Laos Travel Highlights
A visa-run between Laos and Vietnam turned into a culturally rich and truly inspirational experience. It is an interesting journey, to say the least, and one that many long-term travelers to Laos or Vietnam may need to take at some point. Whether you choose to take the bus or fly, here are my tips.
Tips for bus journeys to Laos
- If you cross the border from Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam you should arrange a visa prior to the crossing to save time and money, but you can get one at the border.
- I recommend taking the VIP sleeper bus. It’s more expensive, but you will be on the bus for at least 24 hours. The roads in Laos are very dangerous and paying extra for a VIP bus usually means you are going to have a more comfortable experience, with a more experienced driver.
- Highway 13 from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang has a reputation for being very dangerous for many reasons: government corruption, check points, and a road that is under construction. The latter is especially dangerous when you reach the mountains. The sheer drops can be fatal, and there’s no protective barrier. But, if you can relax enough to take in the scenery, it’s amazing. My heart was pounding, palms sweating, and I was afraid for my life on this journey. I thought of my family back home, and the death rate statistics of foreigners in Southeast Asia on public transport. But I finally thought to myself: “This is all part of the journey”.
- Pack food and water for the journey. You will stop, but the food may not be something you can eat. It depends on how daring you are with food while traveling.
- You can travel on a bus with a toilet but it has it drawbacks… namely, the smell and the bumpy roads! Most VIP buses don’t have a toilet and they don’t stop often, so be careful with your liquid intake before the trip.
- Book your ticket from the local bus station, as you will get the fair price there.
- In Asia, always add extra time to how long you think the journey will take!
We finally made it to Luang Prabang and it was worth it, as it is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful city. Nature is the backdrop of this peaceful, clean, Buddhist community. The focal points of the city are the night market, the Mekong River, and the Namseung River.
As you leave the city you pass through the suburbs, and within five minutes by tuk tuk, motorbike, or bicycle, you are surrounded by nature, beautiful forested mountains and local villages. You can stop to visti the Hmong villages, observe monks in the temples and pagodas, enjoy the beautiful waterfalls, play with local children, or have a Beer Lao with the locals.
Flying to Laos
If you fly to Laos, you can get a visa upon arrival. Prices vary according to your nationality. It’s currently $35 for US citizens for 30 days, and make sure you have US dollars.
Coming into Laos is beautiful, it was sunset and we were driving through villages that border the Vietnamese/ Laotian border. They were clearly impoverished, yet they had healthy free-range animals, beautifully built stilted houses, and warm smiles that you couldn’t help but be captured by. Children were running in the sunlight among the water buffalo in worn-out clothes and a layer of dirt on their skin, but they exuded happiness.
Travelling south you can stop in Vang Vieng. Another beautiful town encapsulated by nature. Mountains, caves, and rivers shape this town and its activities. There’s a surplus of outdoor activities to enjoy, rock climbing, trekking, swimming in the lagoons and waterfalls, caving, kayaking, and of course the famous tubing. People are nice here but there does seem to be a distorted view of tourists which is understandable as you will witness great displays of disrespect in the way people dress, and act. I spoke to local women who said the locals are shocked by what they witness and that they feel insulted. There are even signs that politely request women to cover their bodies out of respect for the culture. As Laos opened itself to tourism in 1989, there has been a rapid transition into tourism which has been harmonious in places like Luang Prabang, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been able to preserve its culture and quaint atmosphere. However, Vang Vieng has had some trouble. So, please be aware and educate yourself on the local customs so that we can responsibly enjoy the beautiful people and places that inspired us to become travelers in the first place.