Caroline Gregory

Lovely Laos: Backpacker Heaven

Caroline Gregory
Lovely Laos: Backpacker Heaven

Hey tribe,

I hope you visit Laos and I hope the country changes your life like it did mine.

For those of you that have never backpacked before, Laos is a great place to start or add to your list. The country is very cheap, full of things to see and is relatively easy to get around.  Here's how my adventure played out...

How I arrived:

I crossed the Thailand / Laos border by bus.  We departed from Chiang Rai and made our way to Luang Prabang.  The total journey took around 14 hours including a stop at the immigration office for our visas and to walk across the border.

Where I began:

After only two nights in Luang Prabang (more on this lovely city later), I took a shuttle van to the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury. 

Elephant Conservation Center (EEC)

1 week volunteer program - $495

The cost included my private log cabin accommodation, a roundtrip shuttle from Luang Prabang to the EEC, three family style meals each day, the exploration package and a donation toward the elephants.  Education is key when traveling.  I do not support animal tourism and was happy to find a center such as this one that implemented values I agree with and also taught me a lot about elephants.  The young biologist inspired me with her knowledge and passion for the projects. I loved my experience and it was especially nice to disconnect completely - no wifi on sight.  I felt like I was in jurassic park as the baby elephant, Syria, made a ton of dinosaur-like noises out in the forest everyday.

A guy I volunteered with had this book, Be Here Now by Ram Dass, so I traded The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for it.  Both of these I recommend. 

I painted these signs for the EEC.  If you visit, you'll likely follow them to places you need to go around the center.

Next stop:

Luang Prabang

My favorite town in Laos.  French colonial style buildings and streets.  Big market of clothes, food and art every night.  The Mekong river flows along the town and you can cross the water by a couple of different bridges including one made out of bamboo and one made out of wood planks that I'll share in a picture below.  I suggest you visit local cooking schools and eat at their restaurants.  They normally have trendy menus and amazing food.  My friends and I loved Tamarind Cafe.  

Where I stayed: 

Kounsavan Guesthouse.  Kounsavan is the most popular hostel in the area and thankfully so, because I made a big group of friends here.  We explored the next few weeks in Laos together.

A polaroid of my Laos crew and me! I love them so much.  All of us were initially solo travelers.

Things we did:

Kuang Si Waterfall

This place is beautiful and huge.  You can walk a little away from the main areas and have a private lagoon to yourself.  It is best to visit during dry season as the water changes to brown during the rainy months.  My pictures at the waterfalls were taken in April 2016.

Utopia - the main bar in town all backpackers flock to each night before glow bowling.  Maybe for restorative purposes, the place also hosts sunrise yoga every morning.  

Eat at the markets.

Vegetarian buffet at market.  All you can eat, $1.50 per bowl.  We ate here almost everyday we were in Luang Prabang.

Denise (from US) took this picture shortly after we met and called me the girl with the honeycomb tattoo. We've had a tight bond ever since.

Next Stop:

Nong Khiaw

This village is in the north of Laos. We were a group of 12 so some of us stayed at Delilah’s hostel and the rest at a cheap place along the river.  I remember the first evening, Sigurd (from Norway) and I went on a run through the mountains and the whole time I kept looking over at him like he was in front of a green screen.  The backdrops are unreal in this place.

Things we did:

Viewpoint hike. It is HARD and so worth it.  The steep climb takes about an hour and a half and you go through 4 types of terrain as you get higher.   

Sigurd and Denise at the beginning of the hike.

Me at the top.  Best view for sunset.

Group tour including a waterfall hike / boat ride to local village and school / kayaking.

Our guide for the day.  4 puppies came with us the whole way.  I don't have a nice camera, but shouldn't National Geographic hire me?  

Denise and village girls being perfect.  They kept handing her flowers and plants to add to her bouquet.

Next Stop:

Muang Ngoi

You can only reach this village by boat and there are no ATMs.

Our backyard for a few days.

Exploring Tham Kang caves.  We found crystal walls and a waterfall deep inside the darkness.  These caves used to be a bomb shelter during the Vietnam War era.

Be careful in the early morning and late night.  This village seems to have more street dogs than people and they can be very territorial. 

Next Stop:

Vang Vieng

Where we stayed:

The Real Backpackers Hostel - chill place full of people.  A few spots down is one of the most popular places in town called Sakura Bar.  You get a free tank top (color of your choosing) if you buy two drinks so going here and earning your own is a right of passage when you visit Vang Vieng.  If you wear yours in neighboring countries of Laos, trust me, you'll be recognized and cause excitement for others who have also been to Sakura Bar.

My Sakura Bar tank.  The back says something corny, which you can find out when you visit.

Viewpoint hike.  Personally, I have to do all of these when I go somewhere.

Things we did:

We got lost bike riding and found an unattended goat farm, let ourselves in and started petting everything that would come near us.

These little guys head butt like crazy.  No love for them.

Blue Lagoon - I have no pictures as this is far inside a cave, but I went with a couple locals with headlights and it was freezing.

So the other two things people visit Vang Vieng for are river tubing and hot air ballooning.  I had no interest in these so I spent time at a resort pool.

Isabelle (from Amsterdam) and I agreed this view of a hot air balloon was more for us.  We were tanning and the balloon went directly over our heads.  I could have jumped on the thing, it came so close.

Next Stop:

Vientiane

Capital of Laos.  Big city.  We stayed at Dream Home Hostel #2.

Things we did:

COPE Visitor Centre - watched a documentary called Bomb Harvest. Laos, known as the land of a million bombs, remains the most heavily bombed country in the world and the United States is responsible for this during the Secret War. The US bombed Laos equal to a plane load of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. Many of these bombs remain unexploded and continue to kill people every year when they are found accidentally. As an American, I am deeply saddened by this and frustrated with my country for never teaching anything about these tragedies in our schools.

Psychedelic Buddha Park

Movie theater

As weird as this may sound when you think of backpacking, this was so fun. We saw the new Avengers movie at a proper theater for 3 bucks. The concession only sold funky flavored popcorn and the movie played in English with Thai subtitles.  

When you haven't seen a full length mirror in months, you play around in the theater bathroom.

Next Stop:

Pakse Loop by motorbike

The map of possible routes.  You stay in villages along the way and waterfalls are prevalent.

On the road.

Laos locals are some of the kindest people I've met.  We got caught in a storm while motorbiking on top of a mountain.. soaked and freezing. This lady and her family took care of us for a couple hours.  A roof, fire, pork soup, sticky rice, tea and a lot of beer.

Last Stop:

4000 Islands

We stayed on Don Det.  Half the island is places to sleep or eat.  The other half is relatively uninhabited land so biking or hiking around is awesome.  Private bungalows on the water are $3.  You can make almost anything on the restaurant menus "happy" including your hookahs or pizza.  

I slept in this teepee! Equipped with electricity, a fan, mattress and disco ball light inside.

My month in Laos was amazing. I was wishing I could stay longer, but my 30-day visa was up and I had a friend to meet in Cambodia.  Traveling is like flirting with places... you may want to backpack there a bit but eventually you know you have to go.

Until next time,

Stay trippy.