After leaving Chiang Rai early in the morning, we headed to the Chiang Khong-Laos border to get stamped out of the country. Once we did, we hopped on board a bus and drove across the Friendship Bridge from Thailand into Laos, purchasing our visa and then heading to a tour office. We were briefed on the process of riding the slow boat and sold snacks and a guesthouse room for the night for a nicely inflated surcharge.
Arriving early to the boat, we were able to grab some good seats while we waited over an hour for others to board. Once everyone was settled in we got going, slowly making our way down the muddy river of the Mekong Delta. For six hours, we had nothing to do but simply be.
Relaxing into our awareness, we were able to enjoy the ride and witness the lives of locals living on the Mekong. We saw water buffalos bathe in the river, cooling themselves from the sweltering heat. Some locals swam as well, while others were scrubbing their laundry. Dogs ran free along the river, wrestling and playing with one another. Every time the boat would stop, a group of children would run up with handcrafted bracelets, hoping to sell some to tourists. A few local passengers came and went along the boat ride, but the rest of us were in it for the long haul.
Eventually we arrived in Pakbeng for the night and were swarmed with tuk-tuk drivers, people selling rooms in guesthouses, restraunteurs, and beggars. Making our way out of the crowd, we crammed into a tuk-tuk with others who had booked the same guesthouse. A quick ride up the hill and we were at Bonome Guest House.
We checked in for the night and had some dinner at the guesthouse. Not a soul was in sight minus the group of other travelers we’d come with, providing a peaceful and relaxing environment. The views from the guesthouse of the sunset on the Mekong were absolutely incredible and was a great way to top off the day.
We went to bed early that night to rest for the upcoming day. Come morning, we enjoyed some banana pancakes and coffee at the guesthouse before making our way down to the boat. To the same tune as the day prior, we secured a good seat and buckled down for the entire day. Some passengers were restless, constantly standing up and moving around and fidgeting with their gadgets and whatnot. We just were. With nowhere to be and nothing to do, we emptied our minds and melted into a state of awareness.
Before we knew it, we were pulling into port in Luang Prubang. Exiting the boat, we found another trusty tuk-tuk driver and split the cost with others headed in the same direction. We then made our way to Smile Luang Prubang Hostel.
Walking around the night market, we heard some chanting around the corner. We peered our heads over and realized there was a temple, filled with monks, all seated in the lotus position. We noticed that they were all younger children, which we found interesting.
The next day, we opted to take a tour to explore Luang Prubang. We kayaked through the Mekong to the Pak Ou cave, stopped for lunch, visited a small village (where they sold insect-filled liquors), and ended the day at the Kuang Si falls.
The Kuang Si falls were absolutely stunning. Gushing turquoise water flowed endlessly in the gorgeous Laotian jungle, and we had to sit there for a while just to take it all in. Although it was a bit crowded with tourists, that did not discredit the amazing experience to witness the falls with our own eyes.
Our next day was spent relaxing at the hostel and walking around town. We headed to Mt. Phuosi to witness the sunset, but we weren't the only ones with that plan.
Still, sunsets are amazing regardless of your location. We managed to snap a couple photos as the sun crept under the horizon and allowed the night to take over.
The next day we left for Vang Vieng, making our way through windy and bumpy mountain roads. This was a lot more on the stomach than our trip to Pai!(link)
Leaving the bus and entering Vang Vieng, we noticed an immediate difference. It was a lot dirtier and unkempt, packed with tour agencies and guesthouses. Unknown to us, Vang Vieng carries a reputation of being a big party location for travelers. Backpackers flock to Vang Vieng and get wasted off of cheap booze and float down the river in tubes, and enjoy the accessibility of various narcotics. While we do appreciate the relaxed stance of usage (although we don't partake), the crowd it draws is definitely a particular type.
The surrounding landscape of Vang Vieng is absolutely incredible, though. Jagged limestone karsts fill the landscape, and there's plenty of jungles to trek, caves to explore, and an abundance of water-based activities. We'd recommend visiting a couple days just for this, but advise staying away from the drunken backpacker scene.
The first day we were there, we walked from our guesthouse to the Jang Cave, arriving right before they closed. We poked our heads around a bit and then left just in the nick of time.
Since we didn't want to rent a motorbike in Vang Vieng, we opted for another tour. This time, we visited the Elephant Cave, went tubing through the Tham Nam cave, went kayaking (again, which was awesome), had lunch, and then checked out the Blue Lagoon.
While the tour was a pretty good deal in itself, this is where our travel intelligence leveled up. Alas, we realized that the glossy advertisements and brochures that the tour agencies boast do nothing to legitimately capture the experience of visiting a place. The Blue Lagoon was extremely overhyped, and when we visited we couldn't help but laugh! It was a tiny puddle in the middle of the parking lot.
After the past couple days exploring Vang Vieng, we stayed low-key and hung out at the hostel. We relaxed and hit up the gym a few times, keeping our physical health in check. After a couple days we made our way to Vientiane.
Arriving in Vientiane we were quite surprised. Being the capital of Laos, we expected a busy hubbub of commerce and industry, but all we found was a couple cafés. There's nothing like a good cup of coffee, after all, but just cafés? Not our style. We loitered at Khaw Hoom hostel, venturing out every now and again for a bite to eat until our departure date from Laos.
From Vientiane, we made our way to the airport bright and early for our flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.