The smell of grilling meats, endless fields of bright green rice patties, barefoot monks strolling the streets, this is the magic of Laos. Often overlooked by tourists, Laos is a gem for budget travelers, adventurists, foodies, or anyone looking to experience a unique part of Asia.
My first time to Laos, I was 20 years old, wide-eyed and ready to for anything. We took the sleeper, night train from Bangkok to Nong Khai with tuk tuk shuttle to Vientiane ($25-$35). I would highly recommend this transportation; not only do you save money on a hotel and save time in transit, but it is really fun and pretty comfortable as well. Once at the boarder, $35 will get you a Lao Visa Upon Arrival. The boarder is just 10 minutes from the capital Vientiane, which is worth a couple days stay with cheap accommodation ($5-8 per person) and a vibrant river scene with fresh traditional dishes and cheap beer. You will not find McDonalds or high rises here, there is a refreshing slower pace with markets for anything you might need.
After a couple days we headed to Vang Vieng, home of the infamous river tubing. Although extremely beautiful, this town is a backpacker party zone. Nestled up against beautiful mountains and the Nam Song River, “going tubing” was less about the tubing and more about the rope swinging, zip lining, mud pit wars, body paint, dancing, and excessive amounts of drinking. Which sounds like a blast, and at 20 years old, it was. However 6 years later, reports that the Lao Government has shut down these activities are in, due to high tourist death rates. It is probably for the best, I myself wouldn’t do it again looking back on the crazy combination of drunk people trying to swim and or survive rope swings over rapids. The good news is that although the swings and river clubs are gone, there is still tubing, that is actually tubing, which is beautiful and a great way to spend the day cooling off on the river while supporting the local economy.
Due to time, I wasn’t able to explore enough. I want to see the ancient city of Luang Prabang’s temples and festivals for a peek into intimidate Buddhist culture, or wander the Plain of Jars which date back 500 bc and have no recorded explanation of origin. At 20 years old I was more interested in the party, now at 27 I plan to return; I dream of the history, the culture, the language and getting lost in the magic of Lao.