a live streaming, so the night ended early for them. Stephen went – as usual – with some other people to the bowling bar (the only place open after midnight and literally a place to play bowling), Saidi had taken a bus to Vang Vieng in the afternoon and Naki was still sick, so it was only Stefan and me having one last drink in the hostel. 😊
On Sunday morning, Naki moved to our hostel because he was still sick and couldn’t leave the Luang Prabang, but his hostel was fully booked. Stefan came over as well and so Rionach, Alessandra, Naki, Stefan and I went – one last time – together for lunch, this time at our favourite bakery (Ori bakery), where we got some fantastic food (a bit more expensive though)!🤤 I tried the salmon pasta and, I must say, it’s been a while since I’ve had such good pasta! 🤤
At 1PM, Rionach and I were picked up at the « Y not Lao hostel » where Saidi had stayed and where we had booked our tickets, because they were much cheaper than at our own hostel. At first, our minibus was quite empty, but then, after 15 minutes or so, we had to move into another minibus that was already pretty full. I shared a double seat with Lukas from Switzerland and in this bus we met Kevin from Canada, Kevin from the US and Danielle (from the US? I can’t remember…). We were a pretty nice group and we had a good time during the 5 hours it took us to get to Vang Vieng. The road was really bad: bumpy and at some spots pretty dangerous, but we made it (the next day Stefan would come and his minibus actually passed a village where a shooting was happening and his minivan even got hit by a bullet!). We all had different hostels because some wanted to stay at Nana’s Backpacker hostel, a party place, but I wanted to stay in a more quiet hostel and so I went to the Easy Go hostel.
After my check-in, I joined the others at Nana’s. There, the music was way too loud and the free whisky shots were awful, so Rionach and I went to the night market and for a beer somewhere else instead. Euan, Stephen, Saidi, Fabia and Alex had arrived earlier in the day and so we were all in Vang Vieng now, except for Stefan (he doesn’t travel on Sunday 😄). When the happy hour at Nana’s ended, the others joined us and we went together to Viva, a really cool bar/club that had free drinks (beer and whisky with sprite or coca cola) from 10PM to 11PM. We saw many other people there, that we knew: the 4 Swedish people from the Slow boat, a couple of Brazilians who had been in our hostel in Luang Prabang, Lukas, Kevin and Danielle from our minibus. We were a big group and we had a great time! When the happy hour finished we went to Sakura, another club, dancing like crazy (well, to be fair, we were a bit drunk) and when Sakura closed at midnight, we went back to Viva until almost 3AM. I met Rohan from the UK, who tried to hit on me first, but when he gave up we became actually friends and I « helped » him flirt with another girl he liked, giving him tips on how to best approach her.😄 I stood at the bar, drinking with the 2 volunteers working at the bar, one from the Netherlands and the other one from the UK, and we bet if he would manage to kiss her or not (I said yes and I won!)! 😂😂 We had a lot of drinks and even more fun! Definitely the best way to start our stay in this crazy party town! 😄
The next day was a bit hard; all of us had a bad hangover. I had wanted to go tubing with the others, but I had started a new book in the morning and when I looked at my watch the next time, it was 3PM and my 300-page book was finished… 😄 Euan, Saidi, Stephen, Fabia and Alex went tubing, but Rionach was too hangover to join them. So Rionach and I had a late lunch at 4PM and then relaxed at the pool at Nana’s until the others came back. Stephen came back around 5PM already, because he was so drunk that they hadn’t let him back on the tube! 🤣 He actually insisted that he wasn’t that drunk, but you could see that he saw us at least double and later that evening he even passed out on the couches and 4 or 5 guys had to carry him back to him dorm – actually to a different room, because they were afraid he would die if they put him in his upper bed in the dorm; he even managed to destroy the toilet in this room, that’s how drunk he was ! Apparently he kept trying to run away and jump into the pool although he can’t swim and it was quite some work for them to get him to the room…
The others came back around 7PM and they were pretty drunk. We didn’t even see Euan come in, he immediately disappeared. Fabia and Alex went to bed very early too. So it was Rionach, Saidi and I, but we didn’t really see Saidi anymore, she went to Sakura while we went to Viva.
Stefan arrived that evening at 7:30PM and he was quite exhausted, because he had been up at 6AM already to watch the Super Bowl in Luang Prabang before coming to Vang Vieng. He stayed at the same place I did and so I went to greet him there before we joined Rionach at Viva for a couple of drinks. Since most of our friends were already in bed or drunk from the tubing and I was tired from last night, we went back early.
For that night, I had booked a private hotel room, because this is a tradition for me: the night before my birthday – if I’m traveling -, I book a nice hotel room so the next morning I wake up “fancy” (for a backpacker). 😁 Stefan joined me there and at midnight there was my first birthday surprise: there were fireworks all around us, celebrating the Chinese New Year. It was a nice start to my 30th birthday! 😊
The next day was my 30th birthday. No news from anyone and so, after a good breakfast with Stefan, we decided to rent a buggy for the day to go explore the area and visit the lagoons. There were 5 lagoons, but we only went to lagoon 1 and lagoon 3 and on the way we visited the Pha Hon Kham caves. These 2 caves are pretty high up the mountain and you have to hike up there , but I was happy about the exercise and the view we got. Driving a buggy and riding as a passenger are fun, but I’m pretty sure it was way more exciting for Stefan than for me (a guy thing I guess). Lagoon Nr. 1 was nice, but way too many tourists polluted it. We liked lagoon Nr. 3 much better, because it was much more quiet there and so we stayed there far longer. It was a wonderful and fun day! 🤗
When we came back around 2 or 3PM, we went to see our friends at Nana’s and have a couple of beers with them. For the evening, I had booked a table at the Bamboo tree restaurant and everyone joined (Sadie, Rionach, Stefan, Euan, Stephen, Fabia, Alex, Lukas and Kevin), even Stephen and Euan who had both lost their phones and who were both still pretty hangover. 😄 We had a delicious dinner there (pizza for my birthday!) and the others had bought a fantastic and very delicious cake and they had given me a signed card as a present. I loved this birthday and I was glad I spent it with all these wonderful people! ❤️
After dinner, we went to a bar for another beer, but it was too quiet there and the waitress was super weird and probably drunk and high. We went to Viva then for a couple of drinks, but everyone was tired and so the night finished quite early. That was okay though, I couldn’t have had a better day! ❤️
On Wednesday, I got up early for the tour I had booked. First, we went to the elephant cave (very disappointing: super small and full of tourists, although one formation definitely looks like an elephant) and to the water cave, where we did some tubing. It was cool to do tubing in a cave, but definitely less exciting than I thought. During this tour, I met a nice couple from Ireland, Dan and Alison, and a nice guy from Tokyo (can’t remember his name). We got a pretty good lunch (fried rice, 2 grilled sticks with vegetables and chicken, a baguette and a lot of fruit), but we had to wait for those in our group who did the ziplining. The place was very beautiful, but there were definitely way too many tourists there…
After lunch we went to another part of the river to start our kayak tour. I was a bit disappointed that they only had 2 people kayaks, but whatever. I shared one with the guide and didn’t have much to do except to help paddle. Still, it was quite fun and the landscape was amazing!
We had the same route as the tubing, but tubing seemed pretty boring, the water was so quiet! You definitely can manage to finish a beer per 100 m you go, so I can understand how the others had been that drunk 2 days ago…
When the kayaking finished, the others went to lagoon 1, but as I had been there before, I went instead to the Tham Phu Kam viewpoint. Normally, a guide goes up to the viewpoint with the group, but since I was the only one going, they said I should go alone. I thought: «Okay, then ir can’t be that difficult if I only get 1 1/2 hours and no guide». In theory, that’s correct; in practice, a lot more adventure was involved. Going up was fine, even with my flip flops, but when I got to what I like to call «the first summit», there were 2 ways: one going right, one going left, with no indication which road goes where. I thought that there must either be 2 viewpoints or it’s a circle and you can take any way. Turned out that both of my hypotheses were right. I went right and first I walked on a normal path in what suddenly appeared like quite dense jungle, but then I came to a part with lots of pretty steep and pointy rocks that looked like they could probably skewer me up! It was quite scary and there was no real way to see for quite some time, but then I got to a place where a metal railing had been placed, so I knew I wasn’t lost. I managed to get to the summit, but it was super scary up there: no railing, only steep, pointy rocks and a sheer fall down hundreds of meters into the depths if I stumbled or fell… But the view was incredible! Also, I was the only person there and the danger made it all the more exciting! 😁
From where I was, I could see the actual «official» viewpoint 20 metres or so away and I had definitely taken the wrong, or let’s say more adventurous way instead of the easy version. I was sure I could go there straight without turning back and I actually managed to find a way that connected both points, but it was a way that is not used much and, wearing only flip flops, I was pretty scared of spiders, snakes and – who knows, they might exist there – monkeys…
I managed to get to the other viewpoint that was nice as well, but definitely less so than the one where I had been before. It had been a very exciting and adventurous trek and I had loved it! 😁
In the evening, Stefan and I were alone again, because Saidi had already gone to Vientiane and Alex, Fabia and Euan were tired from their second tubing tour. We went to a nice Italian restaurant where I had really good baked potatoes with beans, bacon and cheese and Stefan had a very good pizza. Later, we went to Sakura, where we had a couple of free drinks, then to Viva for their free drinks. On our way, we met Rionach and Kevin, but they were pretty tired after the day of tubing, so they went to bed early and it was – again – only Stefan and I. We had a couple of drinks at Viva and had a good time there before I just had to go to bed and sleep.
On my last day in Vang Vieng, I did a rock climbing tour in the morning. It was a huge challenge for me because a) I’m pretty afraid of heights since I fell into a deep pit in India during the night and b) I wasn’t feeling 100% after our late night out with a couple of drinks. Still, it was a lot of fun and super exciting! I climbed 4 walls, 2 4s, 1 5 and 1 6a. It really was a challenge but I was pretty proud of myself at the end! 🤗
And that’s it for the first part of my trip in Laos. So far I liked every place a lot: the slow boat tour, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Each place has an amazing scenery and the people are friendly. The only thing: it’s much more expensive than I had thought and most of the food isn’t local but very western, like pizza, burger, falafel, which is a shame.