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Trip Report Travel Report for Laos - Asia’s Most Relaxed Destination

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Hi,
here you find our Travel Report for our last trips to Laos (November 2014 + re-edited parts on our trip in 2008).
For more information, check: http://grandescapades.net/travel-guide-to-laos/
We have also added a budget part: http://grandescapades.net/budget-guide-to-laos/
And a short selection of pictures: http://grandescapades.net/laos-a-selection-of-43-pictures/#more-3172
Do not hesitate if you have specific questions.
Cheers
Gilles

Itinerary And Time Of The Visit
Our two trips to Laos could not have been more different from each other. In June 2008, during our Round The World Trip, we spent one month in this charming country. We crossed the border from China on foot and started in Luang Nam Tha, where we trekked Luang Nam Tha National Park, then headed for popular Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng & Vientiane. Some of the lesser-known places we visited were Phonsavanh & the Plain of Jars, Kong Lo Cave, Pakse & the Bolaven Plateau and last but not least 4.000 Islands.
In November 2014, Gilles accompanied his father on his “Bucket List Trip” during 10 days in Laos, focusing more on well-trodden paths: Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Phonsavanh and finally Luang Prabang.

Why Travel To Laos?
What immediately amazed us (during both trips) was how green this country is and that we could travel for hours without passing a village. But above all, it was the genuine friendliness of the Lao and their attitude towards their visitors that we found captivating. None of that pushy & constant “buy from me” business that you often see in other countries throughout the world!
The younger backpackers keep spreading the myth that “Laos is what Thailand was 20 years ago”. We think this is certainly not true. Thailand’s many sights were even back then well-known destinations that attracted backpackers and package tourists alike. Whereas Laos has only three places with a fairly developed tourist infrastructure: Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng & now 4.000 Islands, apart from the capital Vientiane. Besides, comparing Laos to Thailand can be misleading. It is enchanting for other reasons. It is very rural and large parts are Off The Beaten Track. During the off-season, you can easily find yourself to be one among a handful of other visitors in such places.
If you stray from the backpacker circuit, traveling can sometimes be time consuming and uncomfortable, but full of lively and often funny experiences. Driving a scooters or motorbike is often the best way to reach an interesting destination. The main activities visitors enjoy in Laos are trekking through the many National Parks, home-stays in remote minority villages, various activities on rivers, a few archeological sites and its stunning Temples or Wats.

Challenges Organizing The Trip - What Would We Have Wished To Know?
Organizing a trip to Laos is quite easy and straightforward. It is actually a fairly easy country to travel. You should keep in mind a few aspects though:
• Take cash! - Euro or USD will get you by far the best exchange rate. If you rely on withdrawing cash from ATMs, keep in mind that you will be fairly limited in each withdrawal - generally less than 200 USD. This might be expensive if you have fix fees on your card, as it is more often than not the case.
• Travel is slow to very slow in Laos - Roads are mostly not in good condition and in the north very windy. So travel time is significant, and trips can be tiring. Plan your itinerary accordingly, and time to rest from the time on the road...

Highlights Of The Trip
• Phonsavanh
o We truly enjoyed exploring the Plain of Jars, and were stunned to hear that the three sites that are mainly visited are only a small part of a large archeological complex. Of the more than 100 sites 77 are actually accessible for visitors with almost 2.000 Jars thrown into the landscape.
o To us, the real highlight was the time spent at the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) office watching the videos and displays. To learn the horrid details about the “Secret War” was overwhelming. Apart from that we drove through villages and even got to see some of the “war scrap architecture”.
o Last but not least, during the trip to Phonsavanh in November 2014, we were lucky enough to be there for the Hmong Festival. We did not even know about it. A fantastic surprise!
• Wat Phu Champasak
This temple is truly amazing, but we especially enjoyed traveling there, crossing the Mekong on a small raft and the location up on the hill with a great view.
• Vientiane
Laos’ very relaxed capital city has a lot to offer and several days are the minimum to enjoy the chilled atmosphere!
• Driving around on a scooter…
… No matter if it was in Luang Nam Tha, Phonsavanh or the region of Pakse, those trips were all a highlight!
• Believe it or not… We truly enjoyed Vang Vieng!
Vang Vieng changed a LOT! During our first trip in 2008, we found it bizarre to observe those young “Adventurers” to Southeast Asia spending their days watching re-runs of Friends on TV or getting drunk while tubing down the river. In the evening, they crowded the Internet cafés bragging about their daily escapades. Nevertheless, even then it was very easy to avoid the party crowd and noise by staying far away from the tiny island.
In 2012, the government started clearing Vang Vieng from the party / booze / drug scene and now is developing the city towards outdoor activities. And there is a lot to do around Vang Vieng: the landscape of karst formations is simply breathtaking and offers various activities, like tubing down the calm river (we loved it!), kayaking, horseback riding, trekking, caving…

How To Go Off The Beaten Track?
Check our website for more information

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