During my 3 month trip there were almost no major incidents which is somewhat remarkable. There was the old man that passed out in the middle of the road between Cambodia and Lao (you can read more about it here), and the trip between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.
This is a relatively short trip (~4h) with a short break in a viewpoint with a truly terrific view over Lao. My trip was done in a new and comfortable minivan full of other tourists. Some people in Vang Vieng earn their life transporting around tourists to/from Luang Prabang. This is probably the most crowded route and place in Lao.
So, what happens when someone threatens your only way to get money to support yourself and your family? Nothing good, right? That’s precisely what happened midway into my journey to Luang Prabang. It is known that people drive like maniacs in Asia, but by now I was already used to it and it was the norm for me now. What I didn’t expect was what came after…
Out of nowhere came a guy driving like a maniac overtaking us. I saw him getting very close, but he didn’t touch our van. It was luck, skill, whatever you want to call it, but it didn’t happen. This made our driver go completely nuts for the next 5 minutes or so, driving like a maniac, trying to overtake back the other van. Eventually he made it, and that was when he suddenly stopped in the middle of the road to block the path of the other van. He then proceeds to grab a Machete that was hidden below the seat and storms out to the other driver. They eventually sorted it out and the other guy never overtook us again.
Despite all of this, I still could enjoy the views between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. It is without a doubt one of the most scenic roads out there.
The city of Luang Prabang is a Unesco World Heritage Site and it’s a wonderful mix of traditional Lao wooden houses and renewed colonial buildings. The city reminded me of Hội An in Vietnam. The cleanliness really stands out and it is probably the place with more Buddhist temples that I’ve been to in Lao.
Luang Prabang is also known for an ancient tradition called Alms Ceremony. Monks walk along the streets at dawn to collect offerings from locals and tourists. This ancient tradition reminded me about the exact same one that I wanted to experience in Bagan (Myanmar), although this one is surrounded by far more controversy. (It is very easy to find information about this online)
On my second day I decided to rent a scooter in order to go to Kuang Si Waterfalls, located ~30km south of Luang Prabang. Renting a scooter was exponentially harder and more expensive than in other places. I had to sign a document and leave my passport for the duration of the day. Regarding the price it cost me ~15$ just for one day.
Right before getting to the waterfalls, but already inside the complex, there is also a Bear sanctuary ran by a NGO, trying to save wild bears that were being used for illegal wildlife trade.
Luang Prabang is the best place to buy souvenirs, there’s a huge daily market in downtown that is impossible to miss. Also, you’ll have a lot of food stalls with fresh fish and lots of Laotian cheap food at night. During the day you can hike around town, but there are not many activities to do.
I really loved walking around town, relaxing while appreciating the beauty of this timeless and beautiful place.
Overall, I had a great time in Luang Prabang, a quite charming and relaxed town where you can easily spend 2/3 days. It is easily the most touristy place in Lao, and that takes away some of the natural beauty, but there’s plenty of small alleys where you can still explore and feel the relaxed vibe.
My next destination was Bangkok. This proved to be a little bit challenging because I needed to go back to the ugly Vientiane in order to cross the Thai - Lao Friendship Bridge into Thailand, and from there get a night train to Bangkok. There are some travel agencies where you can buy the complete package to Bangkok, and that was what I did. I think I paid between 30-40$ for the whole package.
I had instructions from the guy that sold the tickets to board the night bus to Vientiane, get to the agency in downtown where they would take me to the border and provide me the train tickets to Thailand and onward to Bangkok. And what was my surprise when I got to downtown and the agency was closed… Well, not really closed, it ceased to exist.
I proceed to ask at a Hotel reception if they could call a number I had on my ticket, and so they did. I was given an address where allegedly the new office was. It was in the northern area of Vientiane, I tried to go on foot but was almost attacked by stray dogs, so decided to get a tuk tuk to get me there. Once I got there… It was the house of a family that worked for the agency. I spent the morning there and eventually they arranged transportation for a guest house again in downtown where I was supposed to wait for my transportation to the border.
After this incident, everything went well. A pickup came to get me to the border where I was stamped out of the country (not without the usual stamp fee bribe) and boarded a train that got me to Thailand. People were cheering outside as I crossed the bridge, it was quite funny!
How to get there and away
- Minibus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, ~4h ride.
- I took a night bus to Vientiane and crossed the border into Thailand.
What to do/see
- Kuang Si Waterfalls.
- Alms Ceremony.
- Buddhist temples all around downtown.