“I’d say from Vientiane and down to the 4000 islands – you can skip it all!“. That was the opinion of a girl we met both in northern Laos and again down in the 4000 islands, and it’s the biggest joke I’ve ever heard. If you don’t step off the highway 13 route, then yes she’s right, there isn’t much to see. But if you just take a day to explore the Bolaven Plateau you’ll realize that there is so much of Laos that you would have missed if you wouldn’t have taken that step aside to check it out. Laos is full of ethnic tribe villages and trekking, even down South. I actually found the village people much more welcoming in the southern parts in ethnic and remote villages than in the north (but that is my own opinion).
The Bolaven Plateau
The Bolaven Plateau is really worth checking out, and now afterwards I wish I would have taken even more time to see it. There are some great waterfall, and some really nice quiet villages along the Mekong river, as well as many fascinating minority villages where the people live a very different lifestyle and traditions which will blow your mind. We visited a village known for smoking these gigantic bamboo water pipes (even the kids). The men have up to 4 wives, and when you’re getting close to 50 years old you start carving your own coffin…
So before continuing down to 4000 islands, stop over in Pakse and do some day tours around the area. It’s really worth it! Another way to see the Bolaven Plateau is to hire a scooter for a day (or more, you might just want to stay the night in one of the villages – there are many guest houses around), so you can go at your own pace.
If you’re keen to see Bolaven Plateau, a great way to do it is to simply base yourself in Pakse and make day trips around the Plateau. If you decide to do it this way, here are some tips…
Where To Sleep:
Sabaidy 2 is the most popular place, so in high season don’t expect there to be any rooms available (it’s always worth a look though). Rooms cost between 40 000 and 80 000 kip (5 and 10 dollars), and is one of the few guesthouses with WiFi. Don’t panic if they are full, because there is a great guest house just around the corner from there called Phonesavanh Guesthouse (not the Hotel!), where the rooms and bathrooms are clean and nice. Rooms cost between 40 000 and 55 000 kip.
Where To Find WiFi
At Phonesavanh Guesthouse there is no WiFi unfortunately (not many hotels and guesthouses seemed to have WiFi), but there is a cafe only 3 minutes away that has high speed Wifi and an internet cafe a minute away.
It’s called Katuad Cafe and is situated in the NE corner of Rt13 and 24th street. The food isn’t very impressive, neither is the service (the girls were acting as though they were tipsy!), but they don’t complain if you just order a drink and sit there for the next 3-4 hours using the free wi-fi.
Where To Eat
There is a great local eatery on the corner of Thanon 21 and 24, which is cheaper than the similar ones on the main road and serve better food. For Indian/Malay food Nazim restaurant served amazing Indian food (cooked by an Indian chef). Jasmine restaurant is on the first glance very similar, with same dishes at similar prices. But they didn’t taste no way near as good in my opinon, and don’t visit their toilet before eating or you risk losing your appetite. For Lao food, visit the Lankham Noodle House below the Lankham Hotel, it’s cheap and they serve traditional Lao food – it’s very popular both with locals and backpackers. The basic baguettes are sold down the main street, but personally I would buy a baguette at a restaurant and ask for a take away – they give you more topping choices 😉
Where To Book Tours
You can book a tour privately with a mini van driver, but chances are it will turn out more expensive as you then need to pay for for the entrance fees, and won’t get a guide on the tour. You can also book tours via your guesthouse, but there are also a few travel agencies around town. One is Pakse Travel & Air Service Office, which are a reliable agency with good drivers and guides. So take your time, experience the real Laos, before moving on either up north to the capital of Laos – Vientiane or down to the chill on Don Det in the 4000 islands.
Things To Do In Vientiane Laos – A Mini Guide
Despite being the capital of Laos, Vientiane doesn’t have much to brag about – most people try not to get stuck here, but for different reasons, many people pass through and stay for a night or two. Fortunately, it’s quite a nice place to find yourself in. So whether you come by to wait for a visa to process, or just to rest your bum from bumpy bus rides before heading out on the road again, here is a short guide on how to spend that day and things to do in Vientiane.
Pha Tat Luang
The golden temple is Laos most important national symbol, both for Lao authority and Buddhism. It’s a beautiful temple to visit, especially in the afternoon when the sun makes it even more golden. It’s 4km out of the city (northeast), so you can either walk (!), bike or take a share tuk tuk to get there.
Once it has cooled down outside, head over to the new fancy park “Chao Anouvong Park” by the riverside and hang out under the shade reading a book or playing cards. The park is brand new and really nice, they’re just finishing up the final touches. It’s a very attractive place to chill for a bit, there are some street stalls along the path and ice cream shops on the other side of the street. If you come in the morning or in the evening when the weather is a little cooler, you can have a try at the work out machines they provide in the park for free. It’s pretty popular with the locals so on weekends you won’t have the place to yourself, but it’s a great place for people watching 😉 It was one of our favorite things to do in Vientiane when we traveled by.
A way to escape the midday heat is to do some shopping in the Talat Sao shopping mall. It’s not the biggest, or the cheapest, but good enough for a bit of shopping and a stroll around the place – besides, if you’ve been out all day it’s a good place to cool down.
Places To Eat
Grab some dinner at Taj Mahal restaurant, they have the best Indian in town and at some really good prices. Definitely worth the walk. You’ll find it at Namphu area, right behind the cultural hall. Nazim is another Indian restaurant located by the river, they make nice meals, nothing like Taj Mahal but still a nice place if you want to sit close to the river. Full Moon Cafe and The Shade are two other restaurants at Francois Nginn Rd for those who want something closer to the central areas. Another place I just have to mention is the Scandinavian Bakery. Scandinavian pastries and cookies are some of the tastiest things ever, and this place make as good ones as any place in Scandinavia. In general there are a lot of bakeries around Vientiane, both Lao style and Western style.
Drinking & WiFi
In the evening, hang out at one of the few bars along the riverside, or have a fruit shake or ice coffee at the awesome Aroma Café. It has some great coffee and shakes, and is one of the few places that offer free high speed WiFi, if you feel a need to get connected. You’ll find it on Francois Nginn Rd, it’s the cafe of the hotel Lotus. If you’re as crazy about fruit shakes as us, head over to rue Samsenthai and visit House of Fruit Shakes; the drinks are blended to perfection and only cost 6000 kip (0.7$)!
There aren’t a huge amount of choices if you want to stay close to the riverside, but there are definitely a few worth checking out. Francois Nginn Rd has quite a few guest houses. I can recommend Youth Inn 2 (further down the street from the original one), which has clean rooms, private bathroom for an ok price (60 000 kip/7$). It’s one of the very few places that has free WiFi, although it’s a slow one.
Hopefully this will help you enjoy all the things to do in Vientiane. If you plan to stay longer, I suggest you do a little cafe run and check out all of the amazing bakeries and coffee shops in the city!
(Photo credit: dalbera – Mat Honan)