Although our time there was much shorter than we wanted, Laos left a lasting impression on us both and a thirst to return. When asked about our favorite destinations, Laos always makes the list. This landlocked land has faced more than its share of turmoil, but visitors today will find a peaceful vibe and a laid-back atmosphere in comparison with its neighbors. Development is happening fast, but Laos natural beauty, cultural depth and friendly people will surely capture your heart.
We crossed from Thailand into Laos via the Mekong River crossing at Chiang Khong/Huay Xai. We were stamped out of Thailand with no problem. We then hopped in a boat with two Thai ladies for the five minute boat ride to the Lao side. There, we filled out a 30-day Lao visa on arrival form. Remember to bring a passport sized photo to avoid delays and overcharging. The visa was US$35. We were also charged an additional $1 for the “weekend fee.” This may also be called an “after hours fee” or a “processing fee.”
Food in Laos is budget-friendly, fresh and tasty! If you want to save AND eat well, check out the street vendors and markets in most major towns. Luang Prabang has a great night market! One of our favorite finds was a typical breakfast item, Khao Soi (not to be confused with the Thai version). This spicy noodle soup including wide rice noodles, coarsely chopped pork, veggies and spicy chilies hits the spot in the morning or anytime, especially with a steaming, sweet cup of Lao coffee. We still crave it. Larb (meat flavored with lime juice, fish sauce, veg, chilies and mint) is another common dish. There are lots of variations. Many dishes are served with a portion of sticky rice, which usually comes in a small bamboo basket. The sticky rice is often used as a utensil to scoop up the goodness. Lao spring rolls are delicious too! One of my favorites was an eggplant dish. French colonialism has left behind amazing baguettes, available on every corner, so sandwiches are as easily available as noodle soups. Legal Nomads has a mouthwatering post on the subject.
Our splurge was an overnight trek into the Bokeo Natural Preserve as part of the Gibbon Experience. We loved zip-lining through the treetops and sleeping in a tree-house, but the highlight was spotting an elusive gibbon early one morning, albeit from quite a distance. We also spent a great deal of time researching a responsible, ethical program to see and interact with elephants. We spent a day at the Elephant Village Sanctuary. They focus on protection and rehabilitation of elephants rescued from a life of abusive work.
Overall, transportation in Laos was affordable and fairly easy to figure out. We took shared vans and public buses for the most part from city to city. Due to flooding, we ended up having to purchase a flight out of Luang Prabang into Vientiane in order to leave Laos and re-enter Thailand.