The best of Laos

by - 4:55:00 PM


Our family adventure to Laos begun with a 6:40AM flight from Kuala Lumpur to Vientiane where we met our local travel mates on a 6-day trip through Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang

Flights: From Malaysia, AirAsia flies to Vientiane every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday; Luang Prabang on Monday, Wednesday Friday.

Being landlocked between Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China, much of its food and culture were similar to its neighbours, with a twist of French architecture and traditions. If you know me, you will know how much I love all things French. It was a pleasant surprise to me to find streets called Rue and to see a Lao version of the Arc De Triomphe (Patuxai).

When to go: Monsoon season in Laos occurs between May - October. Best times to visit will be between November - April when it is relatively dry and warm. We found the humidity levels in Laos much much lower than back home in Malaysia. All the sun minus the sweat!

Vientiane


This was really just a stop for us to meet, as Luang Prabang was the highlight of our journey. As the capital and economic centre of Laos, it wasn't very touristy but we managed to grab some delicious local food and a massage after our flight. 


Pho Zap, Vientiane
Located on Rue Phai Nam, this pho place is housed in the owner's personal mansion.Nevertheless, the pho was so satisfying and had its own Lao twist to it. 

 

And oh God these spring rolls. I can eat them every day. 

Our palates were further enticed with local food, when our local friends invited us to Chao Anouvong Tennis Club for authentic Lao cuisine. Part of the dishes was also some cured meat all the way from Europe! 

Of course, what would a trip to Laos be if you don't drink as much Beerlao as you can. 

Vang Vieng



Our pitstop before Luang Prabang was Vang Vieng, a town 4 hours away from Vientiane. Upon arriving at our hotel, Inthira Vang Vieng, we were blown away by the magnificent views right outside our rooms. In the day, we lounged by the open terrace facing the river whilst we watch kayakers kayak past us. In the evening, low flying hot air balloons breezes past us and children play in the water. It is  nothing short of magical.The hotel itself was immaculate, well designed and extremely comfortable. (Hello exposed concrete everywhere). 




Activities: 
Notable activities you could do in Vang Vieng include but not limited to kayaking, cave exploring, blue lagoon, zip lining, hot air balloon ride, rock climbing and tubing down the river. 

Due to time constraints, we chose to go with tubing down the Nam Song river. If you are as confused as I was as to what tubing is, it is basically riding down the river in a tyre. To get upstream, we rode in a large tuk tuk through bumpy roads, unloaded our tyres and were left to ourselves to float back to our hotel. Waterproof bags can be purchased by street vendors, but beware, they may not be 100% waterproof! 


Halfway through our float, this local pupper came down into the river to join us! It was the most adorable moment, as he seemed to be afraid we were drowning and tried to swim towards us. Tubing took us a whole 4 hours and our entire morning. Also, don't forget sunscreen!!


Albeit fun, I was left sick and severely dehydrated by the end of it. Therefore I didn't get to join my fam when they went for a dip at Blue Lagoon. Another destination highly recommended by our local friends. 

Luang Prabang 
Our journey to Luang Prabang took another 4 hours through mountainous roads with little to no visibility at one point. This town is officially my favourite town in Laos at the moment. Luang Prabang is situated right on the Mekong river where you can enjoy views of long-tail boats floating downstream and children and buffalos playing in the water by the evening. The bamboo bridge also lights up at night, making it a super romantic place to go in the evenings. 


Accommodation:
Seriously guys, if you are visiting Luang Prabang, stay at MyLaoHome Hotels which was strategically located by the main street near the popular Joma Bakery. Not only is it very centrally located (less than 5 mins walk to the night market and Mekong River), it is housed in the prettiest UNESCO protected buildings which maintains the fushion architecture from the French colonization era. Staff were exceptionally friendly and were always there to provide us everything we need. They were also quick to provide recommendations on where to eat, and booking tour packages has never been this easy! They have tour packages for the adventurous, the foodie, and for guests who simply want to take it easy. They are still expanding and will soon have more concept rooms! 


Getting around: 
Motorcycles and bicycles are the best way to get around the town, and tuk tuk/car+driver hire for anything outside. We hired a bicycle and cycled all around town! The road along the river is my favourite part as there are fewer cars and it is a one-way street. What I noticed about culture and people in Luang Prabang is that everyone is SO LAID BACK. Like literally, here I am, a noob cyclist cycling in the middle of the street possibly causing a mini jam, and yet the locals just simply tag along behind me. No cars honking, no angry people, nothing. It's the best. 

It is also the best mode of transport to visit the local attractions and randomly chance upon beautiful temples.


Food :
Obviously, no trip is complete without good food and Luang Prabang did not disappoint. What I love about Luang Prabang's cafes is that it is not pretentious, nor is it trying to be cool. Most of them are situated along the main street in heritage timber built buildings, serving delicious French-Lao pastries and coffee. No marble tables, no extremely insta-worthy walls. Just simple but good food.  

Joma Bakery
This French-Canadian cafe is one of the most popular in Luang Prabang. With two strategic locations, it is the perfect place to rest your tired feet after a day of cycling and enjoy some delicious pastries with an Asian twist, like this one oat crusted French toast with freshly sliced mango. Oh hello, foodgasm. 


The Living Crafts Centre by Ock Pop Tok 

Ock Pop Tok is an organisation that showcases Lao's unique culture through textiles and crafts. They are one of the pioneers in social businesses and ethical fashion, by providing local villagers with training and education in local crafts such as cotton weaving and silk dyeing which not only provides a sustainable livelihood to their families but also acts as an educational centre for visitors to learn about the traditions in Laos. We walked around the compound and got to witness silk weaving and Hmong batik painting. The centre also offers classes for silk weaving and dyeing, as well as a moonlight cinema on selected days. Easily a place to spend a whole day at! Lunch at the living crafts centre was easily one of my favourites. 




We were seated by the river and were served dishes made from local ingredients. One of the most memorable as this crispy river weed, that is paired with purple rice and an almost-like sambal paste. Of course, beer Lao all day every day. 


One other drink that I suggest everyone drink every day, is FRUIT JUICES. Like seriously, the fruits in Laos are massive and sweet. The mango juice we ordered came with a bamboo straw as well, a nod to the environment and promoting sustainability. Also, if you are an avocado fan, drink avocado juice in Laos. The avocados here are so big and juicy, and vendors don't scrimp on giving you the best value.


Secret Kitchen/Secret Pizza

OK like this is the worst kept secret ever because a simple google search on this will tell you it is the best pizza in Laos, or possibly South East Asia. You must be thinking, why would I go all the way to South East Asia to eat Italian food? Well, first of all, if I haven't already mentioned, it is really the best lasagna and avocado juice I've had in a while. This is another gem located down a super bumpy and dark road in the middle of somewhere (ok its actually the dead end of soi 3 Off Highway 13 Nasamphanh Village). It is only open on Tuesdays and Fridays, by a Lao-Italian couple in their own backyard, so don't forget to reserve your seats early! When we arrived, it was bustling with both locals and expats. A basketball court and a treehouse-like area to entertain the children, and a wood-fired brick oven at the back where the power couple personally baked each dish. Don't forget to call ahead to book the lasagnas as well as they sell out like hot cakes! Or should I say, hot lasagna hahahaha. 



Joy's Restaurant
Situated just behind our accommodation, Joy's restaurant has a Chinese twist to it. Lucky for us, we had local contacts that prepared us some amazing roast pork which we had with our meal at Joy's. While at Joy's, take some time to admire the amazing photography that hangs from the walls of the restaurant. 


I can't quite remember where we cycled to, nor what this dish is called, but my dad loves it. It is almost like the Chinese chee-cheong-fun (steamed rice roll) with egg fillings topped with peanuts 


Saffron Cafe


An Australian owned speciality coffee which you can slowly sip on the river patio. They serve all types of coffee from cold drips to Aeropress. Also spotted this super true quote for any coffee snob out there. I ship. 

"There is a time and place for decaf. Never and in the trash"
La Banneton

Simple, no frills sort of delicious French breakfast. 


Activities: 

Kuangsi Falls
29km South of Luang Prabang is the amazing Kuangsi Falls. To get there, you'd have to drive through rumbling roads and little villages along the Mekong River. For 20,000kip ($2.4 USD), not only do you get a massage under the cascading three levelled falls, you also get to hike to the top, and support a bear sanctuary. There is supposedly a secret pool on the hike to the top, but I didn't have shoes on (my thongs broke zz) we didn't get to do that. It was really convenient as there are toilets and change rooms inside. 

We climbed up to mid-fall and just enjoyed being in the cool water surrounded by fish who gave us a free foot spa. It got very busy around 3pm, but we stayed till closing (around 5pm), and it was really nice to have the pools to ourselves. 


Nam Dhong Park
After another bumpy ride from Luang Prabang, we were greeted by the sight of lush gardens and wooden gazebos. Activities in Nam Dhong park include a bee garden, hiking trails through woods and garden patches, as well as waterfalls. Our main attraction was the zipline. We chose the longer zipline (120,000k) for 6 stations. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves despite 6 stations being quite short. The staff were skilled and prepared. Whenever we got stuck, they were quick to react despite not speaking a word of English. The views from up top were also way better. After the last platform, the guide produced bottle waters from a bag we didn't even notice him carrying, and it is a 10 minute trek back to the starting point. 


Mount Phousi sunrise and alms giving ceremony

We made a point to wake up early one morning before sunrise (5.30AM) to watch the monk procession. Visitors and believers can purchase sticky rice from the vendors along the streets to give to the monks who will walk past. What made it heartwarming was seeing the monks passing on the food they received to poor children on the streets. 

Right after that, we headed to Mount Phousi to watch the sunrise. A short walk up several stairs will give you a panoramic view of Luang Prabang and the Mekong River. Very worth it in my opinion!


Night Market

We were literally here every single night. I loved it. Not only do you get to purchase locally made goods, there was also some amazing street food and juices. AVO 4 LIFE 


Sunset cruise

A relaxing cruise on a long-tailed boat down the Mekong River. We were able to see buffalos wading in the water, children bathing and local life along the banks of the river. Also, mad sunset views.



Utopia Restaurant and Bar

We cycled along the UNESCO brick path to this bar which had the cutest patio overlooking the river. Yoga and volleyball are one of the few activities held here. We didn't dine nor drink here but I would love to come back!


Due to time constraints we didn't manage to do all the touristy and noteworthy things in Luang Prabang, but I'll be back for Pak Ou Caves, Tad Sae Falls and the Elephant Camp!


Till then, I'm home in Melbourne now, awaiting my next adventure. I've still got a backlog of posts from Europe, Bangkok and NZ but I can't wait to be in the air again.

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