“Been There, Don Det”
Backpacking Laos is an adventure filled, cultural, and nature wonderland! We saw some of the most impressive scenery of our entire trip. Fun fact: most of Laos’s forests and greenery are still unexplored, so if you love your greens, Laos has tons!
We originally had no intention on traveling the South of Laos being so limited on time, but then we also didn’t want to blow our budget by flying from Siem Reap to Vientiane ($180 plus for one way flight in Asia… what?!). So we took a few days to explore the South by taking the bus from Siem Reap to Don Det to eventually get to Vientienne.
The visa/border crossing wasn’t as easy from Cambodia into Laos and to be honest, we didn’t really think we were actually going to make it into Laos. We scrambled in the middle of nowhere for an hour and a half and $35 later (or at least for me- on a Canadian visa it was $42 plus the stamping fees…) and a ton of confusing directions we were officially in Laos!
We traversed the Mekong River to get to the ‘stoner’ paradise of Don Det, spent 6 hours in Pakse (en route to Vientiane) to see a few temples, and took an overnight to finally arrive in the French influenced capitol city of Laos,Vientiane. We stayed for a night to get a taste of history, which was really quiet and relaxing.
We then headed to the infamous backpacker paradise,Vang Vieng, for four days. We spent our days exploring nature, caving, kayaking, zip lining over rice paddies, watching Friends with friends and of course the legendary tubing experience.
We ended our unforgettable time in Laos in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO Heritage site and visited the unbelievable Kuang Si Waterfalls.
We found Backpacking Laos to be totally underrated but we had so much fun being little adventurers, exploring the astonishing nature, cycling around the historical architecture, getting a bit crazy when tubing, and meeting new friends while watching Friends. Backpacking Laos is must and has a very special place in our hearts.
Things To Do In Laos:
ONE – Don Det
Spend a night (a night was enough for us) in Don Det for a relaxing time. You can cycle around the island along the Mekong, kayak on the river towards some waterfalls, or even BBQ with a few backpackers and locals. This place is super nice to chill out as most of the accommodation are bungalows along the river front…with hammocks!
TWO – Watch Friends
Grab a beer with Friends. Almost every bar we encountered in Laos plays the awesome TV show, Friends on loop. There was nothing more fun than to just get a nice cool beer with some buddies and watching one of the best TV shows of all time. Because of this, Laos has a special place in our heart- drinking with friends while watching Friends, it doesn’t get better!
THREE – Explore the Nature
There are many things to do in Laos, however exploring the nature in Vang Vieng would have to be one of our favorites. There were many options for exploring and adventuring through the Laos wild! We did a full day of kayaking and caving (in a tube!) for only $10 which included rentals, lunch, tour guide, and transportation. This was beyond worth it and we honestly had the best time.
FOUR – Zip Lining over Rice Paddies
Another way we adventured through Vang Vieng was Zip lining through rice paddies. We have seen Vang Vieng from the bottom, why not see it from the top? We wanted a zip lining experience and this was only $25 for 12 zip lines! It was super cool and plus we got to jump into the Blue lagoon, so that killed two birds with one stone!
FIVE – The Infamous Tubing Experience
This one is the backpacker obvious – Go TUBING in Vang Vieng. Vang Vieng is famous for this party experience, and let us tell you (and everyone else who has ever done it), it is so incredibly fun! It is like a pub crawl but you’re bar hoping while tubing down the river. Let me repeat that, you tube in the river to get to the next bar.
You meet such cool people, drink cheap booze with some free shots, play drinking games, and then tube along the river to the next bar. It doesn’t get more fun than this. It was hands down one of our favorite experiences in Southeast Asia.
*Please be careful when tubing. Obviously drinking and river tubing isn’t the brightest idea so be responsible when drinking and make sure you are with good friends to help if needed.
SIX – Kuang Si Waterfalls
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO Heritage Site listed city. There are tons of wats and beautiful temples to visit but our favorite activity was the Kuang Si Waterfalls. These waterfalls are listed on posts of the most beautiful places in the world or top places that you must see before you die. And rightly so! These waters are a turquoise we have never seen before.
There is also a little hike to the top where you can see the waterfalls from above, but the best view is on this secret path. Once you are at the top, there will be a little path that leads you down to one of the secret waterfall tiers. It says no swimming but it is like your own private pool to jump into because barely anyone knows about it!
SEVEN – After Curfew Bowling
Luang Prabang has an 11pm curfew, so all lights are out and the city is quiet. So why not catch a few beers and head towards the masses to go DRUNK BOWLING! All travelers and their moms will be at bowling after 11pm! It is a fun way to meet new people and have a new adventure.
EIGHT – Cycle around the City
Cycle around Vientiane and see the many temples and wats it has to offer. There is a charming French influence in Vientiane, seen in the food and architecture, which is quite lovely. Visit Patuxai, the Laos version of the Arch De Triomphe, and Wat Si Saket.
You can obtain a Laos visa through international airports and border crossings. Laos has several border crossings through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Laos visa prices vary depending on the country you are from. Or you can get these guys to organize everything for you. They are amazing and make everything super easy and straightforward!
For AU and US passport holders it was $30-$35. The most expensive one is for a Canadian passport holder, at a high $42. Be prepared to hand over a passport picture and a $1 or 2 for a stamp fee.
Where to Stay:
Prices vastly vary depending on which season in Laos, high season or low season. In high season, tourists flock to Laos, places are crammed, and prices go way up. We went during low season, where it mostly rained, it was less crowded and accommodation was easy to find and to bargain for.
Phouna Guest House is a little walk away from Vang Vieng city center. It is about $8 a night for a private room. They are pretty basic rooms with a fan but you definitely get your moneys worth!
For a double room that’s a bit cleaner with a private bathroom, you can pay around $20 at Laos Haven Hotel. They are centrally located and have a great bar and restaurant. During low season it is not required to have an online booking which allows you to haggle a better price. During high season, it is recommended to make a booking to secure a spot instead of saving that extra $1- $2!
What to Eat
Laos cuisine is closest to Thai cuisine, but like Cambodia cuisine, it combines flavors and dishes from its surrounding countries. The best food in Laos is food from street carts. They have everything from pad Thai, to burgers, to baguettes, and to pancakes. The food all ranges from $1.50 to $3.
The most famous Laos dish is Laap, which is a spicy mixture of mixed minced meat with all these greens and veggies. It comes served with a side of sticky rice, where all the juices make the rice extra tasty. It can be served raw, but we personally don’t really trust raw meats in Southeast Asia, so we preferred it cooked.
If you like your spice fix, try a papaya salad! It is made with unripe green papaya, spice, tomatoes, peanuts, and fish sauce. Odd combo, but very tasty (just bring some immodium, just in case!)!
For a safe choice, baguettes all the way! The baguettes were big, fresh, and fluffy. Nothing better than a baguette with eggs or dipping it in curry sauce! A popular Laos baguette filling is pork pate so you must try it while you’re there!
Laos pancakes were some of our favorite treats in Southeast Asia. They are these big fried pancakes with any type of decadent topping on top. We filled our pancake with nutella (obviously) and peanut butter. Oh god, the calories. The glorious calories!! It was only $1.25, and if it wasn’t for our dignity, we probably would have had more.
And cheers to you with a large, cold Beerlao (or if you’re cheeky, a Lao Lao) the Lao rice wine!
End of June
In Laos, it has wet and dry season, and we were there during the wet season. Sometimes it was beautifully sunny and then out of nowhere it would just down pour rain for a good hour. It never lasted long but it did switch around quiet a lot. It was also warm rain, so shorts and a shirt were fine and you would dry up soon after!