Courting Adventure In Laos: Backpacking Tales

21st Aug 2013
Photo of Courting Adventure In Laos: Backpacking Tales 1/7 by Lionel&Emma
Children loving the camera in Nong Khiaw
Photo of Courting Adventure In Laos: Backpacking Tales 2/7 by Lionel&Emma
Beginning of our 3 day Trekking adventure
Photo of Courting Adventure In Laos: Backpacking Tales 3/7 by Lionel&Emma
Sunset in Central Laos
Photo of Courting Adventure In Laos: Backpacking Tales 4/7 by Lionel&Emma
A Laotian Home
Photo of Courting Adventure In Laos: Backpacking Tales 5/7 by Lionel&Emma
Fisherman at the Mekong River
Photo of Courting Adventure In Laos: Backpacking Tales 6/7 by Lionel&Emma
A Monk at Luang Prabang
Photo of Courting Adventure In Laos: Backpacking Tales 7/7 by Lionel&Emma
Tuk Tuks

Big surprises come in small packages! This couldn't be truer for Laos. This small landlocked country in Southeast Asia is a spectacle of culture, heritage and pristine landscapes. Laos is a real vacation, both for the adventurous as well as the tourist. More and more travelers are being drawn towards the culture and beauty of Southeast Asia, and many of them are discovering this little landlocked gem. Buddhist culture, temples, exotic wildlife, indigenous tribes and some of the world's most amazing landscapes (most of the hills provide a great opportunity for trekking) draw in many enthusiastic backpackers. This region provides excellent opportunities to discover something new, raw, unexplored and untouched. That is the beauty of Laos, even though it is a small country in size, there always seems to be more to it. 

With two awe-inspiring UNESCO world heritage sites, Luang Prabang and Wat Phu along with the sightings of the Irrawaddy Dolphins, Laos encompasses most of the Asian experience in one little visit. Apart from sightseeing, Laos opens up some great markets to explore and buy things like Silk, Mulberry tea, and handicrafts. The famous night markets of Laos are worth a visit even if you aren't buying anything. Sailing on the lovely Mekong river is another activity to look forward to. 

We traveled to Laos in a bus from Sapa, Vietnam. Our stay in Laos was pretty extensive (the country is hard to say goodbye to) where we had our share of adventure and relaxation. All on a decent budget. Here is a Laos Itinerary that puts, in brief, our tryst with this beautiful country. Some great places to see in Laos along with some fun things to do! The first place we stopped at was Muong Khua, a tiny town where there were no touts to greet us when we got off the bus in the blistering heat. Welcome to Laos! 

To kick-start our Laos trip with some fun and adventure we booked a three-day trek through mountains, waterfalls and staying at village Homestays, in the small, rustic, riverside town of Nong Khiaw. We started at Houy Khong, through Ban Vieg Hinh and Ban Payong and down to the river where we caught a boat back to Nong Khiaw. We walked through some rice paddies, up through the jungle and then came to a waterfall where we walked upstream! The second day was the longest day with 17 km to cover. I nearly cried, slipped in the mud several times, twisted both ankles falling in the very steep mud. It was a difficult day as we were covering quite a distance, plus we were going up, and then down the mountain, very quickly. It was steep and every one of us fell down, not helped by the meters of sticky mud on the way. Day 3 was more relaxed, with us grabbing breakfast and then walking towards the boat. It was an amazing three days, possibly my favorite from the trip because of the personal struggle I endured. I can’t believe I did it! It was a great feeling knowing we walked through a pretty remote area of Laos (the office told us they had a busy last month with nine tourists doing the trek!), and it was very special experiencing that first homestay with the chanting, the blessing and the alcohol.
Photo of Nong Khiaw, Louangphabang, Laos by Lionel&Emma
After the trekking adventure, we hopped on a Motorbike to ride around Central Laos for 6 days. The key attraction of this journey was the Kong Lor Cave. It is the longest cave in Laos and has a 7.5km river, the Nam Hinbourn River, running through it. At spots the cave can reach over 70 meters high! A small boat took us through a very dark cave across the river (one of our two boat guides used his sandal to paddle) and from there we walked into the cave and into another small, long tail boat. This time with an engine. We walked around 200 meters in the cave admiring its magnificent limestone formations.
Photo of Kong Lor Cave, Khammouane, Laos by Lionel&Emma
We were in Vientiane-the world’s second most exciting capital city- for just a day, so we used motorbikes to explore the place a bit! The aim was to ride to the LBC (Lao Brewery Company) headquarters, responsible for brewing South-East Asia’s liquid gold, 'Beer Lao'. After getting a little lost, we finally made it to the brewery. By chance we happened to be there during one of the three weekly visiting times. Too bad that the HR department was out celebrating or as the receptionist put it in a “meeting”, so no one could take us on the tour. After some strife, we managed to enjoy two bottles of Lao Gold. Since the bar girls just packed up and left, they turned out to be free as well.
Photo of Lao Brewery Company Ltd, Vientiane Prefecture, Laos by Lionel&Emma
A museum where you can learn about ‘The Secret War’ that America conducted against Laos a few decades ago. You also learn about the type of bombs that still remain in the country, hindering economic progress, and read/watch/listen to stories about people who have lost limbs and livelihoods thanks to these horrible bombs. COPE is a really awesome project that helps Laotians affected by unexploded ordnance (known as UXO) bombs or born with a physical disability such as missing limbs or clubfoot. The center makes prosthetic limbs and has a rehabilitation center to assist with mobility. They also have a nice little museum, free to the public, to educate people about the bombs that affected Laos during the Vietnam War, and that still affect Laotians today. There are also free documentaries that you can watch. We chose to watch an Australian Broadcasting production called Bomb Harvest, and a Canadian production from 2001 called Bombies. COPE is a very good way to spend an afternoon in Vientiane. It’s completely free, has a store where you can buy locally made knickknacks, a small cinema room where you can choose a documentary, and a well-thought-out museum with some very confronting photos and items.
Photo of COPE Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic, Vientiane, Laos by Lionel&Emma
Pakse is supposedly the fourth largest city of Laos. That’s not saying much considering Vientiane is so sleepy that you barely remember it’s a capital city. It is located 670km away from Vientiane and is nestled along the Sedon River and the mighty Mekong. The town itself is quite cute, with wide roads, open spaces, and actual footpaths you can use, though most are very dusty and muddy and being Laos, there are a few holes in the ground and rogue metal railings poking out so watch your step. Pakse is the logical gateway to the South of Laos, and is primarily used as a base to see the surrounding Bolaven plateau, the Khmer temples, and most famous of all, the 4,000 islands (Si Phan Don).
Photo of Pakse, Champassack, Laos by Lionel&Emma
While in Pakse, there are quite a few budget accommodations that are decent for the price. Nangoi Guesthouse is a very friendly place to spend the night in. The guesthouse has 10 impeccably clean and comfortable rooms. The bedding was white and we did not use our sleep sheets. There is also a very secure luggage room, and two showers/toilets downstairs that can be used once checked out and waiting for a night bus/train.
Photo of Nangnoi Guesthouse, Pakse by Lionel&Emma
Thakhek is a rather quiet town located along the mighty Mekong river. This province was founded under the French so as you venture around the tiny streets you will find them lined with French villas. The name Thakhek, which means “Visitor’s Landing”, is relatively new, but is a reference to the town’s importance as far back as the eighth century. The best thing to do in Thakhek is to visit the Mahaxai Caves. These limestone karst formations are a great place to spend a day. There are many caves here, but the most visited one is the Tham En. There is also a small lake inside that glows emerald-green highlighting the limestone formations. Another attraction here is the Wat Pha That Sikhotabong. One of the holiest pilgrimage spots (and tourist spots), it is seen best at sunset.
Photo of Thakhèk, Khammouane, Laos by Lionel&Emma