Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng & Vientiane, Laos
Initial Thoughts: Driving into Luang Prabang on the back of a converted pickup truck after two days aboard a boat felt like waking up on a new continent. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang boasts gorgeous French colonial buildings, wide-tree lined avenues and a market selling elaborate baguette sandwiches. It was a world apart from the Asia I’d seen thus far. In a future post, I plan to try to unpack the complex socio-economic impacts of colonialism and development on Laos, but on my first day I simply marvelled at the lovely town and beautifully untouched natural surroundings.
Best Moments: My memories of Laos come to me in shades of green and blue. They invariably take place out of doors in the baking heat of Laos in autumn. I vividly remember climbing to top Mount Phu Si in the centre of Luang Prabang and relishing the view of the rolling green hills until the sunset over the Mekong River. I find a smile creep across my face when thinking about renting bicycles in Vang Vieng and getting lost along the unmarked, unpaved roads. I can still feel the relief of plunging into the cool, ice-blue waters of the Kuang Si Waterfall pools after a gruelling hike to the top. I can recall the giddy, youthful feeling of freedom that came from tubing down the Nam Song River under a clear blue sky.
Take Away: Having been tempted by a friend to visit only a few days prior to arriving in Laos, I actually knew very little about the country. I hadn’t even glanced at a guide book or read a blog post until stepping foot in Luang Prabang. A quick online search informed me of an infamous town in central Laos where backpacker kids go together for multi-day ragers that frequently ended in death. After spending two days in the company of some less than desirable travel companions (read: drunk), I vowed I would not be visiting the town of Vang Vieng. However on that same boat ride I’d made some lovely new friends with whom I ended up spending the next month and as a group we decided to make a stop in Vang Vieng. Travelling as a group has it’s advantages, not the least of which is you find yourself where you’d never expect to be. I never could have imagined that I would have hiked to remote swimming holes in the base of caves, or swung from a rope swing into the brilliant Blue Lagoon, or enjoyed stopping for a beer while tubing down a rushing river. If I’d never given an apparent party town a chance, I’d never have experienced the allure and appeal of the Laos countryside.
You can see more photos of my time in Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Vang Vieng on the Global Locavore Facebook page!
Now It’s Your Turn: There aren’t too many places left in the world where you can experience untouched splendor, where nature is more pervasive than human structures, where you can imagine life as it once was. Central Laos offers all of those things and more, but it might be remain that way for long. Visit now while you can. Getting around, finding a place to stay and learning a few local words is easy if you have your very own Lonely Planet Laos. I must admit, although I used my Lonely Planet frequently, I didn’t carry around a paperback version but instead used my iPad Mini which came with me everywhere anyways. You can download the e-book version of this guidebook and dozens others so you are always covered on your trips! Trust me the investment is well worth it for the piece of mind and the amazing adventures!