Laos Explained… Our Honest Opinion

We spent about a month in Laos, traveling from the northern most part of the country in Luang Nam Tha all the way down to the 4000 islands in the south.

Just like the roads in Laos, our trip was an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs, but even though we have had a lot of unfortunate situations, Laos as a country was an amazing place to visit.

Here is what we think sums up Laos and what we will remember the most:

The People…

… are genuine. The kids are the cutest we have ever seen and the adults are very friendly.

The small conversations or smiles exchanged are the most precious things we will take away with us from this place.

The children were so curious, you couldn’t walk ten meters without someone saying hello, child or adult, especially in the smaller more remote villages.

Even though we stayed in shabby guesthouses we left loving the place because of its owners.

It’s not the land of smiles, but the people are SO real, they don’t put up an act for tourists at all but were genuine.

The Buses…

… are not meant to fit tall people.

After every bus ride it felt like we had shrunken a foot by just trying to squeeze our legs into the tiny gaps between the seats, and the beds in the night buses were half our length!

Of course we can understand this as there are no Lao people our height, but it was always a mission trying to survive those bumpy crazy bus rides.

The view from the bus window is strikingly beautiful and you’ll pass tribe villages along the way, but remember to drop your jaw behind a closed window!

For some reason the bus drivers seemed to prefer having all the windows open (even in air con vans), so bring a scarf to cover your mouth with because the roads are very dusty and you can get really sick from getting too much dust in your lungs (Sofia did…).

The Food…

… is something that we have mixed experiences about, but mainly it was all very good.

We had the best Indian curries ever in this country, and unlike Thailand – the Indian food here is really cheap, but the Lao food didn’t impress us too much, perhaps because we are vegetarian.

However, the French-inspired cuisine was really good.

It was a nice combination between French and Lao style food; the baguettes and burgers were filled with typical Lao vegetables and Lao style omelette’s (you have to try the pumpkin burgers!).

In Vientiane, the capital city, there are a lot of western bakeries selling some of the best pastries and cakes we tried while in South East Asia, for a great price as well.

The Drinks…

… Lao coffee was the best coffee We have ever had, anywhere.

Even without the condensed milk (how will we be able to live without it?) it was still sweet enough for a non-coffee drinker like us to finish in minutes.

The best coffee was found in the southern Laos, close to the coffee plantations.

Oh, and if you’re looking for the best banana fruit shake in SEA you will find it in the restaurant next to the Reggae bar on Don Det, it’s simply the best!

The Comfort…

…is a struggle to find. To be brief and blunt, we’d go as far as saying that there is no such thing as comfort here.

This is something you have to expect and accept when in Laos.

Laos is not Malaysia or Thailand, Laos is Laos and the roads are full of crater like holes, the Wi-Fi is still non existent and the tourism is still pretty new.

This is part of the charm of Laos …

The Nature…

… is spectacular: Never ending steep hills, winding dark red dirt roads, flowing rivers and rice fields.

The absolute best scenery we found was in the northern regions around Luang Namtha.

Vang Vieng had some incredible nature, with the steep limestone cliffs dipping its feet in the flowing river.

The 4000 islands was also a lushoious place, one of those where you just lie in a hammock taking the views in for hours on end, watching the Mekond water change color throughout the day.

The Mindset…

… is for us quite fascinating. In Laos, the concept of “same same” is more obvious than anywhere else.

Reclined seat and air con, or plastic chair in the aisle and open windows?

Cold water hose 50 meters away from the room or hot shower in attached bathroom?

“Same same!”, they say.

We loved it in a way, it shows how things don’t have to be complicated. A seat is a seat, the point is that you get there, right? ;)

These are our experiences of Laos, they’re not facts.

Have you ever been to Laos? What were your experiences?

24 Responses to Laos Explained… Our Honest Opinion

  1. Susie Stauffer April 20, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    A lovely and honest overview! Have been to Laos four times and each time, it is most definitely the people that have drawn us back. Have made some beautiful friends who have treated us like family. Yes, the comfort is hard to find but the raw experience easily makes up for that. Same same IS innately tied deeply into each Laotian :) Though tourism is relatively new, it is easily noticeable how much Vang Vieng, among other places, has changed but particularly VV. Our last visit was such a turn-off. Too many loud, drunk, and obnoxious travelers more interested in getting tuned (not to say there aren’t any nice ones ofcourse). Luckily a short jaunt out of town means some peace, quiet, and beautiful landscapes. Evenings on the river at sunset. Sigh :) And the BEST cobblers! (Fixed my broken sandals and they lasted years after!) Travel throughout the north is essential as well. Luang Nam Tha was my first experience in Laos in 2000. Almost 100% untouched! I’m sort of mixed over the food too…..but you’re right, the coffee is incredible! The kids? They ARE Amazing!

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 21, 2011 at 5:18 am #

      What a wonderful comment & thanks for sharing!!! :) we also found VV a bit too much, but the nature was nice there. I can’t even imagine what Luang Nam Tha was like back in 2000, since this year (2011) it was still pretty much un-touched.

  2. Lori April 21, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    Thanks for your great insight into Laos. Having never been to any of the countries in SEA except for Singapore and a day trip to Indonesia, I found your accounts of the bus ride and comfort level to be very good information for future travel there (hopefull!). Not everyone gives a straightforward account like that, probably because in retrospect it doesn’t seem as bad, but when you know what to expect it’s easier to prepare for and accept =).

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 21, 2011 at 5:16 am #

      Hey Lori – thanks for the comment. yeah those bus rides – scary scary! Hope we inspired you to visit Laos, it really has so much to offer :)

  3. Steph April 21, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    I also had some really good Indian food in Laos! Most of hte Lao itself seemed fairly generic to me, so I ended up eating quite a bit of Indian.

    I spent about three weeks in Laos this spring and for the most part enjoyed you are definitely right about the lack of comfort.

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 21, 2011 at 10:27 am #

      the indian food was amazing wasn’t it! :) but not really Lao food, still so good – and one of my best memories from there as well as the cute cute kids.

  4. Jeff McNeill April 21, 2011 at 5:33 am #

    Great thoughts. Too bad you folks are vegetarian, or you would give the food a higher rating. Thanks!

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 21, 2011 at 10:27 am #

      Yeah we heard that there is a lot of nice, interesting food in Laos, but like you say it isn’t exactly aimed towards vegetarians.

  5. Ryan | PauseTheMoment.com April 21, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    I guess I should give Laos another try huh? Maybe I didn’t give it enough effort the first time. This post really makes me want to give it another shot.

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 21, 2011 at 5:14 am #

      Hey Ryan – yeah maybe you should hehe – we found it wonderful there, but the you need to give some time to adjust, since everything is so dif. there. hope you go back and give it another shot :D

  6. Laura April 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I loved my time in Laos. The people are absolutely wonderful. I had some of the roughest transport rides to date there but it was all very worth it!

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

      totally agree! hated the bus rides, but so many other things really made up for that crazy part.

  7. Aaron's Worldwide Adventures April 22, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    I adore Laos and have been twice. On my first visit in 2006, the mind set of Laos struck me on Day 3. I was taking the slow boat from Huay Xai and at the overnight in Pak Beng decided to head north to Luang Nam Tha. It was the rainy season so if you think the roads are bad during the dry season, this was a totally different experience (and an incredible adventure) with collapsed bridges, boats and massive flooding.

    I had purchased “bus” tickets from Pak Beng and breakfast was running very late. As the Irish backpacker across the table from me started freaking out about missing the “bus,” the waiter continually came over to assure us, “It’s okay, it’s okay. They wait.” They did.

    That laid back mentality is so unique and wonderful that it’s one of my favorite things about Laos.

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

      great story Aaron – for those of us from the West, it is hard at first to understand that Lao mindset, but once you realize the bus will wait, life does go on and there isn’t really that much of a rush to get anywhere – you can sit back and start to appreciate the small things – I also can’t image the bus rides in the rain and in the wet season :p that would be an adventure!

  8. Anonymous April 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Laos really would be great place to visit. I have read your lovely review about that and I can definitely say that you will be sure getting so close to it. I am also looking to make a trip to Laos once as its photos show me really so emotion from those wonderful and innocent kids.
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    • Sofia - As We Travel April 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

      Really glad to inspire you, if you can get to Laos, I know you would have a wonderful time :)

  9. Cathy April 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    I love the straightforwardness of this post. It’s refreshing to see something succinct and honest about traveling to a particular country.
    Quick question, though…why was the Indian food so good? Is there a large Indian population in Laos? I don’t know very much about Laos, but I never would’ve guessed that they had excellent Indian food.

    • Nathan - As We Travel April 24, 2011 at 5:18 am #

      Thanks Cathy – To be honest I am not sure why there was such good indian food in Laos – the indian community wasn’t that big, but in every city you would find 2-3 great indian restaurants.

  10. Matt | YearAroundTheWorld April 23, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Wow those buses look small!

    • Nathan - As We Travel April 24, 2011 at 5:16 am #

      haha yeah they were small – I am 193cm and really couldn’t fit, was forced to sleep overnight for 10hrs like that. :P

    • Nathan - As We Travel April 24, 2011 at 5:16 am #

      haha yeah they were small – I am 193cm and really couldn’t fit, was forced to sleep overnight for 10hrs like that. :P

  11. Priyank April 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    Hi Sofia! That was a nice perspective. I didn’t know you guys were vegetarians. I was one for 25 years but I started eating chicken just for the convenience. There is Indian food in Laos? Neat! Also I thought that the concept of ‘same same’ was very useful and practical – as long as the objective is met at the end of the day, who remembers the little details anyways. :)

    • Sofia - As We Travel April 24, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

      Yeah there is some great Indian food in Laos!

      I agree, the ‘same same’ is a love/hate thing, but it is very practical and simple anyway.

  12. Anonymous April 25, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    I’ve been working in Southeast Asia for 5 years and absolutely love Laos. The peace, quiet, and respectfulness of the people is unbelievable, especially after two years non-stop in China. After the honking and spitting and driving on sidewalks I couldn’t believe a place existed in Asia like Luang Prabong–truly an oasis in Asia.

    I’m surprised to read some of your comments though. I was always very comfortable there and never had a problem getting WiFi (Luang Prabong you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a free WiFi signal). Finding the right cell phone provider for a Sim card took me 4 tries, but when I got that right my cell phone worked even in some of the most remote villages.

    And I absolutely loved the food. Sticky rice was amazing after getting burnt out on run-of-the-mill rice in China. Rolling it into balls and using it to mash into the food brought a new dimension to the senses of eating by feeling the texture of food with my fingers.

    Fresh vegetables were everywhere–another nice break from China where everything must be cooked. Most of my meals were served with separate plates heaped with leafy greens used to roll the food up inside.

    Laos is a subsistence culture so meat is a luxury that many can rarely afford. I’m not a vegetarian but many of my guests were and they loved the vegetarian options. I really loved the spicy dips and soups made from smoked eggplant and the seasoned fish paste dumplings steamed in banana leaves. There was always lots of fresh fish, and all of the creative things they do with the River Weed they harvest from the Mekong. And seeing the banks of the Mekong covered with peanut and corn plants defied the senses–like seeing a beach at the ocean converted to a farm.

    Given that Laos shares a border with China and a border with Thailand, their national cuisine could have gone either way (Thailand instantly enjoyable, China good after a year of living there). I was so happy they were part of Siam and that their food is basically Thai food with some Laos flare.

    And of course, due to being a former French colony, and a retirement haven for a high number of expats, when in a town, there is plenty of French and other western food to be had–all for very low prices.

    I’ve just completed a circumnavigation of the globe and a 3 month arctic to antarctic tour and am currently in the Dominican Republic. Unless you stay at an all inclusive resort, you would find the food, lodging, WiFi, people, and everything else here far inferior to that of Laos. I’m glad I’ll be returning to Asia in a couple of months!

    Your musings have given me a chance to revisit my happy times in Laos–Lan Xang (land of a million elephants). Thanks for the post! Or if I remember correctly “kop jai li li”!