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20 Laos Moments That'll Make It The Asian Road Trip Of Your Life


An undiscovered wonderland

 

Mention you’re travelling Laos to your family, your neighbours, your friends, and they'll all have the same reaction: “Huh? Why are you going to a third world country?! Isn’t it very dangerous?”

To be fair, prior to this trip, I barely knew where Laos was on the map, let alone what to expect. With zero expectations on how we would spend the next 8 days in a country I knew less than 10 things about, we were in for a whirl of a time.

We embarked on a road trip through Laos, starting from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. On the road, we found 20 coolest things to do, that made us go ‘Wah-Lao’ so many times.

Before we delve into it, take a look at our travel video here:

 

Luang Prabang

 

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, this city of life and vibrancy is best known for its cascading waterfalls, Mekong River and the core city of Laos for culture and history. Located north of Laos, Luang Prabang has plenty to offer to the world.

 

1. Cruise past rustic villages along the 12th longest river in the world

 

If you have the luxury of time, stop by the Mekong River for a calming 1-hour cruise. It looks underwhelming in pictures, but like the Grand Canyon, the beauty of the Mekong River can't be adequately captured in pixels.

Audrey’s expression of sheer joy perfectly captured how all of us felt upon setting sail.

Not only was it an eye opener to watch life go on in the villages by the Mekong River, we were showered with hospitality, with locals waving and smiling warmly as we passed.

The best thing about the hour-long journey for me was the cool wind blowing in our faces as we drifted down the river - it's nothing like what we can experience back home. Plus, bragging rights for sailing along the world's 12th longest river. The Singapore River's got nothing on this.

Grab the opportunity to do a little photoshoot on the boat with your travel buddies as well - make full use of your time on board!

 

2. Free a bird at sunset at the peak of Mount Phousi

 

First, you'll have to conquer 326 steps...

... and you'll be rewarded with this view from 150 meters above the city centre!

After an arduous 30 minute climb up to the peak of Mount Phousi, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view across the city and its neighbouring mountain peaks.Give this iconic place a visit when the golden hour strikes for a picturesque shot that will make all your followers on Instagram jealous.

It got relatively packed at the top at 5.45 PM, as people from all walks of life patiently waited for the sun to set. As we Singaporeans know, arrive slightly earlier - but not 8 hours before - to chope the best seats you can get.

Both at the base and the peak, small birds are sold in wooden cages for a few dollars by the locals. The Laotians believe that freeing a bird is an act of blessing - the joy of setting a bird free will reward you with good luck!

Address: Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang, Laos
Opening Hours: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Admission Fee: 20,000 Kip ($3.50 SGD)

 

3. Decode curious inscriptions at the Buddhist Caves of Pak Ou

 

Located 25km away from Luang Prabang itself, the Pak Ou caves are a stop you should not miss for a wholesome cultural experience, even if you’re not a Buddhist.

Furthermore, these caves are only accessible via boat, making them extra exclusive!

There are two different caves in this area. Tam Ting, the lower caves, contain over 4000 figurines sprinkled among the caves. Well lit with sufficient sunlight in the lower caves, it's easy to navigate around Tam Ting without difficulty.

The upper caves, Cave Tham Phum, is completely different. With a smaller array of Buddha statues and prayer altars around the cave, there are curious inscriptions carved along its walls you can try to make sense of.

It’s so dark inside, you’ll need a torchlight to guide your way through. The light from your mobile phone works, but something stronger is recommended. If required, torchlights can be rented for 8,000 Kip ($1.40 SGD) at the entrance of the cave.

The 60m climb up will take you about 5 to 10 minutes one way.

Address: Pak Ou Caves, Luang Prabang, Laos
Operating Hours: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Cave Admission Fees: 20,000 Kip ($3.50 SGD)
Boat Fees: From 65,000 Kip ($11.20 SGD), depending on provider

 

4. Have a glimpse of Mekong’s ‘Kampung Life’ at Ban Muangkham

 

To get to the Pak Ou caves, we had to board a cruise upstream the Mekong River.

About 30 minutes from where we were based in Luang Prabang, we arrived at a small village where we could watch the locals go about their daily activities. Throughout the entire time we were there, we observed the immense amount of patience the locals had.

We were warmly greeted with ‘Sabaidee’ by this man (above). Throughout our time at the village, he was sitting along the steps, patiently waiting for someone to return. Right before we took off for the caves, he finally got up to help his wife carry the goods she brought back home via boat with a smile.

Heartwarming on so many levels.

 

5. Buy local handicraft back for your friends from the Handicraft Night Market

 

For all of the three nights we spent in Luang Prabang, there was not one night we could go without visiting the night market. We never failed to uncover something new and interesting to buy each night. Audrey even picked out a whole bunch of silk scarves to bring home!

This market mostly caters to tourists and handicraft lovers. You can find patterned silk scarfs, blankets, wooden bowls, unique garments, lanterns, and accessories here.

With heavily Thai-inspired products, the Handicraft Market brought forth the shopaholics in us. It was mildly dangerous for our wallets as we were stopping at every single stall even 20 meters from the entrance, haggling for the best prices we could get.

One thing we learnt from shopping waaay too much? Always bargain. The vendors are ready for you with their "armor" (aka calculators), so expect a fair bit of haggling.

The Laos generally quote you in Kip, their local currency, however you can ask for a price in dollars (USD) as well. 8,000 Kip is the equivalent of $1 US Dollar, or SG$1.40.

This is the place to go for a satisfying shopping spree. Located at the foot of Mount Phousi, you have to visit the night market after catching the sunset.

Address: Sisavangvong Rd, Alley Behind Lao National Tourism Office, Luang Prabang, Laos
Operating Hours: 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm

 

6. Outdo yourself by trying snake/scorpion Whiskey for the first time

 

Snake or Scorpion whiskey for you?

Animals are soaked in these unique drinks, supposedly imbuing the drinks with their spirits. Looking at them, I couldn’t help but feel creepily intrigued with this form of art and culture.

You can find these "delicacies" at the Handicraft Night Market.

Address: Sisavangvong Rd, Alley Behind Lao National Tourism Office, Luang Prabang, Laos
Operating Hours: 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm

 

7. Customise your Laos street food experience

 

Lao street food is so simple YET SO GOOD.

We were craving pho on the plane enroute to Luang Prabang, which was greatly satisfied by a homely bowl of noodles consumed by the roadside. The thing about Noodle Soup in Laos is that you're served a standard bowl of noodles with a light chicken broth, along with a tray of raw vegetables, lime, chilli, and condiments for you to alter to taste.

Best part of it all? It was only SG$3 per bowl. SCORE. Food prices in Laos are comparable to that of Singapore as Laos is a landlocked region, meaning their ingredients have to be imported, incurring higher costs for foodstall owners.

This store can be found at the entrance of the Handicraft Night Market. It’s unassuming, but can be easily identified by the number of people sitting at short tables slurping away.

Slightly further up from the noodle store, we found an outdoor buffet stall. Take your pick from all sorts of Lao cuisine, from various types of vegetables to meat dishes, for only 10,000 Kip (SG$1.70) per plate!

Some snacks we found ourselves munching on while strolling through the market included freshly made crepes, Khao Nom Kok (Laos coconut cakes), and brightly sprinkled donuts!

Devouring these piping hot delicacies in 18 degree weather made me feel like my life was complete. We could have gone for seconds and thirds - impossible as it sounds, a thick spread of nutella combined with an abundant serving of banana tastes better than it sounds.

These delicacies can be found throughout the Handicraft Night Market.

Address: Sisavangvong Rd, Alley Behind Lao National Tourism Office, Luang Prabang, Laos
Operating Hours: 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm

 

8. Tuck into a hearty meal of Lao Cuisine

 

While many restaurants in Laos offer western meals to cater to tourists, we were determined to break out of our comfort zones and try authentic Lao cuisine. We came to this country with zero expectations of Lao cuisine, considering how little we knew of the country.

We were pleasantly surprised at how good everything was. Dishes were pretty standard everywhere we went. There were a handful of choices for meat dishes, from chicken to pork and duck to beef, to non-meat options of pineapples, ginger, cashew nuts, onion, and curry.

While most restaurants were all similar, each had its own unique taste. Heartwarming and homely, each restaurant made us feel like we were stepping in a different home.

As the fish used in Lao food mainly come freshly caught from the Mekong River, there's no lack of fish dishes. Deep fried, steamed, grilled, or in soup, it was all up to us.

One meal averaged out to be around $28 SGD in total for a table of 4 to 5 dishes, sufficient for 4 people, with rice and drinks included.

One restaurant you have to visit when you’re in Luang Prabang is Lamache Restaurant.

Our driver recommended this place to us, and boy, no ragrets. One step out from the van and we were astonished at how quiet and chill it was. Plus, an amazing view of the Mekong River as we had lunch!

The chicken soup was amazing, and portions were huge.

The dessert was a star on its own.

Not only did the amount of rice shock us, the condensed milk-infused sticky rice was a hit. We recommend this dish for sharing though, too much of it might make you feel a little gelat.

In all, it cost the four of us SG$26 for an extravagant meal, drinks included. It’s not dirt cheap, but is no more expensive to the standard prices in Laos.

Lamache Restaurant
Address: Ban Phakham, Luang Prabang, Laos
Contact Number: 020 55570693

 

9. Relive the olden days at the King’s former home

 

Built in 1904, this historical building used to house the King of Luang Prabang in the olden days. Now, it stands tall as a home of culture and the arts. This place was only converted into a museum after the monarchy was overthrown by the communists in 1975.

I fell in love with the intricacy of the building structure. With everything handcrafted from scratch during a time of no machines, this was impressive.

Note: no photography is allowed within the museum.

Royal Palace Museum
Address: Th Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang, Laos
Operating Hours: 8:00 am -11:30 am & 1:30 pm - 4:00 pm, Wed-Mon, last entry 3:30 pm
Admission Fee: 30,000 Kip ($5 SGD)

 

10. Soak in the unreal, turquoise waters of Kuang Si Waterfall

 

You haven’t really visited Luang Prabang if you haven’t stepped foot in the Kuangsi Waterfall Park.

Pictures aside, this place is so so so gorgeous.

The entire park is filled with shallow pools located all over for you to take a dip in, with a few pools closed for religious purposes. The falls are made of three tiers, with each building up to the steepest of them all with a 60m drop.

The turquoise waters are exactly this shade of blue in real life.

We visited the falls on a cool day, with temperatures hitting an average of 20 to 23 degrees celsius throughout the day. The water was freeeeeezing. Plan your trip down on a warmer day for the perfect temperature as you feel the warmth of the sun hitting your skin as the coolness from the waterfall cooling you down.

For bringing ‘Wah-Lao’ to the next level, 10/10 would visit again.

Address: Kuang Si Falls, Louangphabang, Laos
Operating Hours: 8:00 am - 5:30 pm
Admission Fee: 20,000 Kip ($3.50 SGD)

 

11. Tuk tuk your way around Luang Prabang

 

Like in Cambodia and Thailand, riding a tuk tuk is one of the easiest ways to get around Luang Prabang. Not only is it convenient and quick, prices can always be negotiated. The tuk tuks in Laos also feel safer and are more spacious! Bid goodbye to the cramped, dodgy tuk tuks you are so acquainted with.

Tip: always agree on a set price with your driver before you set off!

 

Xieng Khouang

 

Commonly known for being the scene of many bomb attacks during the 1960s, Xieng Khouang is also popular among those visiting the Plain Of Jars as a stopover town.

 

12. Discover mysterious relics from up to 500 BC at Plain of Jars

 

Several thousand mysterious clay jars dating back to 500BC can be found at Plain of Jars.

From Luang Prabang, we took off by van to our next destination: Xieng Khouang. Travelling in Laos via road is not as easy as you think - the van swerved around the twisty and rocky mountainous route, occasionally driving over potholes and beds of rocks for around 7 hours.

But, boy, was the Lao-ng drive worth all that and more. Having set off from Luang Prabang early in the morning to get to the Plain of Jars in time for the golden hour, we prepared to spend a good hour or more exploring and snapping pictures.

The Plain of Jars has a secret history that archaeologists are still trying to uncover. With thousands of life-sized clay jars spread out across more than 90 sites, local legends suggest that a race of giants once inhabited the land. As the legends go, the jars were made to store his alcohol to celebrate victory after a long and fierce war.

Unfortunately, the Plain of Jars is better known these days for being heavily bombed in World War 2. Not for strategic reasons, but because bombers had to drop unused munitions before returning to their base. It’s beautiful how a land of destruction and so much pain can be so transformed into an iconic site worth conserving and marvelled at after more than 50 years.

As we made our descent, the sky transformed from a light blue hue to one with more than 80 shades of orange and red. Absolutely gorgeous.

Do take note to stay close to the paths marked out, as there are still unexploded bombs in the area up to this day.

Address: Plain of Jars, Site 1, Phonsavan, Laos

 

13. Witness how groceries are done at the Laotian market

 

Unsurprisingly, there’s no such thing as having an air conditioned market in Laos. Walking through the local market here didn’t just remind me of the wet markets we have back home - the way locals sold their produce was also eye-opening.

Locals, store owners and shoppers alike held a very friendly connection with each other. There were glimmers of warmth in their eyes, and a simple hello brought out the smiles in their eyes and on their faces in an instant.

Like what we've come to expect in Laos, the pace of life in the market was slow and calming. While the chatter in the air never stopped, there was a wave of calmness in the air.

Address: Central Market, Phonsavan, Laos

 

14. See the Enduring Buddha statue that has braved 3 wars of history

 

Considering the 3 wars this UNESCO site has gone through since it was built, it's a considerable achievement that the Enduring Buddha remains strong even till today. Originally housed within a Buddhist temple that was destroyed in the 14th century, the Buddha has survived a Chinese invasion, the Indochina war, and World War 2.

All four walls of the temple have been destroyed over and over, with the floor full of rubble. Take one look and you'll know how much this place has gone through over the centuries.

Highly revered by locals and tourists alike, the Enduring Buddha's maintenance is supported by donations.

It's common to see locals and visitors alike come here for prayer. Having survived so much, it’s no wonder the locals deem this as a very special Buddha.

Address: Wat Phia Wat, Xieng Khouang, Laos

 

15. Savour a delicious meal atop a mountain

 

I can check off having lunch at the peak of the mountain on my bucket list now. Sipping on hot yummy chicken soup with the cool wind blowing in our faces is one of the best feelings ever.

Each dish was fantabulous. And it’s not even because we were starving - the fried chicken was one of best I’ve ever had.

Plus, you have to make full use of this captivating view and capture enough #ootd shots to last you a year. Your followers will fall in lao-ve with your Instagram feed.

Address: Phatang Mountain View Point, Vang Vieng

 

Vang Vieng

 

Backpackers frequent this town for the outdoor activities. While Vang Vieng itself is tiny, many venture out to the Blue Lagoon and surrounding caves for their doses of adrenaline rush.

 

16. Fly through the forest, padi fields, and a sparkling blue lagoon

 

Climb a really steep staircase up the mountain to get to the start of the zipline.

Ziplining a grand distance of 12 platforms across 1 km was such a surreal experience.

You get to zip down two separate courses - through the trees and across padi fields, and the Blue Lagoon.

Forget all preconceptions of ziplines and adventure obstacle courses you’ve experienced in OBS or at Sentosa. This is a real zipline.

Anything to do with insane heights and a lack of balance usually doesn’t sit well with me, but this path proved more exhilarating than I expected. You won't regret getting over the mental barrier of zipping down like the wind.

The entire zipline experience will not be complete without the slight challenge of crossing an obstacle course.

Stretch your arms open wide and soar like an eagle!

Warning: Not for the faint of heart.

After all the flying from point to point, there’s no way to get down from the platform other than to jump. Into a mattress.

Some say this is the best part, and others will gladly jump down with huge smiles on their faces, but nope, I arrived at the base camp in tears. Attempt this only if you have the guts to, or the instructors might just have to carry you off the platform.

Address: Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng, Laos
Admission Fee: 250,000 Kip ($43 SGD)

 

17. Go tree-trunk diving into clear turquoise waters

 

Yes, this place is real. We literally stood still as our jaws dropped when we first laid eyes on this lake.

There’s nothing better than taking a leap of faith and jumping right straight into the ice cold turquoise waters for a once in a lifetime experience. There are three ways to enter the water: swing in from the side, or jump from either of the tree's branches.

Address: Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng
Admission Fee: 10,000 Kip ($1.70 SGD)

 

18. Embrace the simplicity of a local Hmong Village

 

A rustic entrance to the village.

A short drive away from the city centre of Vang Vieng, we stopped by a local village to explore the local culture and immerse ourselves in their daily lives.

It was so refreshing to see how the children of Laos find joy in the simplest of things, whether climbing up a bridge like it's a playground, or the innocent sparks of joy in their eyes when they see a camera.

Our driver, Vone, stopped by one of the houses to purchase some homegrown baby corn for us to try. Slightly sweet to the taste and sticky in terms of texture, the baby corn surprisingly reminded us of rice.

 

Vientiane

 

Vientiane marked the last leg of our trip. The capital of Laos, this city is perfect to visit when you want to slow down and unwind before flying back to Singapore.

 

19. Shop for different types of dried fish at a roadside fish market

 

All the fish sold here are handpicked and dried by locals from the nearby river. An interesting thing to note about this market: every stall seemed to sell exactly the same fish. The only difference between the stores is the taste of the fish - every stall dries their fish with their own medley of ingredients, creating difference within similarity.

 

20. Charter a private boat for a lunch at sea

 

If there was one activity we had to do before we ended our trip, this was it: having our very own boat and having lunch on board.

Order your dishes from the restaurant you board the boat from. The only downside is that you have to wait till all your dishes have arrived before setting sail. We recommend ordering a pot of spicy tom yum soup to accompany your meal. It’s going to be cold and extremely breezy, so a bowl of piping hot soup will keep you warm and hearty inside.

You even get to blast out in classics on board!

All boats will stop over in the middle of the Nam Ngum River for a quick break and photo opportunity. Climb all the way to the top for a great overview of the entire region, and to deeply feel the serenity and peace of Laos.

Address: Nam Ngum River, Laos
Admission Fee: $42 SGD for an hour on the boat, before food.

 

Visiting Laos

 

Laos might seem a world away, tucked under a pile of travel magazines no one has heard of before. It’s not. Instead, it’s one of the most raw and untouched countries in Southeast Asia, just waiting to be discovered.

The next time you plan a holiday, give the usual suspects like Thailand and Vietnam a pass. Be a trendsetter. Embark on a journey of your life and experience travel like you have never before - you won’t regret it.

Getting to Luang Prabang from Singapore is straightforward. Inclusive of a 30 minute transit flight via Vientiane, Luang Prabang is a 5 hour flight away with Lao Airlines. Lao Airlines is a full service carrier and flies 3 times weekly to Luang Prabang on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Alternatively, you can get their ‘Sabaidee Friday’ fare promotion where return tickets are priced from S$100* (*taxes excluded) onwards for Friday departures.

Book your tickets to Luang Prabang now!

If you're feeling lucky, stand a chance to win a pair of return tickets to Luang Prabang on Lao Airlines. Click here to find out more on the contest, air fare and accommodation deals and get double Changi Rewards Points for all bookings to Luang Prabang made between 01- 16 March 2016!


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