We loved the time we spent in Laos. During our first visit in January, we visited the less-frequented southern half of the country. With winding, paved (and Chinese-built) roads that are virtually traffic-free, it’s the perfect place to rent a motorcycle and set off on an adventure. The landscape is green and lush and the people are incredibly friendly and, unlike those in some of the places we’ve been, do not seem intent on taking advantage of tourists. Not yet a stop on many tourists’ itineraries, it’s wonderfully unhurried, as are the people who visit it. There are a few tourist sights to see (Wat Phu in Champasak was definitely a highlight), but we think that the true beauty of Southern Laos is best discovered by meandering through the area at a slow pace, stopping occasionally to take it all in.
Our second visit to Laos in late February was spent in gorgeous Luang Prabang. The city is overflowing with enough temples and orange-clad monks to satisfy your cultural appetite for years, and its trendy restaurants and hotels are readily available to meet any Western need. Given that it’s one of the largest cities in Laos, it’s surprising to learn that its population is a mere 22,000 people. (Just goes to show you how small Laos really is!) Its small size makes it incredibly easy to navigate, and amazing natural splendors (most notably the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls) await you just outside of town.
Laos, to us, seemed to be undergoing an incredible time of transition. Although its government is Communist, the small nation–one of the poorest in Southeast Asia–has recently opened its markets. It has also begun to nurture its growing tourist trade. We’re sure there are a lot of changes in store for this small place, which rightfully bills itself as “the jewel of the Mekong.”
Blog Entries We Wrote
- To see all the blog entries we wrote about this country, please click HERE.
Pictures We Took
- To see some of the pictures we took in this country, please click HERE.
Cities/Areas We Visited
- Pakse (Jan. 11-12, 2008; Jan. 19-20, 2008)
- Don Daeng (Jan. 12-15, 2008)
- Don Khon (Jan. 15-17, 2008)
- Khiet Ngong (Jan. 17-19, 2008)
- Attapeu (Jan. 20-21, 2008)
- Luang Prabang (Feb. 20-24, 2008)
Places We Stayed
- Pakse Hotel (Jan. 11-12, 2008): At about $30 a night, this place was a great value. It’s sparkling clean, right in the middle of town and offers free wi-fi in its restaurant (with plans to soon extend access into the rooms). The restaurant itself was just ok, but there are plenty of food options within walking distance.
- Sala Champa Hotel (Jan. 19-20, 2008): We stayed here when we arrived back in Pakse only to find out that the Pakse Hotel was fully booked for the night. The only room left at Sala Champa was the $50 deluxe room, which ended up being by far one of the largest rooms we’ve stayed in on our trip so far (complete with a long dining table and a kitchenette!). It was clean and also in a great location, although it didn’t offer breakfast or Internet access.
- La Folie Lodge (Jan. 12-15, 2008): We’re kind of scarily evangelical about this place; we practically forced another couple who was headed to Don Daeng to stay there. $60 a night will get you a bungalow that looks straight out of Conde Naste, free bike rental and access to a small but gorgeous pool on the banks of the Mekong. This was definitely one of our favorite hotels so far. It’s hard to find, and the road signs that attempt to lead guests there are confusing; we’d suggest calling in advance for directions!
- Sala Phae (Jan. 15-17, 2008): This somewhat overpriced place ($35 a night) bills itself as a floating hotel, which it technically is–its individual bungalows float on rafts a few feet from the banks of the Mekong and are accessible via rickety bridges. In a couple of cases, “floating” was probably better defined as “sinking”; our neighbors’ balconies were underwater. It’s not all that clean and the electricity only stays on from 6-10 pm, but its location is great. The owners have a delightful pet gibbon who is more than happy to reach out and shake your hand.
- Kingfisher Ecolodge (Jan. 17-19, 2008): Another place whose bungalows look like they’ve been torn from the pages of Conde Naste, this $60-a-night place is an excellent value. (It also offers cheaper rooms in its eco (i.e., “economy”) lodge.) The bungalows have a great layout, beautiful four-poster beds and balconies with a hammocks where one can lie and watch elephants grazing in the background. Definitely another one of our trip favorites.
- Phoutthavong Guest House (Jan. 20-21, 2008): For $10 a night, this new-ish place was everything we needed it to be: clean and conveniently located near the center of town.
- Oui’s Guesthouse (Feb. 20-24, 2008): Dana found this after many attempts to find two open rooms in town. (Most guesthouses in Luang Prabang are small, so they fill up quickly.) Oui’s was great; the rooms were fairly nice, the owners (an American and his Laotian wife) were friendly and the free breakfast was good. It’s also in a good location–just a few minutes’ walk from the city’s main street.
Places We Ate
- Pizza Boy Restaurant : One of the biggest advantages of this place is that it’s open late in a town where everything seems to close by 9:30. Although the food was just average, the fruit shakes were pretty good.
- Xuan Mai Restaurant: The fresh spring rolls at this sidewalk cafe were great, and the pho wasn’t bad–overall, a good value for the (incredibly cheap) price.
- Delta Coffee: Another sidewalk cafe, this place was packed with tourists enjoying the pizza, which was good, but not great. One big bonus: they sell cookies (very hard to find in these parts)!
- Nazim Restaurant: This place made us realize just how good the food in India actually was. Shanna’s paneer was not only still partly frozen, it was also fluorescent orange. Mmmmm.
Restaurant at La Folie Lodge: They served up a mix of good French and Laotian food in a beautiful lodge overlooking the pool and, beyond that, the Mekong River. One big bonus: the Lionel Richie CD playing constantly in the background.
- Hut at which the cock fight took place: While we can’t say that the noodles were great, they didn’t make us sick and, most importantly, the setting was definitely once-in-a-lifetime.
- Restaurant at Anouxa Guesthouse on Champasak: The food took an hour to arrive and was probably not worth the wait (although the fried chicken kind of made us miss Nashville…). The restaurant’s right on the river, so there’s plenty to watch until your food arrives!
Mr. Bâ€™s Restaurant (on Don Dhet): Shanna is still dreaming about the pumpkin burger at this riverside place, and the tuna baguette sandwich was great, too. The sunny deck makes for a wonderful place to nurse a frosty beverage.
- Bamboo Restaurant at Salaphae: This restaurant in our hotel served up good Thai food and amazing fish cooked in a banana leaf, all on a deck overlooking the river. Oh, and there’s Nutella at breakfast time!
- Panâ€™s Restaurant: Any place where the staff will leave the premises in search of a coconut for one of their guests to drink from deserves high marks in our book!
- Auberge Sala Restaurant: We stopped here after biking around the island and had a great Laotian lunch overlooking the Mekong. The food was incredibly fresh, in that we saw our fish alive and well in the kitchen a few short minutes before he was on our plates. (Sorry, fish!)
- Seng Ahloune Restaurant: The food was just ok, but the drinks were cold and readily available during the hours we spent here with a great group of American guys and their Canadian friends. If you’re in Don Khon and looking for a place to spend an evening, this is a great option. There’s lots of space and amazing views of the sun setting over the Mekong.
- Roadside restaurant on drive from Don Khon: This cheap (and nameless?) place served up really good noodle soup in which mystery meat floated a little precariously. The proprietors were friendly and very eager to practice their English.
- Restaurant at Kingfisher Ecolodge: The restaurant is in the lodge, which looks like something one would see while on an African safari. It’s candlelit, offers great views over the grasslands and serves up really, really good pasta and great breakfasts, too.
Ban Laek Tee Neung: Well, at least we THINK this is the name of the place we went; when we asked the congenial Korean owner, he said it was just called “Korean Barbecue.” Whatever its name, you can’t go wrong with this outdoor restaurant. The owner’s wife served up tasty Korean BBQ and the owner settled in beside his adorable daughter to watch a movie with us. He was also a good source of information about the area in a town where few people spoke English.
- Blue Lagoon Cafe: We sat outside at this sidewalk cafe and had great wine and wonderful appetizers (including some amazing smoked salmon topped with caviar), followed by good fish and green curry.
- Daofa Bistro: This place serves up good pasta and crepes in its small, modern digs.
- Restaurant Cafe des Arts: Shanna had a great salami and cheese baguette here, though Derek didn’t much like his tuna. It also has a small bakery.
- Lao Lao Cafe: We went to this place for a late dinner, and it was still packed with rowdy diners gathered around small tables cooking their own Lao BBQ (wherein you grill your own meat on a small metal cone on top of which rests a huge piece of fat–mmmmm…). Upon sitting down, every diner is presented with a complimentary shot of Lao Lao, a bright red liquor that packs a pretty strong punch.
- Yongkhoune Restaurant: Augh. All that needs to be said about this place is that Shanna, upon biting into her MASHED POTATOES, broke the cap on her tooth.
Things We Did
Walked around town, exploring river and wats
Planned our motorcycle trip through the South
Changed flat tires on the road from Pakse to the South
Rode bikes around island, visiting small villages and wats
- Saw a cockfight
- Sat by the pool
- Visited Wat Phu Champasak
Rode bikes and hiked around the island
- Watched amazing sunsets
- Played with Mr. Hue, the friendly gibbon
- Caught a glimpse of the Irrawaddy dolphins
Explored nearby village
Watched movie (K2) at Korean barbecue restaurant
- Toured the Talat Phousy market
- Took a Laos cooking class offered by Tamarind Restaurant
- Watched a Buddhist ceremony that is held once a year in various local temples
- Visited many wats, among them Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham and Wat Wisunarat
- Observed locals and tourists alike giving alms to the monks
- Took a boat cruise up the Mekong River
- Visited the two Pak Out caves, inside of which sat Buddha statues of all sizes and styles
- Visited the gorgeous Tat Kuang Si waterfalls
- Saw black bears and a tiger (whose name was Phet) that had been rescued from poachers
Capital City – Vientiane
Currency – Kip
Exchange Rate – 9300 kip to $1
We would like to thank the following individuals who gave us a wedding gift that we used in this country: Tom and Kerry Morey. We really appreciate it!