Three Things Thursday (Lost in Laos final chapter)

This month, for your delight, are three…

…great places you should visit if you find yourself in Laos.

Sadly, my decrepit Notebook ate my final Laos blog when I came back from my last trip away, but there were still so many fabulous things I still wanted to share. I’ve tried to squeeze the basics into a roundup and included some of the best shots from the road. It’s been said before, but Laos really is a little slice of heaven here on earth! Enjoy.

Thing 1 ~ Luang Prabang

Lovely Luang Prabang, lazing at a confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, is probably the biggest tourist destination in Laos, and deservedly so. With over thirty gorgeous gilded temples and beautifully restored buildings from the French colonial era, its UNESCO World Heritage status is well earned, and there is something here for every travelling taste.

Among the must-sees are the nearby Koaung Xi waterfalls – a multi-tiered limestone fall 40km outside of the town. The agencies that line the streets will take you there, as will most guesthouses. However, if you want to explore all the tiers of the fall, and take the hike across the plateau at the top to the spring and Buddha cave, do it on your own and spend the day exploring. It’s well worth it! I was mesmerised by the bears in the bear rescue sanctuary before I even reached the falls. There was a butterfly sanctuary nearby that I wanted to explore, too, but we ran out of time.

The atmosphere of the town itself is soothing and welcoming. Laze in a bakery, enjoy a beer by one of the rivers, wander through Wats, and definitely visit the night market and its fabulous, if chaotic, food street. Yes, it is a mecca for backpackers. No, that doesn’t mean it’s best avoided. It’s crowded at peak hours, but the food is cheap and tasty.

If you speak enough English to read this blog, then one thing you should also check out is Big Brother Mouse’s English conversation class. Feeling a bit like I was opting for a busman’s holiday, I wanted to check it out. Sadly, I left it to the last evening; I wish I’d gone on the first!

Avid students from miles around the town come to Big Brother Mouse several times a week to converse in English with anyone who cares to attend. I got stuck in to some juicy grammar questions with higher level students, helped with homework for one or two, and practised some basic getting-to-know-you questions and answers with someone who’d arrived with a friend for the first time. Later on, when the hard-core were left, there was a lot of great two-way conversation where I got the opportunity to learn the most about the area and people in general, and ask all those questions I want to ask when I’m in a new place and I don’t know what’s what. It was a wonderful evening.

Thing 2 ~Phonsavan

I’ve already put you through a lengthy essay on this most overlooked of Laotian treasures, so all I will do here is reiterate my thoughts that the naysayers do not do justice to this small city on a high plain, and give you some more photos of wierd stone jars. Even the cows turn up for a look! How can you resist?

Thing 3 ~ Vang Vieng

Cursed for some time with a bad reputation as a wild backpacking party zone where young people were intent on taking the phrase ‘dead drunk’ too literally, Vang Vieng has turned a corner. You can still party, but for those who like a quieter life – what I like to think of as ‘internal party’, or maybe soirée – you can also find relaxation and calm here. Having said that, I turned up on the eve of Pi Mai (Lao new year) and the whole town – nay, country – promptly went totally bonkers for three days.

Eschewing the tubing for which Vang Vieng is (in)famous, I spent the only quiet day lounging by the beautiful river in a restaurant on stilts. I then chose the first day of the holiday to rent a pushbike and cycle the six kilometres through the incredible limestone karsts to the blue lagoon. Fortunately I went dressed for the occasion in my swimwear, as the main event of Pi Mai is for the whole family to fill a plastic pool with water, place it by the roadside, and then stand there for the whole day and toss the contents over passers-by in binloads. This was a boon on the bumpy, dusty journey, and the cheery shouts of, “Bon Pi Mai” were as welcome as the cooling bursts of water.

The blue lagoon was bursting with people, as were the Buddha cave and zipline. There were food stalls, a stage and a band, and the carnival atmosphere was wonderful. I think it’s usually a lot more sedate, and I can imagine it must seem like your own little piece of paradise on a more normal day.

Other than this little natural haven, Vang Vieng is a hub for adventure activities such as kayaking, hiking and ziplining. I was at the end of my trip and in-sit-down-and-read-books mode. And eat-lots-of-tasty-food mode. And if-you’re-going-to-do-anything,-do-it-by-a-natural-cave-pool mode. Vang Vieng caters for all of that marvellously, too.

Laos - the whole story

Laos – the whole story

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