Laos: a hidden gem of Southeast Asia

Dear Reader,


So today is story time. I hope you enjoy this tale of my adventures through Laos.


So a while back I was living in China for 6 months. While I was there we had one week off, and I decided to explore a tiny part of an area I always wanted to see, Southeast Asia. I ended up in Laos by pure luck, due to the flights there being the cheapest. Looking back I couldn’t have picked a better destination. 
After long hours of research, I decided that with the limited amount of time I have I would fly up to Luang Prabang to save time and travel back down to Vientiane by bus. Traveling by bus or van is the easiest and cheapest way to get around Southeast Asia. Most of the time the hostel will help you organize it.
My whole adventure actually started off with stories from airports. So I had an overnight layover in Nanjing, which was fine. When I came back in the morning to check in for my flight two hours before departure, it was deserted. Nobody at the check-in desk, nobody at the security check. We had to wait one hour for someone to show up and then another hour because our flight was delayed. When we finally arrived in Vientiane, I decided to explore the city a little because I had five hours until my connecting flight, so me and my new friend I made at the airport headed into town. Now I don’t know what I was thinking, but when your flight leaves at 5 you shouldn’t be sitting relaxed in a restaurant at 4 (which I was). So after rushing to get a cab, hurrying to the airport (which took forever because there was an accident on the road), I arrived 20 minutes before departure ready to beg the lady at the check-in counter to transfer my ticket to the next available flight in the evening. However, to my surprise, she just asked if I was here for the flight at 5, took my luggage, handed me my boarding pass and directed me to the passport control. After seeing the airport and the security check looking like a bus station and being made of wood, I was expecting a small plane. I was wrong. We boarded this huge plane with three seats on each side. And off we went to Luang Prabang. 
I didn’t have many expectations for this small town. It was advertised as a cute and relaxing place, but it is so much more. There are many hostels and guest houses so you will have no problem finding accommodation. The people are very friendly and helpful which is amazing. 
Palace of Luang Prabang
Waterfalls in Luang Prabang
On my first day, one girl at the table said that she would be meeting a friend to go see the palace, which was one of the most well-known attractions in Luang Prabang, and invited anyone to join. So we headed to the palace. It charges you a small entrance fee, but it is worth it. You will see how luxurious even a simple place can be. Beside the main palace, there are smaller rooms and temples as well as the garden to visit, which are included in the entrance fee. After all these explorations, we were all hungry and decided to indulge in one of the cheap. but delicious meals left over in this country from the French colonization: sandwiches. Now, this might sound strange to all of you, but having lived in China for 6 months, with no proper bread, or what we would call a normal sandwich, this was heaven. Plus they were cheap and delicious. In the afternoon, we headed to one of the other typical attractions in Laos, a waterfall. You will see trends in each area after a while. In Europe, it tends to be churches and beautiful historic neighborhoods. Well, in Southeast Asia, it|s temples and waterfalls. There will be at least one of these in each place you visit. So we took a van organized by the hostel to the one right outside of Luang Prabang.  Since we were there in October, right after the rainy season, the water was not as clear, but the waterfall was impressive, strong and wild. Tip: do not try to climb to the top in this period. The ground is very muddy and unstable. In the evening, we visited a still quite traditional market. They sold anything from scarves. shoes, shirts to pottery. I decided to purchase a traditional sarong. On this market, you can haggle, but there is no need to get aggressive about it. Even me, who is inexperienced and always feels like I’m cheating people out of their money, managed to get a cheaper price all while still smiling.
Monks collecting alms at dawn
One of the special things that happen each morning in Luang Prabang is the collection of the alms for the monks at dawn. So the next day I got up at 5:30 am to see this tradition. It shocked me how young these monks were until my friend explained to me that they won’t be monks forever. In Buddhism, men are supposed to become monks three times during their lifetime for about one to three months, to signalize periods of transitions and to give them a closer connection to their religion. Tip: don’t get any of the baskets they offer you to feel the monks, they are mostly trash that won’t help them. Also do not get in their faces to take pictures because it disrupst the ritual. After a bit more sleep and breakfast I set off to climb the holy hill in the middle of the town. From the top, you have a beautiful view of Luang Prabang and the surrounding area. There is also a small temple on top. Totally worth the more than 300 steps it takes to get up there. Also from there, you can walk around the whole island, which shows you the different facades of the town. Let’s say I was a little surprised to see ten year old children on motorcycles driving home from school. That afternoon we visited a  project called Big Brother Mouse, which focuses on teaching children English. You can volunteer on your trip and spend an hour or two talking to local young adults about your travel and home country and learn more about how the locals live and what their hopes and dreams are. We had an amazing time and were there for well over the one hour suggested. If you have the time, it is worth checking out, although if you are a young girl, you might get hit on quite a bit. Also a funny story. I wore the sarong that day and kept being called beautiful Lao lady by all the locals. Kind of cute, that they like seeing foreigners in their traditional clothes. 


The next day on we went to Vang Vieng. It was actually a place I was not going to stop, but as I mentioned in my other posts, being spontaneous is key when you want to make the most of your travels, so after everybody told me to stop, I did. The six hour drive it took us to get there was probably not the safest car ride I ever took, but the nature around us was breathtaking. Since it is a long drive, I strongly suggest getting some snacks or even a sandwich from one of the many stores before you leave. Once we reached Vang Vieng, we went to our small hostel outside the city. It was a small farm focused on natural products. It was cute and perfect for one night.


The following day the next van came to pick us up at the hostel to take us to Vientiane. We got in and got stuck 5 minutes later because a truck was blocking the whole road and couldn’t or wouldn’t move. So our journey got delayed by at least one hour. Eventually, they got another van on the other side of the truck and we squeezed by with our stuff. Back on the road for the four hour trip to Vientiane. We didn’t book anything in terms of accommodation, but there were quite a few hostels, so once we got there, we just went to check out the most popular one, which had free beds for us. 


The Gate in Vientiane


One of the cool things about hostels is that they tend to be organized for young travelers. This specific one, for example, has bicycles for rent, so we did that the next morning. One of the travel guides had a route we could take to see the most important monumnets. Not going to lie, most of the things we saw were temples. One of them was actually preparing for a festival, so they had many monks and traditional food. After we went for lunch in one of the many cafes they have, another leftover from the French. After returning to the hostel to relax a little, I messaged my friend I meet the first day to see if he wanted to join us girls for food. In the end we got a nice group together. On the way back we actually saw an add for a salsa party that evening. Many of you will not know this, but dancing is one of my big passions, and salsa was my gateway into the dance comunity. So I convinced the others that we should go. The instructor was pretty good, but spoke no English, only the local dialect, so his partner was translating for us. The party was very small, but a nice community. The teacher was happy to see some new faces. He asked me to dance, and was very surprised to see that I actually knew what I was doing. He lit up when realizing he had someone to dance with that wasn’t the girls that he himself taught. It turned into a great last night in Vientiane.

So there you have the story of my first solo backpacking trip through Laos. Sorry for the long post. Hope this inspires some of you to start on a journey of your own to here or any other place in the world.

Share your travel stories and experiences with me either in the comments below or on instagram @lettersfromatravelinggirl

Embark on your next adventure.



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