Laos : 10 days are more than enough
Leaving from Vietnam:
Laos borders are the most easy going borders in the region. The officers are nice, helpful and make sure that you get in the country even if other countries makes it hard.
First, most of nationalities can get a Visa On Arrival. If you don’t have an empty visa page in your passport, no problem, they will use an old page to print the visa on. I personally used 2 passports (2 nationalities) when I travel and got in and out of Vietnam with one passport but had no empty page on that passport anymore they didn’t mind using my second passport (it’s harder elsewhere if not impossible to use a different passport leaving from a country and getting to another, of course this for overland crossing)
Crossing borders from Dien Bien Phu:
either leaving Vietnam from Sapa or Hanoi you can reach Dien Bien Phu by bus.
I traveled from Dien Bien Phu from Hanoi. I initially tried to booked the bus ride from hostel or travel agency so I can get a pick up from my hostel, but no luck. Busses leaving from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu run by the government hence you can only buy your ticket from the bus station, that’s what I did. But bear in mind that the bus station is far from city center and taxi cost me 100 Dang. You don’t have to book in advance as busses going to Dien Bien Phu run every hour starting from 4pm until 8pm, it costs 20$
Suggested Itinerary: Leaving from North of Vietnam to North of Laos
Leaving from Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam to Muang Khua, Laos. The ride is about 4 hours; a little rough as the roads are mainly go around mountains. If you got any transport sickness make sure to take some pills.
little small town that has few guesthouses and 2 hotels, few shops that had a little if nothing more than soaps and shampoos.
Most of travellers stop at Muang Khua to get the seneic spead-boat ride along the Nam Ou going North to Phongsali or down south direction Luang Prabang passing by Muang Ngoi Neua and Nong Khiaw.
Heading north, the boat can take you to to Phongsali, which I didn’t go to personally and other travellers I met said not really that interesting to go to.
When heading south, the speed-boat stops first at Muang Ngoi Neua and second at Nong Khiaw. If heading to Luang Prabang by speed-boat you have to transfer boat at Nong Khiaw.
Muang Khoa to Nong Khiaw
My journey started from Muang Khoa to Nong Khiaw passing by Muang Ngoi Neua. People stop at Muang Ngoi Neua for few days as it is known to be the most relaxed, chill in the hummock type of a place.
The boat cost from Muang Khoa to Ngoi Neua is about 100,000K, and to Nong Khiaw is 110,000K. The cost is devided over the number of travellers taking the boat. Most of the time travellers try to get together by 10 and the cost will be roughly about 10,000 to 11,000K per person.
My experience we were more than 10 in fact we were 13 but the boat owner did not drop a dime from 10,000 to Muang Ngoi Neua and 11,000 for Non Khiaw, so bare that in mind.
The boat ride, though, is worth every dime. The ride is spectacular and a lot more enjoyable than taking the 5$ mini Van. (You can watch the video below to get an idea about the ride)
During the 6 hours ride, I enjoyed the fantastic green mountain going endlessely in both sides of the river, water baffalos soaking in the river cooling themselves down and having only their heads out of the water to get some air, totally different from when you see them in the rice field.
The speed boat get to make few stop along the way, delivering or taking goods from locals living far away from town.
Overall the ride is one of the off-beaten paths you can experience in Laos, in fact it is a “Must do in Laos.”
Link to the video of the boat ride:
In my opinion there is little difference between Muang Ngoi Neua and Nong Khiaw, where I stopped. They both have huts by the river you can hire starting from 6$ per night (the price is the same for 2 or 1 person, no break is giving to solo traveller I always ended up paying as much as the couple in the next).
Hotels and guest houses are spread all over the river, no need for an advance reservation, but may be it’s good to look at some reviews before you get there.
plenty of restaurants in the east side of the river with different choices of food, Indian, Laos or even Vietnamese specialty in all price ranges. Also to the opposite of all hostels, restaurants have decent free wifi connection.
All sort of activities from hiking to trekking to tubing and walk to falls are offered by 2 travel agencies.
From Nong Khiaw there is a possibility to get to Luang Probang by speed-boat or by bus (mini-van or pick up track. Yep! these are the possibilities) but it will be hard to find other travellers to split the cost of the boat if you want to go by speed-boat. Also the bus ride is along the river until it gets to Luang Probang, aside from better breeze in the boat, the scenery is almost the same.
To do in Luang Probang:
It goes without saying temple visits in Luang Probang is one of the few things to do in town. Temples are all over the old Quarter, which is close to all hostels and hotels. Some of the temples you have to pay entrance fees.
worth to see at sunset. The temple is 100 meter high but justify the climb. Nice look out to the Royal Palace Museum, excellent light.
One of Luang Probang highlights is the early morning tak bat. You have to be there at around 5:30 am. Most people line up in the main street of the old quarter but in fact is happens anywhere close to a temple as that’s where the monks start their walk from.
Early morning market
After tak bat head to the early morning market. Colorful, strange and interesting. Merchants sell all sort of meat that locals from bugs, lizards, fish, cricket to all sorts of vegetables. Some stands have those nice knitted bags and souvenir for tourists.
Kuang Si falls
Absolute fun and breath taking.
When I posted the picture of the falls it had the most hits of any picture I put before for about 5 months of travelling, some didn’t even believe it was true. Stunning layers of cascades falling into menthol-green pools. Some of pools, the first ones and the very last ones, are open to the public to swim in, jump and play Tarazan.
Plan to spend a day there it is worth it. As long as I was staying in Luang Probang I didn’t mind going back. It is unique waterfall, you won’t see elsewhere in the world.
The falls are about 30Km away from the center. You can rent a motorcycle for the day, about 90,000 K, or find other people going and hire a tok tok for the day, the tok-tok’s driver will drop you off and pick you up, it costs about 200,000K.
Park admission is 20,000K.
Luang Probang handicraft night market has every possible taste and colors for gifts. You will be overwelmed with choices: from jewelry, to those Aladin pants, T-Shirts, painting and puppets and lots more. Prices also are reasonable and sellers welling to negotiate.
The night life ritual:
Every night in Luang Probang, Utopia brings together all travellers around the low-setting of cushions and tables along the Nam Khan River. The bar offers also a beach volley ball field in case you feel you still have energy at the end of the day.
Bars in Luang Probang close at 11:30 pm. But the party doesn’t end. Leaving Utopia tok-tok will be lined up waiting to take people to bowling, where alcohol is also served until 4am.
Leaving Luang Probang to Thailand or Myanmar
Speed-boat along the Mekong River leave Luang Probang to Chiang Khong and from there to take a bus to Chiang Rai. Buses for same road is offered.
from Laos yo have to cross to Mae Sai and from there to Myanmar and it’s all by bus.
Once was crazy party town. Not anymore. For the many accident and loss in the Nam Ou all bars along the river closed and no tubing or partying along the river anymore. Nevertheless, Vang Vieng still have a party atmosphere and you can still enjoy the town by tubing, trekking and caving.
Vang Vieng’s bars are not only bars but restaurants as well that opens for breakfast, lunch and diner. With there set of cushions in front of big screens playing Friends, family guy and all sorts of series you can find yourself there all day long.
Hostels have very mellow and chill atmosphere to them. You can stay in a hut with hammocks to chill late afternoon and watch sunset from your own terrace for just 80,000K that can host 3 people.
From Vang Vieng, Vientiane is about 4 hours drive and 40,000K.
The capital, worth to stop for couple of days if you are to visit Pha That Luang and Buddha park. There are few more sights in the city such as the oldest temple in Vientiane Wat Si Saket which is a museum today, Patuxai Victory Gate, Laos Arc DE tiramphe, the night market by the beach and few other small attractions here and there to keep you busy if you are staying longer than couple of days in the city.
Aside from the Buddha park, which is few Km away from the city, the rest of sights can be visited in a day. Rent a bike have an early start, heading to Pha That Luang, the furthest sight, you will be able to pass all other sights.
Bike rental from the hostel is about 10,000K a day, good way to discover Vientiane.
Pha That Luang
5,000 K Entrance fee
it’s about 30mn bike ride. The temple will take the most 30mn to walk around not too big. Next to it there are couple of other buildings and a temple which has a Goldish sleeping Buddha.
Located 24 km from the city, it’s about 6 km to the east of the Friendship Bridge (the borders to leave Laos to Thailand) hence it’s worth organizing in the way in or out of Laos.
The park has a collection of huge concrete sculptures of Buddhist & Hindu deities, and real & imaginary beasts. Too bad no clear explanation or guide available to walk you in the park, but really inspiring mystic park.
You can hire Tok Tok for the trip, the cost is worth it only if it’s a group of people going, as tok tok asks for about 100,000K with some negotiation it might go down but taking public transport is away cheaper.
I took bus #14, which costs 6,000K to get me to the Friendship Bridge and from there I did catch a mini-van for the park, which costs 2,000.
The trip to the park is totally worth it, plan to spend about 1h not more in the park and since it’s all exposed to the sun it’s better to go early morning.
For more pictures of places in Laos go to: https://www.facebook.com/WanderTheWorldsWonder