We entered Laos in early November and fell in love with the country. We flew into Luang Prabang, a city located further north in the country. The local currency is Kip and it is about USD $1 to 8000. We stayed at a local guest house called Khimmay in a dorm for $6 USD a night each and enjoyed free wifi to plan the rest of our trip. The local people in Luang Prabang respect tourists. We had gotten tired of the rush of Thailand and locals just seeing dollar signs above our heads.
The markets in Luang Prabang were great! The merchants were friendly and negotiating was easy. They did not ridiculously mark up all their products which was the case in Thailand. We often saw whole families with babies sleeping on small blankets while their parents tried to make some money. The environment was friendly, no stress and we felt really comfortable supporting them. The markets also included an all you can eat buffet of local, questionably fresh food that we did not partake in due to risk of gastro problems on the bus. Most tourists risked this and seemed to enjoy it.
Our stay in Luang Prabang also included a beautiful bicycle ride through bumper to bumper cars and scooters to a secluded temple for sunset. The view was beautiful, however we did feel unsafe in such congestion.
We also experienced Kung Si Waterfall, a short hour ride in the back of a truck out of the city. This beautiful place had clean water, a large waterfall and nice swimming areas. In the main swimming area, there was a rope swing and people cliff jumping. We stuck to the rope swing and it was a blast. If you stood in one place for too long, you could also feel fish nibbling the dead skin off your legs.
We took a day bus to Vang Vieng which the AC decided to break down three times along the hot journey. Thankfully we got off the bus after three hours but it was headed for Vientiane which was at least another 8 hours away.
We stayed at Pan's place which seemed to be one of the best according to tripadvisor. We got one of the last rooms and many tourists were turned away for the duration of our stay. A previous popular activity for the city which has been surrounded by controversy is the local tubing down the river. Up until a few months ago, tourists could rent a tube and float down the river, stopping at local shacks that sell alcohol and drugs. There were make shift zip lines set up and many unsafe activities. Many tourists have died and hundreds have been injured. The activity became similar to a cult with travelers staying for months getting tattoos and brandings on their shoulders. We did see a weird guy with large pupils and brandings, and yes we did stay away from him. Nonetheless we rented a tube and enjoyed sober tubing down the shallow, rocky river. The scenery is beautiful and it is a shame it has caused international concern. The country of Laos is actually using Vang Vieng as a perfect example of how not to open up a city to tourism.
During our time in Vang Vieng we visited Blue Lagoon, a local paradise. To get to Blue Lagoon you have to rent a tuk tuk or be really envious on a bicycle. Our tuk tuk was negotiated down in price as we had 8 people in it. We crossed a bridge to pay what we refer to as a 'tourist tax'. Blue Lagoon has a beautiful cave that is about one hundred large steps up and has a buddhist shrine in it. The lagoon itself is blue and plenty of fish are present. There is a big tree which we jumped from the lower and upper branches. We enjoyed the afternoon in this paradise.
Our overnight bus to Pakse was surprisingly comfortable and over air conditioned which was a warm welcome. We left for a 2 day 1 night zip line adventure with Green Discovery and were not dissapointed. The trekking was fantastic, minus the land leeches that found a way through our shoes and socks. We enjoyed zip lining past many waterfalls high above the ground. The views flying high above the jungle were amazing and we are very happy we chose this adventure. During this trip we discovered two things. The first is that we love Laos coffee. The second is that we enjoyed the childhood in us staying in a fully equipped tree house with toilet, sink, beds and dining area. We actually had to zip line to the tree house to get there!
We also enjoyed a two day one night kayak experience to Don Khone and Don Det, which are part of the four thousand islands in the Mekong River. Unfortunately our kayak experience was not what we expected as we ended up paddling an inflatable raft shaped kayak which was twice as hard as paddling a normal plastic kayak. We were exhausted after our 5 hours of paddling without stopping as we were one and a half hours behind schedule and wanted to make it to the island before sunset due to the flat tire on our bus. The next morning we rented a pedal bike to ride aroung Don Det before starting our trek around Don Khone island. We saw the Khone Phapheng Waterfalls and Liphi waterfalls as well as had lunch on a deserted island of Cambodia. Our second day of kayaking was less exhausting as the first day but just as hard as we had blisters on our hands from the day before. We were able to see the Irrwaddy dolphins in which our guide told us there was only 5 left in the area and all were male.