The moment my tiny plane landed in Laos, I felt like I travelled back in time.
There is little to no modernity there and the people still live extremely simple, slow-paced lives. Compared to the hustle and bustle of other South East Asian countries I’ve been to, it felt strangely peaceful. Laos is like the younger, quieter, more sensible sister of Thailand.
Trapped With A Giant Huntsman Spider in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is quite a small town and for the seven days I was there, I explored the whole town by foot. The night markets in the center of town is a must visit if you are ever in Luang Prabang for the cheap, beautiful goods local families sell and where haggling is a must. There is also a narrow, secret alleyway at the beginning of the markets lined with food stalls and packed with people. Selling bizarre, cheap foods, only go if you are into the off-beaten path when it comes to eating out. A friend of mine recommended an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet for NZD2, so I filled my dirty bowl with only a few things that didn’t have flies buzzing around them, only to eat it near a rubbish bin with sweaty backpackers. Not so fun for me!
Everyday there was relaxed and blissful. I enjoyed the slow pace of the Lao people. I strolled by the Mekong River, visited the beautifully decorated Golden Temple, learned about the US bombings in the UXO musuem which was very sad, and walked up Mount Phousi where I enjoyed the lush greenery and said hello to young monks (be aware that after a certain point, you have to pay to climb to the top of Mount Phousi.)
However, the highlight was definitely visiting Kuang Si Waterfalls. I hopped in a van with some tourists, including a girl from Singapore who I immediately made friends with, and we drove about 30 minutes outside of Luang Prabang. Kuang Si is a series of waterfalls in the midst of a forest. The deeper you go, the more stunning the waterfalls and pools become, until you reach the crown jewel: a towering, thundering and majestic waterfall that is so beautiful that it does not look real. If you can only do one thing in Luang Prabang, do this!
On one of the nights in my Airbnb, I looked up on the ceiling to find a gigantic huntsman spider the size of an entire hand sitting there quietly. I freaked out. I had never seen a spider so big before and I definitely had never been trapped in a room with one. I considered alerting my Airbnb hosts, an elderly couple, but it was very late at night and they were sleeping. I Googled the spider, naturally, and found out that they were originally found in Laos (surprise, surprise), but they were not poisonous. I then Googled ways to get rid of it and a forum of Australians suggested throwing hot water on it, hitting it with a shoe and vacuuming it up. They all seemed inhumane to me, so the whole night I lay in my bed watching this spider with eyes wide open. Eventually, morning time came and the spider scuttled around the corner into some dark abyss from where it came. Bloodshot-eyed and sleep-deprived, I emerged from my room a survivor, but everyday afterward I made sure to give everything a good shake beforehand.
Caving, water tubing and trekking in Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is very small and used to be quite a party spot. There are plenty of backpackers around, but while I was there, it was quiet and kinda dead. One of the most incredible experiences of my life, however, was caving in the Vang Vieng mountains. I went with two other tourists from Thailand and Japan on a rickety tuk-tuk to the lush, green mountains just 30 minutes outside of the township. It was a rainy, grey and very wet day. When we arrived, our Lao guide split us up as I was the only person who signed up to do caving that day. We started trekking up the mountains, and because of the rain, I was slipping constantly (tip: wearing white Converses while trekking through mud will ruin them.) We eventually arrived at our first cave and climbed down a steep and badly made ladder to reach the entrance, but once we got inside, I was literally like, “Whooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaa.” It was huge. It was incredible. And I felt very small. Because it was completely dark, our little headlamps illuminated the way and showed glimpses of exquisite, crystal-like stalactites and stalagmites lining the ceilings and floors. As we delved deeper into the cave, our voices echoed as my guide told me that Lao people used to hide here during the bombings in the Vietnam war.
We visited two other caves: ‘Snail Cave,’ where apparently an Englishman died trying to explore it by himself, and a cave that had a gigantic Buddha statue near the entrance. We then joined the rest of the group to do water tubing, a fun activity where you sit on a giant inflated tyre and rope yourself through a cave filled with about 60% water, looking up to see the limestone walls and stalactites hanging down. It was a little unnerving being partly submerged in black water, not knowing what was underneath, but it was such a unique experience and I highly recommend doing these kind of adventures if you are ever in Laos. By the time I had finished the excursion, I was soaked, muddy and tired, but on an absolute high.
Getting Emotional In Vientiane
Vientiane is the capital of Laos and is the closest you’re going to get to the city life. Surprisingly, there is a huge cafe culture there and it is not hard to find a trendy spot to brunch or have coffee at, which, if you’re from Auckland like me, I was stoked about.
In Vientiane, I had dinners and drinks with the Singaporean friend I made in Luang Prabang, and I also visited the beautiful temple Wat Si Saket whose walls were lined with tiny Buddha statues. The best part of Vientiane for me, however, was visiting COPE, a museum and rehabilitation center for victims of bomb explosions. During the war, America unloaded millions of bombs on Laos, many of which are still unexploded today. It causes a fatal threat to Lao people who are working in the fields or on their way to school, especially to those who don’t know what a bomb looks like. COPE works to supply artificial limbs, walking aids and wheelchairs to those who have been affected by it. I was so moved learning about it and I felt a sadness and anger that the horrors of war were still being experienced by generations of innocent people who had nothing to do with it. An educational and touching must visit if you are ever in the capital city.
Laos is a truly beautiful country, inside and out. It is rich with greenery and is quite a mountainous country, so it is perfect for those wanting to get away from the fast-paced, modern city life to a more remote, simple way of life.
The smiling Lao people are gentle, calm and peaceful and you can feel the vibration of it in the air. Be aware that they are more conservative than other South East Asian countries, so be respectful and courteous to them and you will surely receive the same in return.
I had a special time in Laos and think it is very underrated in terms of tourism. However, I think that’s a good thing. It’s unlike Thailand and Bali in that it is still unspoiled by the effects of mass tourism, and that’s one of the things I love about Laos – the culture is still authentic and the natural beauty is still intact.
Did you enjoy reading about my experience in Laos? Does it make you want to visit one day? Leave any comments or questions down below and I will be happy to answer them!