I have lived in the IndoChina region for four years now and among all the countries in the region, Laos was the one I kept delaying going to. First off, the fare isn’t that cheap. There’s another way to go there by land but it’ll take so much time. Second of all, I’m a city girl and I’ve always loved huge malls and skyscrapers and I feel like there’s nothing much to see in Laos– that if I will go there, it should be because I’m called for the mission. Which brings me to my third reason: I’m quite anxious that if I go to this nation, I might have a feeling of never wanting to leave anymore–and which I’m not yet ready to. So there.
After letting three Tet holidays and a number of Christmas breaks pass, I finally decided to book a ticket going to Laos.
How did my Laos trip begin?
Direct flights to Laos from Vietnam could be very expensive. It could go from 300-400 usd roundtrip. Hence, I opted for the cheaper option, which is to go to Bangkok first.
Here’s an overview of my fares (and some options for you to choose if ever you want to try overland) :
- Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok (via Don Muang Airport) roundtrip – P6,000 + (NokAir)
- Bangkok to Vientiane (via Don Muang Airport) one way – P2,500 + (AirAsia)
- from my hostel in Phrong Pong, Bangkok, I rode the BTS going to Mo Chit station. From Mo Chit station, I rode the bus A2 (or A1) going to Don Muang Airport. If ever you are flying from Suvarnabhumi airport, just take the Airport Link and get off at the airport station.
- Another option would be to take the train from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok going to Nong Khai station. The sleeper train costs from 898 (upper berth) to 998 THB (lower berth) and around 500 THB for the seater. The train ride is approximately 10-11 hours and the train leaves the Hua Lamphong station every day at 6:30pm. Get off at Nong Khai station and ride a Tuktuk (around 30-50 THB) from the train station to the Thailand border. Do your visa processing at the Thai border and then ride the Friendship Bridge shuttle. This will take you to the Thai-Laos border, and once you clear immigration and cross into Laos you can take local transport (bus fare is 8,000 kip) to Vientiane.
- You can also opt to ride a direct VIP bus departing from Mo Chit Bangkok at 8pm and arriving at the Talat Sao bus station in Vientianne at 7am the next day. Bus fares range from 500-1000 THB per person. It isn’t as comfortable as the train but they do provide water and snacks onboard. There’s also a toilet inside the bus for your convenience.
Going back to Bangkok from Vientiane:
Thankfully, I have friends from Vientiane who taught me the way to go back to Bangkok the easy, budget-friendly, and convenient way, which is again, by train. Here’s another overview of the process:
- Ride the bus from the downtown area going to the border. Fare is 8,000 Kip. This bus will bring you to the Laos Immigration. Once you are done with your visa procedures, you can buy the shuttle ticket (4,000 Kip) on the left side of the immigration counter. This shuttle will take you through the Friendship Bridge going to the Thai Immigration in Nong Khai.
- Walk for about 5 minutes and you will see a number of Tuktuk drivers waiting outside the border gate. Hail a Tuktuk and ask the driver to bring you to Nong Khai train station. Fare could be between 30-50 THB.
- Buy your train ticket at the station. You can choose between sleeper train (First class ranges from 1300-1700 THB; Second class ranges from 898 THB for the upper berth and 998 THB for the lower berth), or the seater ones (ranging from 400-600 THB) You can also pre-book your ticket online.
- The train will stop at the Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok and from there, you can just ride the MRT (Hua Lamphong station) going to your destination or hail a taxi outside.
Make sure to check the train schedules to rid yourself of any hassle schedule hassles.
Expectation versus Reality
Before I went to Laos, I have been carrying a picture of a very old-school, countryside images in my mind about this country. Friends who have been to this nation, particularly in the capital Vientiane, told me that it’s very laid-back in there. Hence, I expect a small town with fewer people and fewer cars and quiet roads. Imagine the picture I’m picturing in my mind?
Upon arrival at the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane, I was welcomed with a really nice and prime-looking airport. It was quiet and less traffic compared to other international airports but still, it was exceptional.
Yes, Vientiane was a quiet city compared to other major cities I have been to, but it did not give me an outmoded feel. This city was not as vibrant as the cities in its neighboring countries, but it definitely is not very old-school. Rather, this city welcomed me with a serene and calm atmosphere. And yes, my expectation was different from the reality that greeted me in Vientiane. There were not many skyscrapers and their malls were not as huge and posh as the others but I like that the people here were not in a rush and they have the time to stop and smile at you. It’s like you stepped into a familiar town and you won’t feel scared because you know there will always be people who are willing to help in case you need it. It’s very homey and relaxed.
I am fond of coffee shops — not primarily of the coffee but more of the interiors and the ambiance — and I like that this city has a lot of cozy and chic cafes to offer. I specifically liked the Chao Anou road near the Mekong River as you can find a good number of cafes and restaurants there to suit your taste and budget. There’s actually a lot of Western restaurants and cafes you can try here if you are not very adventurous with food. One of my top favorites would be the Indigo Cafe (I could still remember the taste of its Fried pork in Tamarind Sauce with its signature blue-colored rice and its delicious Mango Sticky Rice) and Bakery by Boris for the dessert (the Snickers cake is definitely a must-try!). And of course, Joma Cafe must not be left out with its heavenly signature cinnamon bun.
Experiencing Luang Prabang
Since I’m already in Laos, I might as well explore the other parts of this country aside from Vientiane. So my friend helped me book a bus ticket going to Luang Prabang. Sleeper bus costs 180,000 Kip one way. And it’s a really lying-down-on-a-bed-kind-of-bus so you better be prepared for whoever you are going to share the bed-bus with. You can either pay for the whole bed so you won’t be sharing it with a stranger or just pray that you’ll be fine or pray that you will share the space with the same sex.
The bus ride was bumpy since the roads in Laos are not as developed yet. We left the Northern bus station in Vientiane around 8:30pm and we arrived in Luang Prabang around 7:30am the next day (roughly 11 hours on the road). Upon arrival, I immediately booked a return ticket to Vientiane since I was afraid that there might be no schedule available anymore when I go back. I opted the VIP bus this time, not the sleeper one since I didn’t feel comfortable with the sleeper one. The fare costs 130,000 kip one way.
And oh, by the way, it was very cold in Luang Prabang. I was not used to checking the weather on the places where I will go so I wasn’t prepared with the cold weather of LPB. I didn’t bring any sweater or jacket or even shawl with me to help ease the cold. Good thing around noon, it wasn’t as cold anymore.
I’ve heard a lot of nice things about Luang Prabang. I also did some research about it before I came in (except the weather!) and I know that you can find one of the most beautiful falls in Laos in this city — the Kuang Si Waterfalls. You can also wake up early in the morning and climb up the Mount Phousi and catch the marvel at the beauty of the sunrise there. They said it’s one of the most awesome things you must do when in Luang Prabang.
And both of that, I didn’t do. I know, right!?
Instead, I went out for a walk around 3pm after I took a good rest in my hostel (Downtown Backpackers Hostel)– which by the way was a good choice since I only paid 51,000 Kip per night and it came with breakfast. After I had lunch at Indigo Cafe (yes, I was so fond of this restaurant!), I walked past the old street area and looked for Saffron Cafe — which I chanced upon while watching MarkAbroad‘s Youtube vlog about Luang Prabang. It was quite a walk from the downtown area to the cafe’s location but it was worth it. I super loved the relaxing vibe of this cafe. I ordered Iced Latte and their flourless chocolate brownie and opted to sit outside, facing the Mekong River. It was really the highlight of my LPB trip since I got to enjoy the serene view of the river while having a sip of my coffee and reading a book. It was really fresh from my this-is-what-I-imagined-my-chill-vacation-should-look-like box. Achievement unlocked!
When it’s already getting dark and I had already finished my book and my coffee, I decided to go back to my hostel already and take a rest since I will be back to Vientiane already early morning the next day. I passed through the old town center and had some mango shake and Nutella crepe. The old town center reminded me of Calle Crisologo in Vigan Ilocos Sur in the Philippines — only that there were more backpackers areas in LPB. I also passed by the night market where they sell different kinds of Laos souvenirs.
I only stayed one night in Luang Prabang since I still want to spend time with my friend who’s living in Vientiane before I go back to Bangkok. I just wanted to see and experience Luang Prabang even for a while. Plus, I think it would be nice to go there with friends so you can enjoy the activities more.
Laos: Simply Beautiful
Just like its tourism slogan, Laos is really simply beautiful. It was, in fact, a revelation to me. In my mind, I have a very humble image of this country. The people seemed to be content with the simplicity of life there and they’re happy about it. Simple joys, I would say. A part of me is wishing that when I come back to this nation again, there will a lot of changes when it comes to structures, roads, buildings, etc. However, a bigger part of me would want Laos to stay that way– simple and unpretentious. I know it’s selfish but if only I could keep this nation stay somewhat hidden so inconsiderate tourists could not ruin it.
This country is not something you will go back to for shopping or for grand amusement spots. But surely, you will go back here because your heart will cause you to. Once you step your foot in here, there’s already a part of you that would want to experience this nation again and again.
Special thanks to my good friend, Marianne, for adopting me and hosting me during this trip. I really appreciate the love and warmth I received even from the local friends there and some Filipino friends who went out of their way to assist me, making sure I am safe and welcomed me to their home. See you again, soon! 🙂
God bless this nation.