He says, she says – Laos

3 March – 20 March 16 days

Places visited: Pakse, Don Det – 4000 islands, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang

Most favourite place:
Charlie: This took me a lot of thought but i think Don Det, but a close second being Vang Vieng. Don Det won because of its amazing waterfalls and the natural aspects. Vang Vieng is also amazing with its monstrous mountains and the sleepy rivers running through them.
Lisa: Don Det was a really interesting place for me. On arrival I was really confused at why people visited for long (some people stay weeks there) but once you got used to the really laid by vibe and explored the surrounding areas it was a really great place to spend your time.

Least favourite place:
Charlie: We passed through Pakse for one night and didn’t really get a chance to see if and judge it too well, but having said that, it seemed a bit characterless to me.
Lisa: Pakse was pretty unimpressive but we only spent one night there between crossing the Thai border and getting to Don Det, if I had to pick another place then I would say Luang Prabang. Whilst the town is quite a lot nicer than the others, I felt it was also the most developed and there wasn’t as much to do or see there. Don Det and Vang Vieng had the most beautiful scenery around them that I didn’t feel Luang Prabang could compete with.

Most favourite dish:
Charlie: The crispy pork! I discovered it too late and only managed to have it a couple of times though. I had something similar in Thailand, so maybe its not a great answer but i still miss that stuff!
Lisa: The Luang Prabang sausage was my favourite, although I only had it once. It’s filled with loads of herbs and the one we tried came with a really nice homemade eggplant chutney.

Best experience:
Charlie: We did so many cool things that this is hard to pick just one! I think the sunset bar in Don Det was awesome, jumping into the river from a high drop. We met the cutest little girl there too, who we spent a sunset with too which was so fun!
Lisa: I really enjoyed floating around the Mekong in Vang Vieng, especially at the Smile Bar where they had tied up tubes so you could get a drink and float there without moving whilst the sun set.

Worst experience:
Charlie: I think the night bus was probably the worst. The length of the bed meant we both had to sleep on a 5 ft single bed in a cramped spooning position. i need space to sleep so this meant i didn’t get much shut eye. Lisa of course managed to doze off well before me, but even she struggled!
Lisa: Our journey from Don Det to Vang Vieng which took a long 28 hours. Not only was in uncomfortable, we had a lot of waiting around, being messed about a little and were 4 hours late.

Something you will miss:
Charlie: The natural beauty of the country. Even with it being the dry season, we got to see some awesome natural landmarks. Waterfalls and dolphins in 4000 Island, towering mountains and cliffs in Vang Vieng, and swimming in the Mekong in all the places as it stretches the length of the country!
Lisa: The landscapes in Laos were beautiful, especially the Mekong and the mountains as they provided amazing sunsets.

Something you won’t miss:
Charlie: We’ve noticed it a lot on the second half of the trip. When you take the buses, they seem to drive you right through town, often past your hotel and back out the other side of town. Funnily enough theres a crowd of Tuk Tuks waiting for you in this random car park, charging huge amounts (in relative terms) for you to be taken back into town. It always frustrates me!
Lisa: Nothing seems to run on time in Laos. It’s a very sleepy place that seems to run on its own time which can be annoying when getting between places as you are always told the journey will be much shorter than it actually is.


Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos

We decided to cross the border to Laos ourselves rather than getting a combined transfer ticket from Bangkok. It worked out much cheaper and meant that we then weren’t stuck on a bus the whole journey which would be more comfortable. We arrived at Bangkok’s main train station at 7.30pm and purchased our tickets for the overnight train to Ubon Ratchathani. The train was on time and when we boarded we knew we had made the right decision. The train was immaculately clean and unlike buses quite spacious. The journey was great, someone comes round and makes your bed with fresh, clean sheets and then you can just close your curtain and go to sleep. The ride was much smoother than a bus so we both managed to get a decent amount of sleep.

Once at the station we got a tuk tuk to the main bus stop in Ubon Ratchathani and purchesed our international bus ticket to Pakse and even had time for one last Thai meal. The bus was much less comfortable but not too bad as we both caught up on some more sleep. We arrived at the border and were given no instructions on what we were to do. We went into a building where we were stamped out of Thailand and then had to walk 2 kilometres in what we liked to call ‘no mans land’ before we reached the Laos immigration building. Here we had a little bit of trouble as the guy behind the desk didn’t think our American $100 note was nice enough, he said it was dirty and we couldn’t use it. Frustrated as it was only slightly off coloured we were told to get money out of the ATM and pay in Laos Kip. The ATM wasn’t working and he wasn’t going to accept our money so we walked to the two currency exchanges at the border and luckily the second one took our money. When we arrived back at the desk to pay in Kip the man then gave us the worst exchange rate possible and we are pretty sure he just made it up. We had no choice but to accept it though as we were already stamped out of Thailand and wouldn’t be allowed in Laos without agreeing. We ended up paying an extra $8 each for the visa. Our bus had told us we only had 20 minutes to complete to exit and entry process but luckily they were still waiting for us almost 40 minutes later.

Our bus continued to Pakse at a snails pace and we arrived much later than expected. We had originally planned to head straight to Don Det in the 4000 islands that day but had missed all transport options. We found ourselves a nice room where we could rest and watch some Game of Thrones on the laptop. We booked our bus to Don Det for the next morning and had an early night.

A very long and most of the time pain free journey across the border. Excited for the next 16 days in Laos.