Last year in December my family and I spent a month in Laos and Cambodia. We have travelled quite extensively in South East Asia but had never managed to fit these in before and we are really glad we did it this time.
We took the sleeper train from Bangkok to Nong Khai and took the bus over the Thai-Lao friendship bridge – it was then an easy 22km taxi ride to Vientiane. We were all charmed by this city, the tourist area is a very compact and next to the Mekong River and it is sleepy and friendly and easy to wander around in. We had a few days there and there are a few temples and a museum but the real pleasure was just ambling from café to café. The French settled the city and they have left the legacy of fantastic bakeries and stylish restaurants. We had some truly amazing food. For the shoppers there is a small night market there and some lovely antique shops.
From Vientiane we travelled with a guide/driver to Vang Vieng. The public transport is very basic and we decided if we went by car we could stop and take photos and explore a little more independently. Laos is a very reasonable countryto travel in so it was a very affordable option. The roads are fascinating (if full of potholes!) all the villages line the road so you get a great insight into the way people live. It is a very traditional lifestyle once you leave Vientiane. Vang Vieng is situated on a river and surrounded by the classic Asian karst hills. There are caves to explore and it is a popular rock climbing area. It is a nice place just to sitin a riverside café and look at the view if you don’t fancy climbing it. You can alsodo some nice short walks or hire a bike while you are there.
It is a very beautiful drive over and through the mountains to Phonsavan. The whole of Laos is very mountainous and the travelling is quite slow but fascinating. The reason to visit Phonsavan is the Plain of Jars – an incredible stone age collection of what is thought to be funeral urns. They are massive and there are a few different sites where you can see them all in quite different settings. This is also where inconceivable amounts of bombs were dropped during the Secret War so you can visit a couple of NGO’s who are clearing unexploded ordinance and even visit a village where they make jewellery and cutlery and the like from salvaged metal from the bombs dropped. It was very sobering but extremely interesting.
From there we travelled to Luang Prabang. This was definitely the most visited part of Laos and more sophisticated because of it. It is a town of temples. It is surrounded by 2 rivers and easily walkable and filled with yet more delicious restaurants and shops and spas. It is gorgeous. We spent a week there and there was plenty to do in that time. We had a lovely traditional teak room overlooking the river and spent hours wandering around the place. There are lots of activitiesin the area, you can go elephant trekking, cruise up the Mekong, see and swim inwaterfalls and my personal favourite was visiting the Sun Bear sanctuary. I also loved the cooking course I did. It is super easy to fly to Luang Prabang if this is the only place in Laos you wanted to visit.