Laos: A Harebrained Scheme

I met up with my friend Priya to decide what we wanted to do over the long weekend. I personally, due to my full-time job, live for the long weekends, because this means travel time!!

We met at my place without any sort of plan of action on where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do. Within 30 minutes of eating some yummy mango sticky-rice and discussing potential destinations, we found ourselves agreeing on going to Laos. Upon making that decision within the next 15 minutes we figured out the flight connections that would work best within our constricting time schedule, and made the call to Laos Airlines. Within 15 minutes following that, we found ourselves driving to Suvarnabhumi Airport (no no, not to take a flight) to make the flight payment! They did not accept credit cards via phone or online because of multi-city and promotional topics; only cash. Ahhh, stone age! But nonetheless, we made the trek to the airport. Luckily it was a Saturday, and the Bangkok traffic treated us nicely.

After an exchange of cold hard cash, we were guaranteed our departure in 5 days. It was, as my friend Priya put it, “a harebrained scheme”, and here is my photo documentary of our adventures!!

DAY 1

We decided (over 2 minutes of research and 1 email exchange) to stay at the Bel Air Resort in Luang Prabang. Now, here’s the thing about Laos accommodation: 1 night’s stay at a 4 star hotel is the same price as a 1 night’s stay in a hostel is Paris. Not to mention this included free airport pick-up and drop-off service. Laos is an absolute bargain!

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After a bit of rest we made our way to the Phousi Mountain; but first we had to cross the infamous Old Bridge. I’m pretty sure I almost got run over by over 10 motorbikes within the first minute of being on Old Bridge. There are marked pedestrian and motorbike lanes, but it didn’t seem like anyone followed the rules. I felt like I was in Bangkok all over again, so I decided to do what I do best; walk fearlessly. It works in Bangkok, but unfortunately not in Luang Prabang. Nonetheless we made it safely across the bridge and made our first stop at a street food vendor to avoid the scorching sun. Whewww! A large beer Lao and some street eats in the shade did the trick!

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Mmmm, we were in heaven again; until we reached the foot of Phousi Mountains and saw the climb ahead of us. At this point we really wished we replenished with water instead of beer. We made it to the top, and got an absolutely breath-taking 360 degree view of Luang Prabang and the Mekong River.

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We made our way to the Tamarind Restaurant for a cooking class. From there, we were taken on a tuk tuk ride into the jungle that led up to a wooden sala overlooking the lily-pad lake; a serene location, and perfect for cooking up a storm! We were joined by some Canadians, Americans, and South Africans. By canadians I mean, the Canadia -Russian, -Sri-Lankan, -Portugese, -Albanian….Canada, why are you adopting everybody?! The crowd was fun, vibrant, energetic, and unapologetic about their jokes. We became well acquainted entirely too soon. As for the cooking, I’m basically house-wife material now. Boys, I suggest you line up! At the end of to cooking class, our new friends invited us to go to a bar called Utopia for some drinks.

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We arrived at Utopia a couple hours later and loved the atmosphere. It was relaxed, with throw pillows under an open air wooden space, over 200 – 300 tourists and backpackers from all walks of life, and to top it off, they had a make-shift beach volleyball tournament going on. Unfortunately, all the bars and restaurants in Laos close around 11.30pm due to low season, but not to worry, our new friends had a plan! Everybody from Utopia, who wanted to continue their night out went to the bowling alley. Yes bowling, its the only place that stayed open all night and served alcohol.That would be my first ever party at a bowling alley. At some ridiculous hour of the night me and Priya decided to head back home. We did just travel from Bangkok that very day (or technically I guess the previous day at this point), so we had basically gone without sleep for almost 20 hours. Our beds had never felt more inviting.

DAY 2 

The next day we went on a fun excursion at the Living Land Farm. We were prepared to be rice farmers for the day, and boy did we farm. I’ll be talking about this humbling experience in another post to follow. After harvesting our lunch, we made our way to the Kuang Si waterfall.

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I don’t think my vocabulary is wide enough to do describe this location and do it justice. We arrived at the foot of the falls, and walked along the trails for almost 1 km and reached the massive falls. Imagine over a 100 tiny steps, spaced two to ten meters apart, the clear blue-green waterfall trickling down, creating little swimmable pools at each and every step. That’s right, I swam in these pools. The water temperature was probably 10 – 15 degrees cooler than the temperature outside which made it all the more refreshing (and freezing)!

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After having had such an active day, we headed back to the hotel for some rest, and continued on to explore the night markets of Luang Prabang. My aching belly was thrilled to see the number of food vendors and the variety of food, not to mention the $2 all you can eat buffets lined up along the market! I will repeat myself again, Loas is an absolute bargin!

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DAY 3

On our last day in Luang Prabang, we decided to go on the Chomphet hike. This meant taking a 2 minute boat ride across the Mekong River. Once across, I felt as thought I was in an entirely different city. It was much more underdeveloped, no sign of a single tourist or proper infrastructure; just some muddy trails, local vendors, and wooden houses.

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There were no marked trails for this hike, so we decided to use sign language with the locals to get a sense of direction (although our Thai did come in quite handy on this trip!). We met some lovely villagers along our hike. An old lady was sitting with her family, making some banana leaf flower placements for a religious ceremony the following day. Some locals were playing a game called “Ying Baa”, which seemed like a make-shift version of bowling, with a significant amount of betting and cheering. The entire community of villagers had come out to spectate, so we decided to partake in this as well. After speaking with a local, I found out that this game is sacred to the culture and can only be played over a specified 3 days to ring in the new season. We hiked for about 2 – 3 hours. I would have loved to go on for longer, but we had to make our way back to catch the boat in time for our Mekong River ride.

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The landscape surrounding the Mekong River was lush green and mountainous. The boat was was a tiny 8 seater that we had entirely to ourselves. Along the way, the weather took a 180 degree turn from sunny to extremely windy with major downpours. Our boat driver (captain?) docked on the side of the river bank for the wind to subside. He said he was worried that our wooden boat would overturn. Oh, I believed him! I was already seriously doubting our security on the boat. We docked for about 20 – 30 minutes and huddled under a giant umbrella to avoid getting completely soaked. A little misadventure always keeps things interesting. Luckily we were able to continue our journey to the Pak Ou Cave, which was the main destination of our boat ride. To be honest, I would not recommend going to the Pak Ou Cave, unless you are interested in seeing a sacred buddhist temple in a cave with over 1000 statues. It was not particularly something I needed to go there for; but the boat ride along the Mekong River on the other hand, a must-do.

DAY 4 

We made our way to Vientiane early in the morning and got there on time, albeit the electricity going out throughout the Luang Prabang airport; not such a reassuring moment I have to say (but I guess thats normal considering the staff did not go into panic mode). We had a tight schedule and only a few hours to get it done before our flight back to Bangkok. We chose to stay in Vientiane for under a day, as we heard that there is not much to do there, which we later found out, is true. We arrived at 9am and hired a taxi for the day to take us to several points of interests. We went to the Morning Market, the Victory Monument (which happens to be a replica of Arc de Triomphe), the Pha That Luang temple, and finally to the river front for some food. Due to children’s day, the Victory Monument garden was host to a children’s fair with tons of games and theatre acts. Majority of the kids were decked up in some beautiful Laos clothing.

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The weather was entirely too hot to be outside for more than a few minutes, so exploring the city streets any further was out of the question. Also the fact that it was a public holiday and everything was closed meant that there wasn’t much exploring to be done, and we had quite a bit of kip left to spare. Clearly, some refreshing Sangrias were in order!!

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Mmm, they were delicious, and by far the best option we came up with for avoiding the Vientiane heat. After some day drinking and manicures, we were ready to head back home to Bangkok. I’d have to say, this was a pretty eventful trip for being such a harebrained scheme 🙂

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One thought on “Laos: A Harebrained Scheme

  1. Wow! I’m so excited to have found this page in my secrah. I have four weeks off and I have always wanted to go to Maine (I’m also from Chicago) and driving there seemed like a cool way to see it as well as other parts of the country. What were your most memorable stop and any tips? Also, do you think it would be an awful idea to do this alone? No one else seems to have the time off and how long can a girl wait around?!? 🙂

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