I stayed at this beautiful five-star boutique hotel in Luang Prabang. The surrounding countryside was beautiful, the facilities were amazing and the service was the best I have ever known. They helped us with many day trips and their knowledge about the surrounding area was top notch. I highly recommend this gem.
Across the river from the main town of Vang Vieng are a couple of places which provide cheap bungalow accommodation with hammocks. Even if you're in town for tubing, the all night party noises are not what you want for the duration of your stay. On this side you can relax in your hammock by the river and choose to join in the fun on the other side if and when you're ready instead of having to put up with it.
Google map: bit.ly/MnALlp
A wonderful Lord-of-the-Rings style subterranean adventure, reached by kayak. After climbing to the cave entrance we waded, up to our chests, up a stream flowing out of the cave. Then, lit only by the candles we carried, we followed the guide through passageways to a cathedral-like cavern where people retreated to live during more troubled times. Eventually we scrambled up towards a point of light to emerge higher up the tree-covered hillside. Not for the faint-hearted!
Enquire in one of the tour/trip offices in Vang Vieng / Luang Prabang, or www.greendiscoverylaos.com/
A book exchange in a tiny alley by the Royal Palace. Enjoy perusing the shelves filled with books that have travelled as much as those looking for a new read. After selling your used and buying your new, retire to the bean bags in the upstairs snug cinema where you can lounge with the Laotian teen staff while supping on chai and chips. A welcome retreat from the weeks of rice based meals.
Ban Xieng Mouane Old Town, opposite the eastern wing of the Royal Palace.
Google map: bit.ly/aVM3Lh
This eco-tourism project is situated in the jungle of Laos in order for villagers and elephants to live alongside each other happily and generate an income from tourists. Guides from the local village can take you on a two day trek to the elephant observation tower where you spend the night after eating a tradition meal cooked by the guides. This is a wonderful experience for those who want to get off the tourist trail.
Take the bus from the southern bus station in Vientiane to Ban Phakhan Km 8.
1 - Don't let the staff at the GPO put stamps on for you. Put the stamps on yourself, check the amounts, watch them be canceled. When I neglected this, then insisted on getting my letters back to check, she charged more than what she'd stuck on.
2 - ATM's charge fees but they don't all warn about it, eg bcel. Best value is ANZ, as it charges a standard 20,000 flat fee, but has a higher withdrawal limit.
3 - If you're going to the Thai embassy, don't forget ID pictures and two Xerox, one of the photo page of your passport and one of your current Laos visa. There's a Xerox in the Thai embassy, with the powerlead mysteriously missing and little booths just outside just waiting to rip you off!
4. it is possible to get a visa of Vietnam in Vientiane at the Vietnamese Embassy, the price is 45 USD, however, you can bargain to 35 USD.
They say it takes longer if you pay $35 instead of $45, but it is ready when you stop by a couple of days later. however, you are advised to get a visa at Vietnam embassy in UK www.vietnamembassy.org.uk before you go.
5. While in the Vietnamese Embassy area, you can look at their Arc di Triomphe: www.travelblog.org/Photos/1744610 and on to the temple complex area a few thousand feet up that road.
Amazing boutique hotel - with a dreamy landscape worthy of the best honeymoon vacation ever. The present general manager is a wonderful gentleman with a wealth of knowledge about Asia - he recommended going on the boat and arranged a lunch on a remote island for me and my partner. I was swept away by the service, the gold dust in the river and the wonderful Laotians!
This is a community website run by some locals and expats. I discovered it while in Vientiane and think it's probably the best online guide to Vientiane that there is. As its run by locals, the what's on guide is very up-to-date and it shows a lot of things that only locals know about - i.e., stuff not in the Lonely Planet.
Family run guesthouse, which delivers a lot for very little outlay. We had a double room with en-suite and balcony overlooking the river for about $5/night. We opted for no air con but had overhead fan which was more than enough. White painted walls and dark wood fixtures and fittings, and tiled floors help to keep everything cool. Good comfortable beds and everything was very clean. It's probably a good fifteen minute walk into the centre of Luang Prabang, but it's enjoyable and you get to see things you wouldn't normally!
The bathroom was clean too, although they didn't clean the room or bathroom everyday you only had to ask. However, the shower/water supply was a little tempremental, but with patience and a little tweaking all was fine!
The hosts supplied a free meal once a week, which we managed to have two of! Very friendly atmosphere and the meal gave us the opportunity to meet other travellers who were of all ages and backgrounds. Free fruit and water (safe to drink) for all. Breakfast and evening meals available and there are soft drinks and beer too!
Laundry service available although like any good traveller you can still do a little of your own!
There is a curfew in Luang Prabang which if I remember correctly starts at 11.00pm, so the owners will lock the gates somewhere around then. We were late back one night but they waited up for us.
You get about 4-6 small light planes over everyday, but they don't cause too much disturbance.
Great place to stay, highly recommend it, don't forget to remove your shoes on the way in!
East part of town five minutes walk from Wat Visoun and south from Phousi Hill. Walk down small road/alleyway and Cold River Guesthouse is situated at the bottom on the righthand side. Location is right on the Nam Khan River. Accessible by foot or tuk tuk!
Viengchampa is a tour operator based in Vientiane with links all over the country. They organised a trip I took in southern Laos in September 2008 very efficiently. I only had a few days to spare and wanted to get a reasonable overview of the southern provinces without the hassle of organising it myself and Viengchampa were great. They use local guides who really know the area and all of them spoke good English and were very competent. Everything happened pretty much when they said it would and they were flexible enough to allow stops whenever a place looked interesting. Highly recommended.
We stayed the night in the village of Kong Lor,shared a meal with the villagers and experienced the baci ceremony, a ritual of offerings, prayer and mutual good wishes.
Early next morning we went with the villagers to the local temple, where a solitary monk accepted our alms and rice and blessed us in return. It was peaceful and moving.
We climbed into long, thin motorised canoes for a half-hour journey upstream to one of the most fabulous natural attractions of this delightful country. In the mouth of a cave, the boatmen switched on their head torches and we puttered slowly into darkness, the black water of the river sliding beneath us. In the past, the local people thought the tunnel led into the bowels of the earth – until they noticed ducks appearing from the cave, clearly emanating from an upper rather than a nether-world. Brave men had ventured boldly into the cave, paddling upstream for an astonishing seven kilometres to emerge in a river gorge at the far end.
Half-way along, we stopped at a sandy river beach and scrambled into the caves to peer at the ancient rock formations. At the other end of the tunnel the boatmen dragged the canoes through shallow rapids and light beckoned us into the gorge and soon into farmland. We ate lunch – duck stew – at the village the other side of the cave.
I travelled there with Viengchampa tours, who did a great job throughout my trip in Southern Laos.
The delightful Kingfisher Lodge, near Pakse, is a lovely place. For once, it's an eco-lodge which isn’t just a case of greenwash – they really do everything possible to minimise their carbon footprint, from using low-wattage light-bulbs to installing their own rainwater storage tanks. The lodges look out over flooded paddy fields, with hammocks so you can lie back and enjoy the scenery.
From there, you can take an elephant up Mount Phou Asa, a forested outcrop standing up above the plains where black columns of flat stones are all that’s left of a former temple. After gently swaying up a forested track, we descended from the elephant to explore the smooth rock summit, amongst rain-fed pools and tranquil groves and the temple pillars. Birds flit back and forth and, looking outwards, the plains stretch far into the distance.
The Sala Savanh is a former colonial building pleasantly converted into an atmospheric small hotel, with time-darkened wooden floors and chairs on balconies round the upper-floor rooms. I stayed two nights here in September 2008.
There’s also a surprisingly good choice of restaurants in the town, perhaps a legacy from the French colonial period: we ate at a charming restaurant on the main square one night and on the next at a floating restaurant on the Mekong, outlined in coloured lights and bobbing gently with the swell of the river.
Savannakhet itself is one of the former ports along the mighty Mekong, which flows north to south through Laos. These provincial towns are just emerging from the somnolence of post-colonialism and the economic straitjacket of Communism, and – as with Luang Prabang – retain many of their fine, French-era buildings.
It's a small, boutique style hotel right on the Mekong. The rooms are invididually decorated - very individual in some cases, with the bath/shower right in the bedroom. It has tea and coffee and a fridge, the rooms are spacious, and it's all very comfortable, with free wifi access. It's just a short walk from the centre of town and from lots of riverside cafes.
What a fantastic booklet. It gives so much information about making the most of your holiday and doing something worthwhile.
We did loads of the stuff recommended in it and it helped us meet local people and ensure that our money was going to worthwhile places.
For example: teaching locals to read English (Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang - fantastic place!).
If you fancy a massage, go to the Red Cross in Luang Prabang. It's not luxury - none of your scented candles here - but a great massage and all the money goes to the Red Cross. The brave can even donate blood.
Stay Another Day Laos is available in guesthouses, travel agents, bars, restaurants - all over the place.
Thai cookery - been there done that? Why not try Lao? Different enough from Thai to feel like a real adventure.
Great Lao guys teaching you to cook Lao food! $25 for the day, go to the market in the morning, cook all day then eat what you've prepared (washed down with a Beer - Lao of course!)
I thought it was one of the best value things we did in Laos. We cooked chicken laap (salad), coconut curry and jeow (chilli jam-paste-type thing) which required 50 chillis for a 2-person serving!
And can absolutely agree with the tip about the Tamarind Cafe. We ate the 'beer snacks' there and came back for more pretty quickly! Carolyn was fantastic and really helped with finding a cookery course. They do pretty advanced stuff at their school (and we are amateurs!) so she recommended Three Elephants.
It's advertised all over the place - you can't miss it. If you do, enquire in the Three Elephants Cafe or Tamarind cafe. Have some beer snacks while you're there!
Laos is a mountainous and landlocked country located in the centre of Indochina. It has common borders with China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Laos is 236,800 sq. km in land area, the major part being mountainous and forested. Geographically, the country is divided into three areas: the North, the Central and the Southern parts.
Laos is an adventurer’s paradise, offering treks to off the beaten track destinations that few tourists get to. It’s a country that receives relatively few visitors and that is one reason why it is so special and why we love it.
The kingdom of Lan Xang (Laos) was founded in the mid-14th century and ruled by Buddhist Thai. At the northern capital, Luang Prabang, the influence of the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai predominated; in the southern capital, Vientiane, a mixture of Ayutthaya and Khmer motives prevailed.
Jeow Bong is a smoky chilli and garlic paste traditionally made with buffalo hide. But Tamarind cafe - brilliant place - make a non-meat version which you can bring back to the UK without lawbreaking.
I just wish that I'd carried more jars of it home.
Pork candyfloss sounds vile, but is good. It's actually quite like a fluffy biltong. You can't ship it home so eat up while you're in Laos.
Tamarind will also organise morning trips to the market to look at the amazing variety of fruit and vegetables and also be grossed out by pig skin masks at the butchers.
Carolyn (who jointly runs Tamarind with her boyfriend Joy) is a fount of food knowledge.
Ban Wat Nong, Luang Prabang
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