The Land of Smiles
Trip Start Oct 01, 2011
10Trip End Dec 22, 2011
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After our quick and often chaotic pass through Vietnam, we were all too ready for a slow couple of weeks in Laos. For those not familiar with the country, it is a small country wedged between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and China. Over the last 10 years, Laos has become the new kid on the block for South East Asia backpackers and has a reputation for being especially friendly and relaxed.
Although we had been hoping to do the 2 day overland route from Hanoi (Vietnam) to Luang Prabang (Laos), we caved and bought the expensive flight to pick up a few extra days. Our flight ended up being delayed a few hours due to "weather" in Luang Prabang which, upon arrival, we can only describe as pristine blue sky's..
Our first stop in Northern Laos was Luang Prabang. The formal capital is a beautiful Unesco world heritage site located where the Mekong meets the Nam Khan River. The historic french meets oriental architecture, Buddhist temples and hundreds of novice monks making their way around the city under umbrellas makes for a serenely peaceful atmosphere.
A great deal of our 4 days in Luang Prabang were spent just soaking up the amazing atmosphere that the city radiates. Its quite hard to describe exactly what makes the city so special but i think it is best summed up by a perfectly balanced combination of things; the food, drinks, messages, around town bike rides, night market, buddhist culture and temples and of course locals all contribute to the unique atmosphere.
We managed to break away from the city for a self guided day mountain bike and waterfall outing. The red clay roads out to the waterfall were an amazing way to see the countryside surrounding Luang Prabang and the 35 km journey proved to be some good cross training for the upcoming ski season. The waterfalls were beautiful and by far the coldest water in SE Asia which was actually a nice change for us, especially after our bike ride. We were able to see the elephants swimming and playing in the waterfall which was very funny as they are really playful animals.
Vang Vieng - "if teenagers ruled the world, it would likely resemble Vang Vieng"
After a wonderful stay in Laos' Buddhist cultural hub, we made our way to Vang Vieng, Laos' black sheep of towns which has become known for river tubing and excessive western partyiers
The town is best known for the river tubing where you hire a tube for the day and float down river stopping when thirsty at the 10+ riverside bars (each one with its own unique water activity and resembling a college spring break beach party!). The town is second best know for it's infinite number of western food restaurants playing Friends and Family Guy on repeat 24 hours a day. Although these two factors have given Vang Vieng a rather negative reputation among many travels, we had a blast for two days lounging in the river, watching TV for the first time in months and gazing at the spectacular limestone formations that surround the town.
Pakse - Treetop Explorer on the Bolaven Plateau
While in Luang Prabang, a zip line adventure trek in southern Laos called the Treetop Explorer caught our eye and we decided to splurge and put a deposit down hoping that more people would sign up allowing the trip to run. After 3 days no one had signed up and we were pretty much ready to give up hope. Miraculously by day 5, eight others had signed up and the trip was on. We took a night sleeper bus (much better than the Vietnamese version) from Vang Vieng to Pakse (17 hrs) and were on the trails by 9:00 AM the next morning
The treetop explorer adventure essentially consists of two days zip lining, climbing, abseiling, and trekking while staying at an eco resort in the middle of the jungle. The eco resort was amazing facility buried deep in the jungle (1 day trek both ways) at the base of a stunning waterfall. Every aspect of the resort focused on minimizing environmental footprint and promoting environmental awareness in Laos. Each couple had our own canopy tree house perched 15 meters above the ground which we had to zip line in and out of.
Overall we did 9 large zip lines ranging from 200 to 400 meters plus a few dozen smaller zip lines connecting the trails and different building within the resort. The zip lines crossed valleys, cliffs and most spectacularly, huge waterfalls. It is hard to describe in words the feeling of flying over / through this epic scenery but we hope the photos and videos will help communicate how spectacular it was. The trek was unlike anything we have ever done before and gave us a chance to experience a jungle from a whole new perspective and meet some incredible people along the way.
Si Phan Don
After our adventure on the Bolaven Plateau, we headed south to the 4,000 islands (Si Phan Don) nestled in the Mekong along the Laos - Cambodia border
- Arriving outside the airport in Luang Prabang to peace and quiet with not a single taxi driver!
- Buddhist monks giving of alms in the early hours of the morning
- Luang Prabang atmosphere, night market, food stalls and of course the shakes (mint and lemon, banana and Milo were our favorites)
- Beer Laos...
- Indulging in some college spring break culture in Vang Vieng
- Zip lining over waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos
- Siestas along the Mekong in our riverside bungalow hammocks
Although we enjoyed all aspects of our time in Laos, our time was really made by the incredible people we met along the way
For a full set of photos, click HERE or copy the following link.
We are now on route to Phnom Penh, Cambodia overland via the Southern Laos - Northern Cambodia border crossing. Our time in Cambodia is likely going to be short due to changes along the way so we should have another update out soon!
Steve and Audrey