Of all the countries we’re planning on visiting, I think Laos is the most ‘off the beaten track’. Having only been open to tourism for 20 years, it’s not a huge tourist destination but those that have been seem to fall in love with it, and the people.
We’ll start by crossing from Northern Thailand into Huay Xai, Laos. Most people don’t stay here more than a couple of hours, but I’ve heard there is some good trekking out of here and a chance to interact with gibbons just a little north, so maybe we’ll hang out for a couple of days before heading east to Luang Prabang by boat.
When I was first researching about traveling in Laos, I read about a ‘slow boat down the Mekong river’ and thought it sounded oh-so-idyllic-and-peaceful. I imagined lounging and chatting with a few other tourists and locals while watching the scenery slowly float by, arriving in Luang Prabang relaxed and rested. Good job I kept reading and researching! The ‘slow boat down the Mekong river’ may be slow but it is anything but peaceful and relaxing – typically it is a long, narrow boat stuffed with as many as 100 or more tourists and all their stuff. It still might be the best way to get there, but it’s best to keep my expectations in check!
Luang Prabang isn’t that big (pop. 26,000) but it is a central trade hub between Laos, Thailand and China and, with it being a UNESCO World Heritage site, there will be plenty to see. This area is also good for trekking (with elephants maybe?), white water rafting and cycling. It might be nice to get on a bike again!
My original plan was to leave Luang Prabang and continue east overland to meet up with the Vietnamese border but I have not found a good route between Luang Prabang and Hanoi. It doesn’t seem that many people do it and those that have tell tales of horrid bus rides and poor infrastructure. So now I’m thinking that we’ll head south to Vientiane and fly from there to Hanoi.
As we head south to Vientiane, we’ll have a chance to see the Plain of Jars. Quite literally a plain, meadow-like area strewn with massive stone jars. Another one of earths mysteries like Stonehenge, or the Moai statues on Easter Island – huge structures carved out of rock and no real explanation.
Vientiane is a larger city and most sites are centrally located so it is a city for walking. We’ll visit the National Museum and the Buddha Park, but mostly it’s just chilling that gets done here – Laos has a distinctive slow pace. The Phu Khao Koay National Park is just outside of Vientiane. There is trekking here with the added draw of seeing elephants, gibbons, asiatic black bears, tigers and leopards.
Laos sounds like an amazing place to visit, relax and enjoy. It might test our travel abilities but, by then, we should be pretty travel savvy and be up for the challenge.