The green heart of Southeast Asia
Laos holds a sad record. It’s the most heavily bombed country on the planet. From 1964 to 1973, the US dropped over two million tons of explosives over Laos. Due to remaining UXO throughout the country, large parts are still off limits to tourists. I spent most of my time in Northern Laos, more exactly in the Unesco World Heritage town of Luang Prabang.
Whether you arrive by bus, boat or plane, the views over massive mountains and lush valleys are well worth the strenuous journey. Luang Prabang has loads to offer and kept me hanging around for longer than expected. With the cozy riverside setting and pituresque old town, its vibe reminded me a lot of Hoi An.
Although I felt saturated by waterfalls at this point of my trip, the Kuang Si Falls did get me excited like a kid. Imagine a dense forest, with pristine, clear, blue cascades of refreshingly cold water. Swimming in the pools, getting an all natural fish pedicure, watching bears and hiking to the top of the main falls made up for a great day trip out of town. Start off early to avoid the crowds!
The cheapest food, ever.
I have no clue how I’ll ever go back to a life without ridiculously cheap food. The street food in Luang Prabang is a real delight. By the end of the first day we got hooked on the spicy sausages that all of the BBQ stalls had on offer. Buffet style vendors would let you fill up a plate for only 1€ and the ‘chicken on a stick’ makes for a good picnic snack throughout the day. Beware, most food here contains MSG and might get you buzzing if you’re quite sensible.
I also signed up for the renowned Lao cooking class at Tamarind Restaurant. The evening class did not include a market tour but got us started right away at a beautiful garden villa out of town. The chef himself led the class and had quite a fun, pragmatic teaching style. The preparation of the main courses seemed quite difficult compared to what I learnt in Thailand. Nevertheless, my steamed fish in banana leaf and chicken lemongrass sticks turned out to be delicious!
No hassle, just smiles
My favorite part about visiting Laos, however, was the hospitality of the people. As the country’s tourism industry is not yet as developed as its neighbors’, locals embrace westerners: no scams, no street hustlers, no rude taxi drivers…
Hence, a stroll along Luang Prabang’s night market is quite a delight. The vendors lay out their diverse offer of handicrafts and won’t approach you unless you show real interest in one item – my favorite market in SE Asia!
I finished off my evenings at one of the many restaurants overlooking the Mekong river: best place to spot nice sunsets over a spicy ‘Lab’ and a cold Beerlao.
Sleep: Khammany Hostel